Translating the Bible into Hebrew
They say that at a press-conference before departing from Israel , President George W. Bush was asked: “What impressed you most of all in Israel ?” The Texan replied: “The Bible in my room. It was in your tongue! Despite the wars and terrorism, you did not begrudge the effort and translated the Holy Bible into Hebrew in such a short time! That impressed me the most”.
Besides ridiculing proverbial Texan ignorance, this Israeli joke aims to remind us that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and every Old Testament book that you find in your hotel room is a translation from the ancient Hebrew text. There is a far-reaching implication: the Jews are the guardians and keepers of a primary sacred text of Christendom. This implication is subliminally or even consciously accepted by the West.
The consequences of this implication go far beyond textual details. India ’s Brahmins are guardians of the Vedas, and this brings them influence, money, ministerial positions. Likewise in the West, the Jewish guardians of the Scripture possess by this right such extraordinary influence – totally out-of-sync with their demographic numbers – that can’t be explained in any other way.
Money, clannishness, media ownership – all are frequently mentioned among the reasons for this disproportionate Jewish influence. Here's the problem, though: This influence is greatest in the US in particular and in the West in general. The Jews of Serbia and Greece , of Turkey and Syria , of India and China are not poor either, and are no less clannish, but they are much less influential. We may propose a different reason, then: the Texan-Israeli joke wouldn’t have been immediately understood in these countries, because for Muslims, for Hindus, for the Chinese as well as for Orthodox Christians, Jews have no sacred function – they are not the guardians of a holy text. Non-Christians have their own scriptures. And for Orthodox Christians, the Old Testament is the Septuagint, the Greek text composed some two hundred years before Christ and one thousand years before the present Jewish Bible (called MT, Masoretic Text) was completed.
Though the schism between the Eastern and the Western churches is usually connected with the filioque controversy, the true bifurcation point between the Christian East and the Christian West is located in their choice of the primary text (aside from the New Testament). Westerners (Catholics and Protestants) use the Old Testament they translated from the Jewish MT; Easterners use the Greek text as the original. This is an extremely important difference. When St Paul said that the opposites are united in Christ, he mentioned man and woman, Jew and Hellene (Galatians 3:28). Indeed, the ideal Jew and Hellene are as opposed to each other as the ideal man and woman, and the Jewish and Hellenic texts are equally opposed to each other. Moreover, translations from either of these texts carry the imprint of the original spirit with them. The Hellenic spirit found its expression in the Septuagint, while the Judaic spirit was expressed in the Masoretic Hebrew text, the MT. Christianity as a whole treads a narrow path between its Judaic and Hellenic tendencies, which are locked in an eternal fight like the Yin and the Yang. Their choice of primary text for the Old Testament caused the Eastern churches to favour the Hellenic, and the Western the Judaic tendency.
Before continuing, a full disclosure: until fairly recently, I was not aware of the problem, and like everybody else, I thought that the Old Testament in every language was a translation from the Hebrew MT original. A few months ago, I visited Moscow where I thoroughly enjoyed the fabulous hospitality of the Muscovites, who can turn every friendly meeting over a couple of vodkas into a Platonic symposium – a banquet of reason and a celebration of the soul. Once, my friend Michael, a Moscow University teacher, told me that a famous Starets wanted to receive me. “Starets,” the Russian equivalent of Greek gerōn, or “elder”, means, in Eastern Orthodoxy, a monastic spiritual leader – a charismatic spiritual guide who can aid others in attaining spiritual progress and success, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica tell us. The Starets is well known in Moscow as a confessor and heart-reader – a man who understands the human soul and its way to salvation. I was immensely touched and flattered by the invitation, for people normally wait months on end to see him and receive his blessing. Though I have met with princes of the Church – with bishops and cardinals, with the monks of Athos and Jerusalem – the elders are the hidden heart of the faith.
We drove out of Moscow to the monastery at four a.m. The road was empty, and there were only a few pilgrims in front of the monastery waiting for the heavy gates to open. This is neither the time nor the place to relate everything that happened at this meeting, but I’ll tell you the most important thing: the Starets told me of his desire to publish the Old Testament in Hebrew, corrected in accordance with the Queen Elizabeth Bible of the Russian Orthodox Church. At first, I was deeply shocked and confused. The Queen Elizabeth Bible (1751), or the QEB, is a translation, and a translation of the Greek translation into the Old Church Slavonic. Wasn’t this rather too daring a project, to correct the original according to a translation? Its scope would eclipse any post-modernist project!
Here another, even fuller disclosure is called for: the idea of translating a translation or even reconstructing the original according to a translation was not totally foreign to me. Translations are not machine-made neutral reproductions; they carry with them the twin loads of the original culture and of the translator’s culture. A translation can be translated. I was aware of this complexity - some years ago I had translated the Odyssey into Russian from the English translations of Lawrence (1932) and Rieu (1946) instead of from the Greek original. (It was published by Aletheia, the Heidegger-inspired St Petersburg publishers of Greek classics in AD 2000). I did it that way in order to convey Jorge Luis Borges’ idea that for the modern reader Joyce’s Ulysses precedes Homer’s Odyssey. The English post-Joyce translations of the Odyssey carried this subliminal message, and I tried to preserve it in my translation into Russian. (More on this in Russian on http://www.israelsh amir.net/ ru/odysseia0. htm )
The longer I considered the words of the Starets, the more sense they made to me. Practically, he was proposing to reconstruct the H70, the lost Hebrew original of the Septuagint, while using the QEB to select between numerous versions. You will see soon why this could begin the reversal of a long-term Judaisation and degradation process, and start the healing of the schism between the West and the East, while at the same time helping the Jews to overcome their hubris and to make peace with the nations. The Jews have translated the Bible into the languages of the nations in order to influence them; the world is indebted to them, and it's time to pay them back by giving them the true original Hebrew text of the Old Testament, free from censorship and later additions, just as it was read in the days of the Second Temple.
Why will this bookish project influence the real world? Sacred matters influence our world far more than is acceptable to admit in polite society. The dummies believe that all things are done out of pecuniary considerations, but in truth, it is spiritual authority that decides. The world based on the Jewish Bible is not the same as would be a world based on the Greek Bible. Its priorities would be different. Even the texts themselves are different. The Hebrew text used today by Jews (and by tiny communities of Hebrew-speaking Christians), usually called MT (Masoretic text) is not the same text that was read by Christ and His apostles.
If you open the New Testament you’ll see that its references to the Old Testament do not fit. For instance, Matt. 12:21 quotes Isaiah: “in His name will the Gentiles trust”. But if you look up Isaiah 42:4, you’ll see something completely different: “the isles shall wait for his law”. Or (Acts 7:14) Stephen says "seventy-five" souls went down to Egypt with Jacob. But look up your Old Testament (Gen. 46:27; Deut. 10:22) – it says that only seventy people went to Egypt . This does not mean that the translators of King James, or any other translators of the Old Testament, made a mistake. They translated correctly, but from the wrong version, from the MT, while Jesus, His apostles and the New Testament writers in general had read and quoted the Septuagint (LXX) or its Hebrew Source (H70).
The transposition of the MT in place of the Septuagint (LXX) or its Hebrew Source (H70), making it the source for all subsequent Western translations, was the biggest coup the Jewish scholars ever pulled off, and this is the deep-lying cause of Judaisation of the West.
The MT is not particularly old. The oldest complete manuscript of the MT – The Leningrad Codex (1008) - is just over a thousand years old, whilst the LXX is much, much older. The LXX translation was created in a very different era – not only before Christ, but even before the Maccabee revolt. In those days, in the third century BC, the Hellenistic world embraced Palestine , Egypt , Syria and their neighbours. The Jews were integrating well into this Hellenic world, and the long struggle between the two spirits of the ancient faith of Israel had just started:
One was the inward-looking nationalist exclusivist spirit. It claimed private ownership over the Divine Law and exclusive access to the Creator for the Chosen of Israel. A stranger reading the Law was to be executed. A translation of the Bible into Greek was a most serious sin, equivalent to fashioning a golden calf (Ex 32:4), they said.
The other spirit proclaimed universality and led to Christ. The Law and God’s mercy were to be given to all.
In modern terms, these are the spirits of privatisation and nationalisation. The battle was fought in the three seats of ancient wisdom, - Alexandria , Babylon and Jerusalem . Alexandria was the most universalistic, Babylon the most proprietary – Jerusalem was their battleground. In Alexandria , a happy synthesis of Jewish and Hellenic ideas was reached in the translation of Seventy Elders appointed by the High Priest. Thus came the revelation of Israel to the world, preparing the way for Christ.
This translation was nothing short of miraculous. The translators consisted of six from each tribe of Israel , making altogether seventy-two. But the translation is called the Translation of the Seventy because seventy is the numeric value of “Sod” – “Secret” in Hebrew. The Seventy revealed the secret that the exclusivist Jews did not want to share. “A curse upon him who reveals our secret to the Gentiles”, they had written on the floor of the En-Gedi Synagogue. Three times the daughters of Jerusalem were charged “not to stir or awaken love until she pleases” (Song of Songs 3) and this meant “do not disclose our secret to Gentiles”, says the Talmud. Furious at the disclosure of the secret, the exclusivist Jews destroyed the Hebrew Source of the Septuagint. Every single copy perished. In Jerusalem , the nationalist Jews slaughtered the Hellenised proto-Christian Jews in the Maccabean revolt.
With the coming of Christ, the free Judeo-Hellenic spirit once again found its expression which was hated by the nationalists, who embarked on the long road to regaining full control over the Scripture. For hundreds of years, the scribes worked over the Old Testament, taking advantage of its ambiguous consonant readings, until they eventually achieved a text we know today. Its main paradigm was changed: if the old text led to Christ, the personal/universal Saviour, the new text implanted the nationalist concept of a messiah of and for the people of Israel . The nations of the world were to be seen as sinful semi-animals who had no access to God. The name ‘Jews’ stuck with this small fanatic band, while the Hellenised Jews became known as 'Christians' and were no longer called ‘Jews’. What was previously a battle between two schools of thought within the Judaic framework, became known as the battle between Judaic and Christian spirits.
The exclusivist Jews could not destroy the Septuagint – there were too many copies extant among non-Jews, and the LXX had been spread around and had succeeded in bringing the nations to Christ. That is why, in their attempt to force the genie of free spirit back into its bottle, the Jews made - one after another - three translations of the Old Testament into Greek to counter the LXX. These translations were made from their proto-Masoretic version, and were quite tendentious. “The Virgin” in the prophecy became “a young woman” in their rendering. Since then, the Jews have made and/or influenced dozens of translations into all languages, while ferociously defending their own Hebrew version, the MT, as the only legitimate primary source.
The young church had not worried overmuch, as they considered Hebrew only a language of the scribes, whilst cultured people used Greek, and the local masses spoke Aramaic. The Church dismissed the Hebrew version as an empty cocoon shed by a beautiful butterfly. LXX was considered the God-inspired text, and on its basis, the New Testament and the works of the Fathers of the Church were created. The Eastern Orthodox Church still prefers the Septuagint to the MT, for the translation of the Seventy Elders had been kept in the Church and by the Church, whereas the Hebrew text had been kept and prepared by anti-Christian forces.
When later Christian scholars became interested in the Old Testament, and compared the Judaic translations with the LXX, they unavoidably resorted to the Jewish Bible, for by that time the Jews had the edited Hebrew manuscripts and tools for their interpretation. As you will recall, the H70, the old Hebrew Source of the Septuagint had been destroyed by the nationalists. A great scholar, Origen, therefore turned to the Jews for advice, and they gave him plenty of advice - only their advice was based on their understanding of their text. Origen decided to improve the Septuagint and emended the LXX according to the Jewish Bible of his day. Some of these emendations made their way into the body of the LXX. Still, the Eastern Church remained rather safe, for the Septuagint remained the official version of the Old Testament for the Greek-speaking East from Constantinople to Alexandria .
But the West did not read Greek. For a long while, the West used the Old Latin translations from the Septuagint; the unity of the Church remained strong, but the translations were weak. Eventually Jerome, a wonderful man and a great scholar, who lived for 34 years in Palestine , decided to correct the Old Latin translations and update them. He even began his work using the Septuagint. Afterwards, though, he followed Origen and turned to the Jews for their advice and interpretation. That was his undoing. He got carried away, and took the fateful step that made the West susceptible to Jewish influence. He parted with LXX and made a brand new translation into Latin – from the Hebrew Bible of his day, the proto-MT. The Jews surely liked the result, but St Augustine was shocked by this deed, and wrote in The City of God:
Although the Jews acknowledge this very learned labour [of Jerome translating the Old Testament from the Hebrew] to be fruitful, while they contend that the Seventy translators have erred in many places, still the churches of Christ judge that no one should be preferred to the authority of [the Seventy], and we ought to believe that the prophetic gift is with [the Seventy].
Contemporaries condemned Jerome, as they noticed that he slowly began to appear more and more Jewish in his positions as he got older and his Jewish friends began to have more influence. One of his former friends, Rufinus, publicly attacked Jerome's Jewish leanings. Jerome, in response to this work of Rufinus, freely admitted the truth of Rufinus's claims. Jerome wrote in his own Apology: "There is nothing to blame in my getting the help of a Jew in translating from the Hebrew." He said that he “did not understand how Jewish interpretations here and there would undermine the faith of Christians.” In this way the Jews managed to plant the seed that would eventually blossom into the acceptance of the Hebrew MT and the virtual abolition of the Greek Septuagint, the authentic Christian Scriptures of Christ and His Apostles.
A reason why Jerome, and Origen before him, accepted the Jewish version was their lack of historical perspective. Perspective in the visual art was discovered in 15th century, while the historical perspective was not known until the seventeenth century. Until that time, mankind was not aware of the torrent of Time. Don Quixote considered Achilles and Hector to have been knights like himself or like Lancelot. The Crusaders had thought the Muslim mosque of Jerusalem was the Temple of Solomon . For Origen and Jerome, the Old Testament was the Old Testament, and the Jews were the Jews. They did not understand that the Hebrew text of the OT had been changed since the days of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, when the Septuagint was produced. Some of these changes were tendentious, others were due to scribal errors, and still others were the result of misunderstanding.
Orthodox Bible scholar Nicolas Glubokovsky wrote: “The Greek translation reproduced an independent Hebrew textual type that was not severely censored and redacted by rabbinic authorities. That is why LXX and MT do differ profoundly, and their readings of messianic and Christian spirit are at loggerheads”.
Origen and Jerome believed the myth about careful Jewish stewardship of the OT scrolls. They did not know that the Jews had destroyed the manuscripts of other types. The Church had no such practice, and at Jerome’s time there were “tot exemplaria paene quot codices” — as many versions as there are codices. Islam, however, followed the Jewish way, and all differing versions of the Koran were destroyed, so only one type survived.
Jerome planted the seed of Jewish influence, and it had made its major inroads by the Ninth century, when the Vulgate of Jerome became universally accepted. Still, the Old Testament was not widely read – Latin was not universally understood and its influence remained somewhat limited – that is, until the Protestants began to spread their translations of the Old Testament in the vernacular.
The immediate result can be likened to an outbreak of a long-sleeping disease: Previously unheard-of devastation and massacres of civilians during the Thirty Years’ War were influenced by spread of the MT-based vernacular translations, as the nations were infected by its exclusivist nationalist spirit unknown in Europe until that time. The King James Bible was translated from the MT, and the result was amazing: the Brits began to consider themselves a racial new Israel of the flesh, as opposed to the Church being regarded the New Israel of the spirit. They fought the Church, and inflicted the ethnic cleansing prescribed in the book of Joshua on their colonies in the New World . They privatised the commons and turned ordinary British people into paupers. The German Bible translated from the MT turned the Germans into ferocious nationalists and eventually prepared the ground for Hitler. Thus, the MT and its translations had an enormous, even magical, effect. The petard placed in the second century below the walls of the Christian society went off!
The Jews became the collective Merlin behind the throne of a British King Arthur. People dissatisfied with this pre-eminence of the Jews left Christianity for various heathen cults, or became engrossed with the material side of the world. The Judaisation of the West and the degradation of its spirit accelerated.
Today, the translation battle continues as unabatedly and as one-sidedly as ever. The Jews produce dozens of translations into many languages, each more Judaic than the last. Some are openly Jewish, like the Jewish Publication Society Bible, others are crypto-Jewish or “Christian-Zionist” , like the Scofield Reference Bible that reduces the Christian faith to ‘love of Jews and of the Jewish state”. This long, hard work on these corrosive translations is the real Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion.
Russia was the latest to submit to the Judaising influence of the MT translation. Until the late 19th century, the Russians were exposed only to the QEB, the Old Slavonic translation from the Septuagint, and they were pious, religious, loyal to the throne. In the late 19th century, the pro-British Masonic Bible Society had published a translation of the MT into the Russian vernacular. Very soon, the Jewish influence in Russia began to rise. However, the Russian Church did not accept this Judaised Russian Bible for liturgical purposes, and continues to pray and read from the QEB. This caused a tragic rift between the LXX-orientated Church and MT-induced reading public, a rift that came to forefront with the Revolution.
Let me add yet another disclosure: As an ex-Jew who was received into the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, I am acutely and personally aware of the continuous struggle of these two spirits in the world. Will the Christian world submit to Judaisation, or will the Jews accept Christ? A few days ago, in a church in the Holy Land , I saw a Bible in Hebrew published by a Christian society for the purpose of bringing the Jews to Christ. However, the Old Testament had been reproduced from the MT. If a Jew sees that Christians actually use the Jewish text prepared by anti-Christian Jewish Rabbis, how can he ever accept the Christian interpretation? The encounter of Jews and Christians should bring Jews to the Church, not lead to Christians leaving the Church in dismay.
Proselytising efforts usually fail because the Jews consider themselves the guardians of the Scripture, while they should be seen as keepers of their own distinct text on a par with the Aramaic Peshitta, the Ethiopian Bible or the Samaritan Torah.
The MT is the petard laid centuries ago under the besieged City of God’s fortifications. The reconstruction of the Hebrew OT according to the LXX would hoist the Jewish sappers on their own petard and relieve the siege. A truly Christian Hebrew Bible has now become a distinct possibility. The H70, the Hebrew Source of the LXX, can be reconstructed on the basis of the textological discoveries of the last hundred years, with the help of the Qumran scrolls. We can do it – we can do it fairly quickly and fairly accurately. We intend to do it, with your help. Such a publication will become the turning point in this millennial struggle. The battle will be carried into the adversary’s territory for the first time since A.D. 128, when Rabbi Akiba’s disciple and convert Aquila produced his Judaic translation of the OT into Greek. If this project had been attempted by the young Church in the second century, the Jewish influence today would be the same as the Samaritan one – negligible. Now it is late, but not too late.
People who doubt the very possibility of reconstructing H70 usually refer to the multiple interpretations and versions within the sea of LXX manuscripts. These objections are not sincere. The Church has an exact answer regarding interpretations and versions, and we can trust Her inspiration. In our dark times of confusion, we can follow the interpretation of the Queen Elizabeth Bible, as I said in the beginning.
Why the Queen Elizabeth Bible, and not any other? Why not the Greek text? The QE Bible was prepared in the least Judaised country of the Christian world, in 18th century Russia , under the royal protection of its least Judaised queen. Queen Elizabeth was asked to permit Jewish traders to enter Russia , as they would bring her much profit, and she replied: “I wish no profit from Christ’s enemies.” Western ideas (and in their guise, Judaic influence) made few inroads then. The QE Bible was edited by churchmen, not by scientists, and edited within the full view of the Church tradition. The QE Bible can be likened to a mammoth unearthed in the frozen tundra – its corpse survived for millennia because it was protected by permafrost. One may dislike permafrost and prefer the tropics, but permafrost is better for preservation. Likewise, one may prefer more Westernised, more Judaised Christianity, but if one wants to discover the pure old Hellene tradition, one can turn to Queen Elizabeth.
The Septuagint has plural interpretations and various versions. The QEB has the great advantage of being a single text based on the LXX and fully approved by the Church. Its language is lucid, its meaning is clear, and this allows us to find and reconstruct its lost Hebrew source. (However, other possible approaches could be considered.) The reconstruction of the Pentateuch can be completed soon – with your help.
In order to receive a few chapters of our tentative reconstruction of H70, send an email to adam@israelshamir. net with subject H70. Your contribution is tax-exempt in the US ; for small contributions use PayPal to the email above; for bigger contributions a bank account will be supplied upon request.
Translator of the medieval Jewish work Sefer Yohassin by Rabbi Abraham Zacuto into English, see www.zacuto.org
Translator of Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses into Russian, see www.israelshamir. net/ru .
Translator of SY Agnon into Russian.