Bible Presentation5 - Vula

The Book of all Books
Dr. Azila (Tzili) Talit Reisenberger
Head of Hebrew
University of Cape Town
Lecture 5:
The Word
(issues of language and meaning)
• Who said what to whom?
• Said or wrote?
• In what language?
Language of The Book
• Most books are written in Hebrew
• Parts of Daniel, and Ezra and Nehemiah
are written in Aramaic which is a sister language of
(Afro-Asian origin Proto Semitic, Akkadian, Ugaritic,
Currently Arabic and Hebrew, some Aramaic pockets,
also pockets of Ethiopian dialects)
Language the biblical ‘characters’
• Hebrew
(where does the word ‘Hebrew’ come from?
Lingua Franca in the Fertile Crescent: Aramaic.
Each tribe/ clan added their location to the word
Aram i.e. Aram Zova, Aram Damascus, Aram Ma’acha,
Aram Naharaim etc
Hebrew was called Yehudit (2 Kings 18) from the
word: Yehudah/ Judaea
From Oral to Written language
The Bible tells stories from 2000 BCE
Alphabet was ‘invented’ at time of Moses
+ 1500 BCE
So everything that happened between 20001500 was transmitted earlier as Oral
• Can one remember details of a conversation
500 years later?
(Tell me what “Aunty Merle” said during last Passover meal…)
Even from the same era
How does the writer know what people said – if
it was a private conversation:
Jud. 3:20-21, “and Ehud came to [Eglon who]
was alone…and Ehud said I have a word of
God unto thee…”
1Kings 1:11 ff “And Nathan the prophet spoke
unto Bat-sheba…let me, I pray thee give thee
counsel, that thou mayest save thy own life…”
How does the writer know what a person said in
his/her heart?
Gen 18:12-13,15 “and Sarah laughed in her
heart…and the Lord said unto Abraham,
wherefore Sarah laughed”…” and Sarah
denied saying I laughed not”…
This chapter taught me the meaning of ‘tact’…
What is more authentic
(older)/ closer to the Ur-text:
Poetry or Prose?
• Many scholars claim that Biblical poetry is
more authentic, and “closest” to the Ur-text
• See 2 examples: Prose vs. Song on the Red Sea
(Ex 14-15-) and war against Sissera (Jud. 4-5)
What language did God speak?
• Was God speaking Hebrew?
• If God spoke Hebrew, then all people could
hear God’s speech.
hear yes, but could they understand God ???
• And if God spoke God’s language, then:
Are the prophets simple translators?
Meaning: if God spoke Godly / Divine language
and people could not pick it up except the
prophets, then
what happens
1. if the prophets’ translation is not very
2. or: if a Divine word has a few meanings in
Difficulty in translation
• No two languages are ever a duplication of
each other.
So: certain words in the original language may
mean various things in the receptive language
and while the prophet says something he/she
already censors God’s word.
Example: Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:8 Deuteronomy 5:12
the Shabbat-day
the Shabbat-day
What did God say: to remember the Shabbat or
keep it holy?
Peculiarities of languages
• Some languages have vocabulary that others
don’t have (simple example: bon appétit,
gesundheid, mefargen… etc)
• In the Bible we see examples, such as: (Ex.
3:14) “I will be who I will be” – which turned
in English into: “I am what I am”
• Harmful translation: Gen 2:21-22) Zela/Rib
• (Patronizing example: Xhosa translation)
Personal bias interferes with God’s words
In preparation for the giving of the Torah on Sinai,
God said to Moses to tell the people, to prepare
themselves by: ‘sanctify themselves, wash their
cloths and during the epiphany they should NOT
touch the mountain’ (Ex 19:10-13)
Moses says: (ex 19:14) Sanctify yourselves, wash
your cloths and don’t come near your wives…
Example of patriarchal Biases
• The impact of prejudice, social political biases.
• Zela/ translated into rib instead of ‘Side’
• Woman ask, men command
Artistic depiction
• As art is a translation of a written word into
visual form I would like to show two examples
of mis-translation:
• What was the fruit that the serpent convinced
Adam and Eve to eat?
• Genesis 3:5 says:
• “The day you eat thereof your eyes will be
opened, and ye will be as God, knowing good
and evil”
Evil/bad in Latin is Malum
Malum denotes also Apple
… So from a fruit that teaches us between good
and evil it became an apple…
Lucas Cranach 1526
Titian 1576 CE
Tree of knowledge…
Israeli, 12 years old
Moses brings down the 10
• Ex 34:29 (30, 35)
“…when Moses came down from mount Sinai
with the two tablets… [he] knew not that the
skin of his face shone (radiated/ Karan)
because he had spoken with God”
How did some artists interpreted /“translate” it?
Doré 1865
Moses’ face shone – Karan
K.R.N. is ‘to shine’ ‫קרן‬
K.R.N. also denotes a horn.
• So: the painter Doré made Moses shining
• But Michelangelo selected possibility no.2
instead of no.1.
Michelangelo 1513-1516
for the tomb of Pope Julius II
As we have seen:
Translations are NEVER like the original
Therefore there is a Muslim prohibition on
translating the Quran
Is it good?
What about accessibility?
Let’s see then the History of Biblical translations
History of biblical translations
• Aramaic Targum (Unkelos and Jonathan)
• Septuagint (the ‘seventy’) 3rd century BCE
(Iggeret Aristeas)
• Origen’s Hexapla (6 columns: Hebrew, Heb
transliteration, Aquila’s (literal Greek),
Symmachus (idiomatic Greek), + VII;
Theodotion (J. Greek) (before 245 CE)
• Jerom’s Latin: Vulgate (382-420 CE)
The script
• The Hebrew Aleph-Bet is the first alpha-bet in
the world.
Sometimes it is called: Ancient Hebrew
Sometimes Phoenician (as they were the
seafarers who spread the script throughout
the Mediterranean sea)
Difficulty with the written text
• Hieroglyphs and Cuneiform as two
communication systems
• Hebrew is an actual alphabet
• Allows expression of abstract…
• Initial a ‘record of consonants’
The original Ancient
Hebrew Alphabet.
Pictorial traces.
It was
changed/refined by
the 5th Century BCE
Gezer Calendar
10th Century BCE
(King Solomon’s time)
701 BCE
‘Technical improvements’ with time
• Division of words
• Markings of end of sentence/idea
• Addition of vowel-letters due to the loss
of fluent speech (inconsistent addition
and sometimes erroneous)
• What are vowel-letters vs. vowels
Uzziah Tablet
783-742 BCE
30 - 70 CE
Example of spelling error due to the
un-systematic insertion of vowel letters
• Job 13:15
“Lo, though He slay me, yet will I yearn for Him;
…only I will argue my own ways before Him”
“Hen Yikteleni Lo A’yachel”
No/ Never
to Him
“Lo, though He slay me, yet will I yearn
for Him; only I will argue my own ways
before Him”
Whatever is my fate
- my faith is complete
This is the essence of the Bible:
No wonder that the first significant book to be
printed was The Bible. (15th Century)
(Gutenberg 1456; Boomberg in 1516)
Why don’t we change errors?
• Rabbi Akiva in 135 CE, at the time of the New
Testament and the rise of Christianity, decreed
Not !!! Never !!! Are we to touch even the ‘edge
of the yota’ ( '‫)על קוצו של י‬
• It was to preserve Judaism
• Indeed it kept Judaism as a separate religion
and not ‘being swallowed’ into Christianity.
This decree resulted in:
• Preservation of the authentic Hebrew Bible (The
Old Testament) and keeping it pure.
(this was done by the masoretic families)
• ALAS, It immortalized some errors
• It forced the masoretic people to invent a vowel
system NOT in the text. Rather above and below
Boomberg Bible
Daniel Boomberg from Antwerp, Belgium, went to
Venice and opened a printing press
First books to be printed in 1516 were Torah and
the 5 Scrolls.
He commissioned Jacob Ben Haim Adoniyahu from
Tunis to prepare the whole Bible for print.
Ben Haim prepared a Synthetic edition
by corroborating 16 copies from around the world.
What is a synthetic edition?
Every printed Bible we have today is
actually a synthetic edition !
Last question of this course:
• NOW, after we know a little bit more about
“The Book of all Books”,
Are we going to buy any book that supports the
theory that there is a hidden message if you
count letters and spaces in the Biblical text?
(secret codes of sorts?)
If the books which are under scrutiny
are in English or any other translation
• The answer is clearly NO…!!!!
Because the words that are recorded are not God’s
- but rather a reflection of the translators’
personalities, their social experience and their
- And anyway, they are re-done every few years
and in Hebrew?
• On one hand: the text is comparatively static… kept
since 135 CE by the masoretic people
Hebrew vowel-letters were added un-systematically
when they stopped using Hebrew as mothertongue, and needed help in reading
And: after all, it is a synthetic edition.
Do you remember Ben-Haim’s preparation for the 1st
edition in print?
So why did we spend a whole week
studying “The Book of all Books”?
We could go to the beach?
Or read: “The Other Booker Prize”?
Because I hope that this course
showed you
• the beauty of “The Book”,
• how it evolved,
• and its message And also taught you how distinguish
the real thing from dogmas and
sensational theories.
If this applies to you,
then see you in future courses
Thank you.
Azila (Tzili) Talit Reisenberger
I would like to thank Jutta Schoof for
editing these notes

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