Saturday, 10 February 2018

Beware of Translations Bearing Wrong Meanings

Those who know me, have by now come to realize that for me, translations, or rather mis-translations, of the Tanach from Hebrew to Greek first and then to other languages, are one of the greatest injustices committed against the Jewish people. Translations, more than often fail to reflect one very important underlying factor in its equation, the culture that is endemic to the language which is translated.

That is especially the pattern with the endeavours to translate the Tanach.

Make no mistake, I am all for educating and enriching as many as possible about different cultures, including our own. Not, however, when there seems to be primary agendas and biases woven into it.

I have written, and more than once, about the breaches and their ensuing perversion, unintentional or otherwise, that resulted from such practices. Any translation, by default, is bound to include any underlying personal and cultural fabrics of the translator, two elements that could affect the world views and understanding of a foreign concept.

Last week, I saw yet another example of it which triggered the rebellion of my Jewish pride and sense of justice. It violated a very sacred and entrenched notion in our Hebrew – Jewish culture.

It happened when I saw the translation of רוח הקודש (Ruach Hakodesh) as “The Holy Spirit.”
A brief visit to the Concordance (a publication which cites all words that appear in the Tanach) reveals that the term Ruach Hakodesh, which in Hebrew means “The Spirit of Holiness” never appears in the Hebrew Tanach. What does appear, and more than once, is “Ruach Elohim,” the “Spirit of G-d.”

First, we see it in Genesis 1:2 “וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם” (and the Spirit of G-d hovers above the water).
Later, we see it in Bresheet 14:38 when Pharaoh seeks a person who has the “Spirit of G-d” in them to help solve his dreams. “הֲנִמְצָא כָזֶה--אִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בּוֹ (Bresheet 41:38).

Another instance where we come across the use of the term is in Exodus, וָאֲמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, בְּחָכְמָה וּבִתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת, וּבְכָל-מְלָאכָה
(Shemot 31:3) where G-d is looking for an architect for the Mishkan (dwelling). This person will be filled with the Spirit of G-d, wisdom, understanding and knowledge, wisdom of the heart.

Next we see the notion in the Book of Numbers “ וַתְּהִי עָלָיו, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים.
(Bamidbar 24:2). Here it is mentioned in connection with Bilaam who was sent to curse Am Yisrael and ended up blessing them once the Spirit of G-d is upon him.

There are many other citations on the concept throughout the Tanach but I trust the reader has gotten the essence of it. In all mentions of the concept, its underlying attribute is the inspiring means of communication between G-d and mankind just as its literal translation connotes, “The Spirit of Holiness” which G-d has kindly bestowed on some human.

In the literature of Chaza”l, our Jewish sages, the term “Ruach Hakodesh” refers only to the gift of prophecy. Moreover, it is considered the lowest level in the hierarchy of prophecy. What follows from their writings is that “Ruach Hakodesh” (The Spirit of Holiness) is inside each one of us.The Talmud goes further to say that  “משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי נסתלקה רוח הקדש מישראל” (with the passing away of the last prophets, Hagai, Zechariah and Malachi, so has Ruach Hakodesh, Yoma 9:2).

Unlike the Jewish “Spirit of Holiness,” Christianity mistranslated Ruach Hakoesh as “The Holy Spirit,” one of the components of its trinitarian belief system. It is a concept that is utterly foreign to Judaism and has no relations to it whatsoever.

As I showed above, any interpretation that the “Holy Spirit” equals the “Father and the Son” is based on interpretation of verses in the New Testament and any attempt to argue their case or support them by passages from the Tanach are futile.

Wish to understand the Tanach and what it stands for? Learn Hebrew and avoid falling prey to erroneous mis-translations, innocuous or dis-translations cushioned with some underlying theological agendas.


  1. This is clearly a relevant article.

    Mistranslations, whether accidental or deliberate, can make a heck of a difference.

    It's sad also when people believe the translations over the correct meaning of the original.

    Most people associate translations with the LXX pentateuch...when the first Greek translation was made.

    It's interesting, though, that various scholars have noted that the LXX drew 1900-2000 common points from the Samaritan Pentateuch...which was still a fair chunk, considering the scholars found there was 6000 differences from Torah in the Samaritan Pentateuch itself.

    So it also helps having the right thing to translate from, too.

    Some modern scholars think the Samaritan Pentateuch and LXX are more superior to Torah. did the Samaritan Pentateuch itself form? One political/theological agenda. Sanballat the Horonite's.

    Those 1900-2000 differences that ended up in the LXX pentateuch? Who next did they effect? Hellenicists who only read Greek.

    That would have had to have affected Philo.

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