Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, May 09, 2008

Adventist Forum Announcement and Hebrew Language

I was originally going to write on another topic but I read the following announcement about the next Adventist Forum meeting and the subject got me thinking.

The Pacific Northwest Adventist Forum will hold its next meeting at the Green Lake Seventh-day Adventist on June 7 at 3:00 PM. The speaker will be Brian Bull MD who currently chairs the Department of Pathology at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. His presentation is entitled "What in Heaven (and Earth) Was the Writer of Genesis Talking About?" Dr. Bull has been active in the affairs of the church including the difficult and controversial topic of integrating faith and science. He is a member of a group in Loma Linda that is carefully studying the Hebrew words of Genesis in an attempt to figure out the intended meaning of the writer of the first chapters of Genesis. At times some translations of the Bible may reflect the beliefs of the translator more than the actual meaning of the manuscripts on which the translation is based. How Dr. Bull reads and examines the Genesis story will of interest to those who care about how God created the heavens and earth. He also is one of the authors of the recently published book, Understanding Genesis. Dr. Bull is a graduate of Walla Walla College and for many years served as Dean of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Following the meeting light refreshments will be served.

I thought I would check and see how many words made up the ancient Hebrew language. I did not figure it was nearly as robust as English and thus not nearly as descriptive. You hear people say that Eskimo’s have 7 different words for snow. Well English has hundreds of words for snow because we have adjectives which describe the snow. “light snow, heavy snow, wet snow, sandy snow, coarse snow etc. On top of that we have over 1 million English words. Fortunately we don’t have to use them all but still we use a lot. Now what about using the words of the ancient Hebrew in understanding what the writer of that book intended. First the writer was limited to what his language was, his words and his rather scientifically speaking limited knowledge of the world as well as his limited knowledge of God. So even if we ascertain the most likely meaning the writer had in mind we are left with only that, the meaning he had in his or their mind, depending on if what we have is original or redacted from some other original document. Even with the assumption of God given inspiration we have only the limited vocabulary of the language and the times for which God could work. Limitations which could cause limitations in understanding if one assumes that those limited words must be of ultimate importance.

Which leads us to an interesting new Hebrew translation in the works now. It is called the Mechanical Translation. Here is what the website introduction says:

About the Translation

I will be publishing this project one book at a time beginning with the book of Genesis. Once the first five books of the Bible are completed I will combine them into the Mechanical Translation of the Torah and will then continue with the book of Joshua.

Standard Text Translations

Most all English translations of Genesis
1:24 are translated as "And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind...' ". Now compare that with Genesis 2:7 which is usually translated as "...and the man became a living soul (some translations have 'living being')". I have often heard it debated that only man has a soul but not animals. This theological assumption can be supported by the two verses quoted above but not in the original Hebrew text. The phrase "living creature" from the first verse and "living soul" in the second verse are identical in Hebrew - nephesh hhayah. If this phrase was translated the same way in both verses the theological idea that only man has a soul (nephesh) would never [sic]

Standard Word Translations

This change in the way Hebrew words are translated does not end with only one or two different translations but the list goes on. The Hebrew word nephesh is translated as soul, life, person, mind, heart, creature, body, dead, desire, man, appetite, lust, thing, self, beast, pleasure, ghost, breath and will in the King James Version. The King James Version also translates the Hebrew word hhayah as live, life, beast, alive, creature, running, living, raw, springing, old, quick, lifetime, troop, appetite, lively, congregation, company and maintenance. The King James Version is not alone in this style of translation as all translations are similar. If one wishes to do a serious study of the Bible and does not know Hebrew how is one to sort through this conglomeration of word translations?

The need for a Mechanical Translation

The Mechanical Translation will provide a consistent translation where each Hebrew word, prefix and suffix are translated exactly the same way every time. This will provide the student of the Bible with a very Hebraic look at the Bible without knowing Hebrew. When the same word is found in two different verses it will be known that they are the same word in the Hebrew text as well and problems such as identified above will disappear. This translation will also translate the Hebrew words into English in the same order as they are in Hebrew. The only problem with this is that if one does not know Hebrew sentence structure the translation will not make sense but instead appear as gibberish. For this reason a second translation (called the 'Revised Mechanical Translation' or RMT) is provided which uses the same English words to translate the Hebrew but will re-arrange the words so that they can be understood by English readers.

The Dictionary

Even though each Hebrew word is translated exactly the same way every time with an English word or phrase the English words will not be sufficient for understanding the meaning of the Hebrew words. For this reason the Mechanical Translation will be accompanied by a dictionary that will allow the student to look up each English word or phrase to learn the meaning of the word from an Hebraic perspective. The dictionary will also provide the identification number for that word in the "Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible".

Genesis 1:1-5

in the summit “Elohiym [Powers]” fattened the sky and the land, and the land had existed in confusion and was unfilled and darkness was upon the face of the deep sea and the wind of “Elohiym [Powers]” was much fluttering upon the face of the water, and “Elohiym [Powers]” said, light exist and light existed, and “Elohiym [Powers]” saw the light given that it was functional and “Elohiym [Powers]” made a separation between the light and the darkness, and “Elohiym [Powers]” called out to the light day and to the darkness he called out night and evening existed and morning existed one day.

Mech. Trans. of Genesis - Sample
The following from Einhorn Press states some additional problems.

Modern English is often thought to be a difficult language to translate, with its irregular spellings, numerous shades of meanings, variations in pronunciations, incorporation of countless foreign words, difficult idioms, and other peculiarities and inconsistencies. However, none of these could begin to compare with one major translating difficulty found in the biblical language of Israel, especially since Hebrew ceased to be a commonly spoken language hun­dreds of years before Jesus Christ arrived. “In regard to the Old Testament, the Hebrew language, as anciently written, was the most difficult of all languages to translate,” wrote Bible-scholar John E. Remsburg in his work entitled The Bible. In one of thirty weekly installments from his book which began to appear in The Truth Seeker at the beginning of January in 1901 he went on to explain that

Here is the best known passage in the Bible printed in English as the Jews would have written it in Hebrew:"It was written from right to left; the words contained no [written] vowels; there were no intervening spaces between words, and no punctuation marks. Even with the introduction of vowel points [dots or marks below the words that indicate vowel sounds] many words in Hebrew, as in English, have more than one meaning. Without these points, as originally written, the number is increased a hundred fold. The five English words, bag, beg, big, bog, and buy, are quite unlike and easily distinguished. Omit the vowels, as the ancient Jews did, and we have five words exactly alike, or rather, one word with five different meanings. The Hebrew language was thus largely composed of words with several mean­ings. As there were no spaces between words, it was sometimes hard to tell where a word began or where it ended; and as there were no punctuation marks, and no spaces between sentences, paragraphs, or even sections, it was often difficult to determine the meaning of a writer after the words had been deciphered."

vgrfwsstbdrsvgrfdndrbldrdshtsvgnvhnstshtrnnd nkhtsnhtrflvmrfsrvldtbnttpmttntnsdldnsrtbdrn
If you can't figure it out it is the Lord's prayer King James version

From the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible

In our Modern Western language verbs express action (dynamic) while nouns express inanimate (static) objects. In Hebrew all things are in motion (dynamic) including verbs and nouns. In Hebrew sentences the verbs identify the action of an object while nouns identify an object of action. The verb Malak is “the reign of the king” while the noun melek is the “the king who reigns”. A mountain top is not a static object but the “head lifting up out of the hill”. A good example of action in what appears to be a static passage is the command to “have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). In Hebrew thought this passage is saying “not to bring another one of power in front of my face”.

So what have we learned? Literal isn't really all that literal, so we had better apply all the information we can to the Bible and that means using our God given ability to reason from all the data available.

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