Sunday, October 11, 2009

translating the bible into hebrew

IsraelShamir | 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 gero-n, 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!

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.