Saturday, 29 October 2016

Lost, misused and abused in translation

Translations have many positive facets. They bridge between cultures, peoples and societies. They can help enlighten us, educate us and enrich us.

Unfortunately, translations, when done by the wrong entities, some of whom may carry their own selfish agenda, can lead just to the opposite. The consequences can be detrimental, cause much strife and shed rivers of blood.
One such translation is what is known as the Septuagint (תרגום השבעים), an affair that went down in Jewish history as a sad and disastrous milestone. In fact, it was considered such a calamity that Jewish rabbis designated a special mourning day to commemorate it.

It all started in the third century B.C.E. with the Greek ruler, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the king of Ptolemic Egypt. An educated man, Ptolemy wished to augment his library in Alexandria and commissioned seventy-two (six from each of the twelve tribes) scholars to translate the Torah and later the rest of the Tanach into Greek. This translation came to be known as “The Septuagint” (Seventy in Latin). The main reason for producing the translation was for the benefit of the many Jews who were scattered throughout the Greek Empire and who were beginning to lose their Hebrew language. The translation also gave many non - Jews an opportunity to have a glimpse at the Hebrew Scriptures. Apparently, a noble cause but, as you will soon learn, dear readers, a great reason for alarm.

The main concern of Jewish authorities regarding this translation or for that matter, any translation, was that it might pose danger to the Biblical message and word, the danger of being misunderstood or badly interpreted. Unfortunately for us, Jews, this has ended up being the case which in turn gave rise to much of the suffering that many of our people have endured throughout history and continue to endure until this very day.

To those of you wondering why I chose to write about this subject, let me just add that I have personal reasons for alerting my fellow Jews to the dangers that such mistranslations hold. As a teacher who lost at least one student to the unrelenting efforts of missionaries to convert Jews, I learned that the lurking spiritual thieves use such mistranslations to lure Jews into their midst. Uneducated Jews will fall an easy prey to them. Knowledge is power and a tool to ward off such efforts. The more our Jewish brethren know about their own history and the better they understand it, the less likely are they to become victims of treacherous efforts by the missionaries!

Let us move on to some examples of how our Tanach was mistranslated and the ensuing price, we Jews and Am Yisrael sustained as a result.

One example that comes to mind is the mistranslation of Leviticus 34, verse 29: "כי קרן עור פני משה" (Moshe’s skin was radiant). The Hebrew word for “radiate”קרן  , is the same as that for  “horn.” This mistaken translation is well illustrated in the famous sculpture of Moshe by Michelangelo which is displayed in Rome. One can hardly ignore the horns that were added to the gracious figure of Moshe holding the two tablets. That mistranslation not only affected Michelangelo’s creation, it was also a tool used by many anti-Semites through history to describe Jews and attributing to them monstrous traits. And who loves monsters?

Another example causing much controversy and a rift between Judaism and Christianity can be found in the Book of Isaiah Chapter 7 verse 14. There it says: “
לכן יתן אדני הוא לכם אות הנה העלמה הרה וילדת בן וקראת שמו עמנו אל” The same verse is conveniently translated as: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Luckily, the Tanach was written in Hebrew and yours truly is proficient in that language. Isaiah does NOT use the word “virgin” in that verse in Hebrew. He uses the word  (almah) עלמה “maiden,” “an unmarried woman.” The Hebrew word for virgin is בתולה (betulah). If Isaiah had indeed intended to impress upon us that he was prophesying the immaculate conception would he not have used “betulah” instead of “almah?”

“But hey,” argue my devout Christian friends, “were not all maidens during Biblical era expected to be virgins?” A valid argument indeed, one would suggest. But do not rush to any conclusions, dear friends, not yet anyway. And this, by the way, is where many innocent ignorant Jews fall in the trap set by messianics and missionaries. Unfortunately for the missionaries who enter a debate with me on this verse in Isaiah, I always have the answer.

It is then that I enlist the help of a publication called  a “ Bible Concordance,”
a verbal index to the Bible. In it, one can find references to every word that appears in the Tanach. Since my contenders suggest that “a Biblical maiden has got to be a virgin,” I looked up the references to maiden. It appears in the Tanach seven times. The first one is in Genesis 24, verse 43  where Eliezer, the servant of Avraham describes Rivkah, the future wife of Yitzchak “מג הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי נִצָּב, עַל-עֵין הַמָּיִם; וְהָיָה הָעַלְמָה, הַיֹּצֵאת לִשְׁאֹב, וְאָמַרְתִּי אֵלֶיהָ, הַשְׁקִינִי-נָא מְעַט-מַיִם מִכַּדֵּךְ.  ("See, I am standing beside this spring. If a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar") .In that same chapter verse 17, Rivkah is described as a Virgin, betulah that no man knew (and we all know what “to know” in the Biblical sense means). “טז ""וְהַנַּעֲרָ, טֹבַת מַרְאֶה מְאֹד--בְּתוּלָה, וְאִישׁ לֹא יְדָעָהּ  (The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her). So here is my question to you, dear missionaries, if indeed it was so obvious that almah, a young maiden is akin to betulah in Biblical times, why was there a need to reiterate it in the case of Rivkah? Evidently, it was not as obvious as you would like your poor uneducated Jewish victims to believe!

So how did the Hebrew word almah become virgin? Remember the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanach? That is where the answer lies. In Greek, the same word Parthenos means BOTH “maiden” and “virgin.” Isn’t it natural, therefore, that to make their case for the immaculate conception, early Christianity conveniently chose the word virgin instead of the original Hebrew word for maiden?

Finally, and I have used that example of mistranslation a few times, I have an issue with those who refer to my homeland as Israel (where the S is pronounced as a Z instead of Yisrael where the S is pronounced as it should be an S.

Israel (where S sounds like Z) when written in Hebrew עיברית (Ivrit) the language of Am Yisrael, the language of our heritage, is spelled as יזרעאל  which is how we spell the valley of Jezereel in the Northern part of Eretz Yisrael. That valley is ONLY one part of our Jewish Homeland. Additionally, it also means something totally different than what our forefathers intended for our state. It means in Hebrew, “G-d will sow”. The name Yisrael which is the correct English spelling of our Home has a totally different meaning.

The name “Yisrael, first appears in the Torah, in the Book of Bresheet (AKA Genesis in its Hellenistic translation) Chapter 32 verse 29 “
לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱ-לֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל  (No longer shall your name be Yaakov, but Yisrael because you fought with G-d and people).

Dear Jewish readers, Am Yisrael and those who claim to love us, do you realize the significant message that the name
יִשְׂרָאֵל  (Yisrael, where the S is pronounced like an S as it should be!) bears? Do you grasp the message of Hope, Strength and Promise that it holds? No longer shall your name be Yaakov, which in Hebrew means to follow, to walk in the footsteps of others. We shall no longer be followers, but rather leaders. We will lead our people and those who wish to follow our holy message that we carry for humanity. We shall do it against all odds. We shall face our challengers, our haters and adversaries and we shall win! We are the People of Eternity!

Am Yisrael Chai <3



  1. I am so impressed of your article! This misunderstanding is very important because it confuses the youth makes them thinking that by having erotic behavior with their friends they would not be blessed. Here is the ancient Greek translation of the Genesis 24, verse 43: "ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἐφέστηκα ἐπὶ τῆς πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος, καὶ αἱ θυγατέρες τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῆς πόλεως ἐκπορεύονται ἀντλῆσαι ὕδωρ, καὶ ἔσται ἡ παρθένος, ᾗ ἂν ἐγὼ εἴπω, πότισόν με ἐκ τῆς ὑδρίας σου μικρὸν ὕδωρ," where word "παρθένος" (virgin) could be replaced by "κόρη" which is mainly used for daughter maiden, not necessarily a virgin. So consider this part: " ὕδωρ, καὶ ἔσται ἡ κόρη, ᾗ ἂν ἐγὼ εἴπω," would be no misunderstanding at all.
    Oh, by the way, we pronounce it with the Z sound: Ιζραήλ.

  2. It seems that English is not the right “tool” for this, but in Greek there are several approaches about a feminine human, depending on the prism you want to see through. It is also advisable to consider that this period of times ethic rulers were seeking confirmations via ancient writings as they seem more vital in time. It seems virginity should be advertised some how and beside the well known, I suppose knowledge of Hebrew language those days by many Greeks, and the other way around, there where many Jews knew very well Greek, word “virgin” “παρθένος” was picked everywhere, even if it was just a daughter (θυγατήρ) or (in Greek there is a word that is for every woman at all ages who is not a mother until now, or not married) “κόρη”.
    Virginity WON. This is ridiculous. We end up writing the new testament, which was written by Jews, e.g. Ιωνάννης (Johannes) was a Jew having excellent Greek knowledge, having ALL ot the significant role women as VIRGINS.
    If you read Johannes and you know Greek you'll be astonished by his level at the language. I don't believe that his Jewish knowledge was bad any way. He was born and grew up at Israel.
    I am sorry, for all Christians, but I am TIRED of all the “virgins” ruling the soul of normal women.

  3. The "I'm right and you are wrong" attitude is hardly good scholarship. Also, your hatred of "missionaries" and your evident arrogance in speaking down to those who don't know Hebrew rather dilutes what you are trying to saying. Hebrew is a minority language. Perhaps you could recommend a good English translation for us less enlightened majority.

    Also, perhaps you could explain to us who the "almah" is and what was Isaiah trying to say. BTW, my Bible tranlates this correctly, also Moses' face is "radiant" in my Bible. Scholars have undoubtedly mistranslated in the past but modern Bible scholarship is far more careful in its sources.

    You possibly don't know that in centuries past, many, many thousands of those whom you characterise as, "the lurking spiritual thieves," were persecuted and killed for producing/owning Bibles in their mother tongue, by the establishment Church who forbade them to read it, because they (the Church) were the only ones qualified (they said) to understand it. This is exactly the same spirit you demonstrate.

    Finally, your ongoing obsession with the correct pronunciation of "Israel" is farcical. You speak Ivrit, the majority of the world speaks something else. Get over it.


    1. Whoever this Albionsson is, I have one message for them, I will continue to fight all efforts to misrepresent our Jewish values. I will fight any efforts to deliberately mistranslate our Holy Scriptures.
      If Albiosson and his like wish to share what Christians have endured over the century, they should do it on their own space and publications. I will wrote to my people, I will fight for my people regardless and ONLY for my people. Not PC? I say, the hell with PC! BTW, I believe i made it very clear to BOTH Hebrew speakers and non-Hebrew speakers :-)

    2. If you write in a public space you should not be surprised to get a public response Batzi. You write from the perspective that certain people are out to twist Scripture for some nefarious purpose. You are no scholar. You can't even be bothered to engage and answer my questions.

  4. a wonderful article, thank you! Shared it.

  5. Albionsson...the trouble with interpretations of Hebrew Scriptures and thoughts on Jews is they has predominantly come through the lenses of others. There's also been a lot of Greek jingoism about the Septuagint and this wacky idea that it was the Jews who changed things.

    We have the Samaritans after Sanballat's time pushing their own narrative and interpretation and somehow having an impact on the translation into Greek of what became the Septuagint.

    We have Samaritans, Hellenicised Jews and Greeks in the late-first century trying to supercede the Jews.

    We have proto-Catholics who came up with their own spin after the late-2nd century, creating Catholicism.

    We have scholars who are stuck basically arguing a SINGLE group's view of christianity anyway, WITHOUT even factoring in all the other versions.

    Heck, there was even a competing idea that Jesus was supposed to be an allegory/angel/God (not really human) and a Youth in the Linen Cloth who was the ACTUAL messiah nagid. Not that he really did well, since 100 years later his version was made "heretical."

    Yet NONE of these has the understanding of the people whose Scripture it always was, nor the depth that native Hebrew speakers have when reading, studying or analysing the Hebrew Scriptures.

    I see all these other things being the variants and the narratives. They all try to claim it's the Jews who are wrong.

    Perhaps we should start thinking we should be stricter about the variants' narratives and not accept them blindly.

    And start actually LISTENING when someone explains Hebrew from a native Hebrew-speaker's perspective and NOT from a second- or third-hand translation.

    Going by how many common points there were between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the has to suspect, in intellectual honesty, that misinterpretations especially in translation could be deliberate.

    One of a number of reasons why I won't see Jews through the eyes of supercessionists or slanderers of them.

    1. George Hall, I have never in all my thinking and writing said the Jews were wrong. Your verbose reply failed to answer my most pertinent question, can you recommend a good English translation? I happen to believe rhe Scriptures were given for the benefit of all mankind. Your waffle serves as a cloak for Batzis idea that they are for the Jews alone and because they are written in Hebrew, they alone have the interpretation.

    2. George Hall's comments are correct. And bat Zion's comments are accurate. Translations from Hebrew of Jewish literature, often written in poetry and heavy with metaphor, because of the use of metaphor and the linguistic structure of Semitic languages, lose about 25% of meaning when the translation is to an Indi-European language.

    3. Efraim, when I did a certain small amount of learning of Hebrew 25 years ago, I was amazed at the fact a Hebrew word usually carried four times more information than a word in English does.

  6. One other thing, Albionsson...what you talk about was where people tried to get translations into their own language from LATIN bibles.

    Latin. Greek. And yet the Scriptures are HEBREW.

    Perhaps the sad part of this is...Philo of Alexandria thought more in GREEK...Alexandria was NOT known for really understanding Hebrew so much. What did Philo really get across...the uniqueness of Torah, or did he end up only validating Greek PHILOSOPHICAL thought out of Plato and lead people to think Plato had even a clue about Hebrew Scripture concepts? Unfortunately, it looks like instead people viewed Philo's stuff as validating Plato, not Moses so much.

    1. Thank you again for your elaborate comment George. I appreciate your insight as a former Christia. As a Jew, I have not had it, something that obviously immensely bothers Albinsson :-) He/ she will just have to accept that I wrote what I did to protect our Jewish youth from what some of his "friends" do to our children!He dies not like it? Too bad!

    2. Yes I know that, George Hall. You fail to acknowledge or understand my salient point that whether a Bible is in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, the average Joe Bloggs can't read it. And those in authority like(d) it that way.

    3. "I am laughing I knew my latest article directed at Jews would cause some discomfort among Christians."

      Your words cause me no discomfort Batzi. They serve merely to underline your bigotry.

    4. I have reaad a comment by you elswhere George Hall, where you suggest that in order to understand Hebrew, I must go to a native Hebrew speaker, and "....NOT to any group who is trying to subvert, supercede, or slander Jews or Torah." Have you any idea how idiotic that sounds?

    5. George, you do realize by now that Albionsson's non hidden agenda is to belittle anyone who expresses a view different to his If my desire to alert young Innocent, uneducated Jews to the danger of missionaries is interpreted by him/her as "bigotry" then I admit, I am a proud bigot.

    6. Albionsson...the sad part is...there HAVE been too many people who have tried to subvert, superced and slander Jews. So much so it makes it hard looking at known translations that shifted meaning. Perhaps some was accidental...though there are more cases of deliberate than accidental. One should also consider that after the time of Sanballat, the Samaritans pushed their own narrative...which would make their input into the Septuagint intriguing to say the would also have to look at what it bought them...a very SHORT Golden Age lasting from the end of the Second Jerusalem Temple until the Emperor Commodus. But long term...a totally different story. Albionsson...I don't see the French or the Italians allowing a non-native speaker of THEIR languages to dictate to THEM.

    7. "...I don't see the French or the Italians allowing a non-native speaker of THEIR languages to dictate to THEM." No you don't George Hall, but you are more than happy to allow a non native speaker of English dictate to the English speakers of this world how they should speak their own language.

  7. Albionsson, a couple responses to your comments if I may. (1) Bat Zion is not a bigot. She is a Hebrew speaker who is fluent in English because of her unusual experiences, who is quite competent and authoritative in noting where Hebrew translations fall short and lose meaning. (2) You asked in one question about who is "alma" in the reference that Christians have interpreted as being Mary, etc. In Hebrew, because of the nature of the language and the nature of Hebrew writing at the time, it is clear that this is metaphorical, with the "young woman" being "the Jewish people", as explained by several jewish theologians and philosophers over the past 2500 years, including Maimonides (who wrote his opinion in Arabic and Hebrew, related languages that lose less in translation between them).

    1. Efraim, thank you for your supportive comment. I have had exchanges with Albionsson in the past where he/she made every efgort to belittle me for my personal views. I read them and move on. no, I will not delete them as someone suggested. I will let him /her ecpeess them. Because unlike him/ her, I believe that everyone is entitled to thrir views and debate should be conducted in a dignified manner. The latter, Albionsson has yet to master

  8. Anonymous said...
    Thank you Ephraim for answering my question about the "almah" in simple terms. As a Christian I believe that Scripture is God breathed. Theologians give interpretations but ultimatelt the Ruach Hakodesh who gave the Word will interpret the Word. Philosophy is man's way. If Batzi thinks that all translators of the Bible set out to distort the written word for their own ends then that is a very bigoted view. I do not subscribe to the "I'm right you're wrong" approach.

    1. The Septuagint Greek actually shifted meaning in a few parts...that's detectable just looking at a KJV where the NT part used quotes from the Septuagint whenever it quoted from Torah and Prophets...while the originals in the KJV's OT used Masoretic Hebrew to translate from.

      There is known research on how much commonality there was between Samaritan Pentateuch and the decided at the point the Septuagint was written to use the Samaritan viewpoint over the Jewish...and I've seen enough cases of the Greeks being a little too full of themselves that they'd gotten things "so" right there.

      On Philosophy...and one thing that may ruffle Anonymous a bit here...philosphy is more tied to christian origins than most Christians would think...suggested reading on the Logos would be...Plato's The Timaeus. And numberous writings of Philo where he tried applying Plato to the scriptures...or read the Scriptures to fit with Plato.

      Seeing God according to Plato isn't quite identical to seeing him through the Hebrew scriptures.

    2. Albionsson,
      You do enjoy taking my words out of context. Well, for the record, I stated the example of "maiden" which is what Isaiah is talking about. THe Tanach was written in Hebrew, my native language. The fact that the English translation elected to use the word "virgin" which is NOT what Isaiah was talking about, can only point at a deliberate effort by the church to support the immaculate conception. Perhaps it is ok for you, but to use this twisted translation to lure young Jewish children into Christianity as Missionaries do and they did to my student, is wrong!Now, can you a decent human being that you seem to be, face yourself in the mirror and condone it??

    3. "Perhaps it is ok for you, but to use this twisted translation to lure young Jewish children into Christianity....." Oh really? Instead of impugning me why not explain to me what Isaiah's prophecy is about? So far your have majored on the mistranslation of one word. Not being a native Hebrew speaker myself, I am interested to learn from those who are. However, you are not capable of having discussion. Perhaps you should look in the mirror and write the word "haughty" above what you see!

    4. Typical missionary response when faced with facts. Whatever Isaiah wrote is NOT what you would like him to have written.I hate to bust your inflated bubble. Good bye

    5. George Hall, seeing God according to either Plato or the Hebrew Scriptures is not the same as perceiving Him directly through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All your endless verbiage is about the understanding of men. Scripture is breathed by the Spirit of God and as such can only be grasped with the help of that same Spirit. Do you really think that God and His Word can be constrained by the written word. Was it not God himself at Babel who confused the languages of men?

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  10. What do you call Germany? Or China? Do you call them Deutschland and Zhong Guo? I'm guessing that you don't. You take issue with the fact that we call your country the way it is written, not the way you chose, yet when it comes to other countries you call them whatever you want. You rant on and on about how the pronunciation of the Z should actually be an S and that it's not what your forefathers intended and that god shall not sow yet you don't see how hypocritical it all is. Countries will call other countries whatever they see fits their language, I hate to break it to you but you're not a special case.

    1. Thank you for your comment Demosthenes. A name is the most precious possesion anyone has. Referring to someone by the proper pronunciation of their name is showing respect. Doing otherwise is showing disrespect. I cannot speak for other countries and frankly I do not care about them. I can only care about my Home. When our name bears such great meaning and significance, I would educate our youger generation (and I do!) about the need to properly pronounce it. This is especially the case since, as I show in the article the prounciation of Israel (where the S is pronounced as a Z) bears a TOTALLY different meaning to what our REAL name, Yisrael means. Yisrael is a name that is loaded with strength, hope and determination. This is why our founders chose it. I will not let anyone take it from us, not you, not anyone. IF you do not like to show us respect, you are not a friend .As such, please do not expect me to consider your comment and attach much value to it. I will fight for our right to define ourselves. Others have done it for over 2000 years.
      By the way, your choice of name is poor , I am afraid to tell you. Either you fill your mouth with more stones and practice some more, or give up oration. You do little justice if any to the great Greek orator!.