In a recent issue of Biblical
discussed the original texts of the Bible.
The focus of that article was on the actual production of
something written by hand in antiquity.
The title of the article was “The Original Texts of the
Bible.” What we didn’t
say was that we do not have a single one of the original texts.
Then how do we get our English translations?
Instead of original texts, we have copies of copies
of copies of the original Hebrew and Greek texts in manuscript form.
The manuscripts that have been discovered, studied, organized,
and used in lieu of the original texts provide interesting studies in
Although the manuscript tradition for the Hebrew
text of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is not as complicated as the
manuscript tradition of the Greek text of the New Testament, there are
some reasons to be aware of the Hebrew manuscript tradition.
This is true especially because the primary basis of the standard
Hebrew text is a manuscript tradition dating back only to the 11th
In an earlier issue of Biblical Insights
(“The Number of Bibles,” July 7, 2000), three English translations
of the Tanakh were displayed. Each
one of them has the words “traditional Hebrew text” included in
their titles. What is this
“traditional Hebrew text”? The
current standard text of the Tanakh is called Biblia Hebraica
This volume was published as a complete work in
1977. The Hebrew text is
based primarily on the Leningrad Codex, a manuscript dated to about 1010
CE. This manuscript is important because it is the oldest
complete Hebrew text still in existence!
For more information on the Leningrad
The BHS does make
use of older manuscripts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint
(books of the Tanakh translated into Greek in the third century BCE), and
the Vulgate by changing the Hebrew of the
Leningrad Codex or by noting the
different reading in the apparatus at the bottom of the page.
The three English translations of the
Tanakh referred to above were all based on the BHS.
This fairly new translation has received favorable comments from
readers; but, like anything, not everyone has been so pleased with it.
Consider the following comment taken from the reviews of the
translation at amazon.com.
[i.e., the Jewish Publication Society] has taken every opportunity to
rewrite messianic passages despite the command in Devarim not to augment
or diminish G-d's written Torah! Most
places where the translators varied significantly from other well known
translations it is noted in the footnotes, but where this translation
differs from that of the Septuagint in passages commonly applied to Yeshua
they fail to give notice of the variance. May HaShem have mercy!”
For the sake of balance, consider
these positive reviews of the same translation.
“Having been raised in the Christian
church I am especially blessed to receive a perfect translation of the
traditional Hebrew texts. I can feel the power of the words as never
before and in my pursuit of a personal relationship with the almighty this
has become a most important tool. I have coupled this with the NSRV
translation of the New Testament and Apocryphal books and with the Qur'an
(2nd Edition translated by A. Yusef Ali) to find my placement. I urge
anyone of any faith to pick this translation up and know the difference
between reading the traditional Christian Old Testament and feeling the
power of the Hebrew Tanakh.”
beautiful, stunning and accurate translation!
The Tanakh is a thoroughly researched and readable volume. It was
refreshing to read the bible stories I grew up with in an accurate
translation for adults, rather than as a pre-digested group of children's
stories. Moreover, it was wonderful to read a first generation translation
from the original Hebrew, rather than a rewrite of an old English
translation. Additionally, one of the many benefits is that JPS chose to
include, not only its own translation, but footnotes that refer to the
translations of others, allowing the reader to identify and understand the
differences. Its prose is modern and clear.
This is a translation that will last long into the 21st century.”
BHC, of course, has undertaken its own
analysis and translation of the Hebrew text from the point of view of the
Linguistic Method of Biblical Analysis.
This work will soon be made available in the form of Bible studies. Watch for details.