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In a recent issue of Biblical Insights, we 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?  Read on.

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 themselves.

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 century CE.

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 Stuttgartensia (BHS).  

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 Codex, click here.

 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.

 “JPS [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.”

 “A 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.

 

Great Hebrew Bible Study Tools
Click on for more information or to order.

Volume 2
Analytical Key to the Old Testament : Judges-2 Chronicles 
Volume 3
Analytical Key to the Old Testament : Ezra-Song of Solomon 
Volume 4
Analytical Key to the Old Testament : Isaiah-Malachi

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