And God Said: Table of Contents
(Also take a look at the Table of Contents with Wordles.)
1. The King's English: Why We're All Stuck in the Middle Ages
"If the King's English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough
That quip by Miriam Amanda "Ma" Ferguson to her Texas constituents
last century actually reflects a common attitude toward the Bible.
While of course most people know that it wasn't originally written in
English, they also think that the ancient text is conveyed pretty
accurately in the familiar English quotations: "The Lord is my
shepherd...," "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth...,"
"Thou shalt not covet...," "Let my people go," and so forth. Most
people think they know what the Bible says because they've read it in
But they're wrong.
2. Recapturing the Past: What Does the Hebrew Mean?
"Why do you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?"|
"When a house burns up why does it also burn down?"
"If the ice-cream man brings ice cream in the ice-cream truck,
shouldn't we fear the fireman in the firetruck?"
Jokes like these - and many more like them - show us something
important about how language works. We see that the most
straightforward way to understand words and phrases just doesn't work.
It's a mistake to think that a "parkway" must be a place for parking
just because it comes from the word "park." (In fact, a "parkway"
used to be a "way" that traversed a "park.") It's a mistake to
conclude that just because "up" and "down" are opposites, "burn
up" and "burn down" must also mean different things. And it's a
mistake to use "ice-cream truck" to figure out exactly what
"firetruck" must mean.
Unfortunately, these sorts of basic errors mar many Bible translations and
obscure the real meaning of the ancient texts.
3. Bridging the Gap: Writing Hebrew in English
"Out of sight, out of mind," sounds like it might be paraphrased as
"blind idiot," but of course it cannot. Yet many translations of
the Bible make this sort of basic mistake when they render ancient
Hebrew in modern English.|
That's because knowing what the Hebrew words mean is only one half of
translating the Bible. The second and more difficult half is finding
English words that do the same thing as the original Hebrew. More
generally, translation consists of two parts: decoding the original
language (Hebrew, in our case), and finding a translation in a new
language (English, for us) that does the same thing as the original.
In Chapter 2 we used examples from modern languages to get a sense
of how the first half of translation works. We'll use the same
approach now to understand the second half. And, as before, some
examples will help pave the way for a discussion of the underlying theory.
4. Heart and Soul: What Makes Us Human
The most important commandment, according to Jesus in Matthew 22:37,
Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27, is to "love the Lord your God with all your
heart, all your soul, and all your mind" (NAB and, essentially, NRSV).|
Jesus himself (using Greek) is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 (which is in
Hebrew), and that line is central to both Jews and Christians.
Deuteronomy 6:5 is part of the text that Jews traditionally affix to
their doorways, and, as we just saw, Jesus calls this the most
The combination "heart and soul," or some variation of it, appears
nearly forty times in the Bible, further emphasizing how important
these two ideas were in antiquity. But here's the problem. The
Hebrew words for "heart" and "soul," the words in Deuteronomy 6:5
that Jesus quotes, are levav and nefesh, respectively.
And they are severely mistranslated. In fact, the translations miss
the point entirely.
5. Kings and Shepherds: Who We Are
Few images from the Bible are more well known than the poetic opening
of Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd." Equally, few images are
more widely misunderstood. The problem is that shepherds, once
common, are now rare.|
We likewise find a problem with kings. The word "king" appears
thousands of times in the Bible, usually in reference to human kings,
but sometimes referring to God. However, while we still have kings
now, in Morocco and Sweden, for example, and theoretically in England,
the role of kings has changed.
6. My Sister, My Bride: How We See Each Other
We have already looked at the romantic and poetic imagery in Song of
Songs enough to suspect that the incestuous translation, "my sister,
my bride" (NRSV) must be wrong. The KJV's "my sister, my spouse"
is no better. Other translations, like "my treasure, my bride," or
"my own, my bride," may be poetic, but they are original inventions
of the translators that do not reflect the original Hebrew. So what's going on?|
7. Wanting, Taking, and Killing: How We Live
Perhaps more than any other part of the Bible, the Ten Commandments have shaped
Western culture. They adorn houses of worship and appear in courts of
law. Unlike most parts of the Bible, they have influenced secular
laws. And it seems that their importance was recognized even in the
days of the Bible, for they comprise the only extended passage to
appear twice in the Five Books of Moses.|
The good news is that most of the commandments have been translated
accurately. The bad news is that two have not.
Before we look at what went wrong and what the commandments really
mean, it makes sense to understand what the Ten Commandments are and
why they are so important.
8. Virgins and Other Young People: How We Mark Our Years
Isaiah 7:14, quoted in Matthew 1:23, predicts that the Lord shall give
a sign in the form of a "virgin" (KJV) who shall conceive. This
virgin has been widely interpreted to be Mary, mother of Jesus, and
Isaiah's prophecy is therefore a cornerstone of Christian theology.|
But the word doesn't mean "virgin," so the prophecy isn't what is
The Hebrew in Isaiah is alma. We now know how to figure out what the
word really means. As we follow the same path we did in previous
chapters, we'll also need a bit of general background about words that
are used to mark age and societal roles.
9. The Power of Words (or Go Marry a Harlot)
Hosea 14:1 (numbered 14:2 by Jews) calls on us to "return to the
Hosea is one of the "minor prophets," as they are sometimes called
by modern scholars, or simply "the Twelve Prophets," as they are
somewhat more reverently referred to in verse 49:10 of the
2,200-year-old Book of Sirach.
The Book of Hosea is hard to date. It begins with a preamble that puts
itself in "the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of
Judah" and "the days of Joash's son, Jeroboam, King of Israel." So
the book dates to the divided monarchy, when what we now call
"Israel" was divided into a northern kingdom called "Israel" and a
southern kingdom called "Judah." (Historians, being nothing if not
clever, sometimes call the northern kingdom "The Northern Kingdom"
and the southern kingdom "The Southern Kingdom," rather than using
the terms "Israel" and "Judah.")
Unfortunately, according to II Kings 15:8, Jeroboam died while Uzziah
reigned, so there was no period of time during both "the days ... of
Jotham" and "the days ... of Jeroboam.
|Click any chapter heading for a sneak preview!|