Versions

I frequently get asked about what Bible translation I recommend. In fact, I get asked so frequently that I thought I’d write this brief page as an answer.

I also get asked about my opinion of the KJV and the Lamsa Translation. Those are touched on here, too.

Bible Translation Recommendation

The first thing I usually say is that the best Bible translation is the one you’ll read faithfully. I am far more concerned with that than staking a position on translation philosophy. I’m even willing to make allowance for paraphrases in this regard, though I really dislike them. You ought to be reading some version with consistency, though.

Second, I always point out that there is no one Bible translation that is consistently superior to all others. (Though paraphrases are consistently unfaithful to the text, but see my caveat above). All translations have problems; they all take liberties; they all have strengths. If you are interested in comparing and analyzing Bible translations, I recommend the Better Bibles blog.

Third, I recommend that everyone read from more than one translation. It’s a good idea to become acquainted with the basic differences in approaches to translating the Bible. I speak here of “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence” (usually referred to as “literal translation”). I prefer formal equivalence, but I recommend reading from at least one translation that follows each approach. The above link contains a listing of how the versions stack up (at least for the writer of that article).

Fourth, you should pick a translation that is textually up-to-date. For example, I want a Bible that adopts readings in its running text from the Dead Sea Scrolls where they are demonstrably superior to the Masoretic Text. My test case for this is Deuteronomy 32:8 and Deuteronomy 32:43. The former should read “sons of God” (ESV; cp. “gods” in NRSV), or something like “heavenly beings” (NET Bible) or “heavenly court” (NLT) instead of “sons of Israel.” Verse 43 should read “bow down to Him, all you gods” (ESV, NRSV) or something akin to it like NLT’s “let all God’s angels worship him.” The preface of the particular version will alert you to such textual issues.

It is primarily because of my leanings toward formal equivalence and the desire to see more up-to-date manuscript readings making it into the running text of the translation that I recommend the ESV. But, as noted above, it’s best to use more than one.  For a study Bible, however, I like the NET Bible (free online). It has 2500 notes just on manuscript (text-critical) issues and thousands more on other items — all related to why the translators did what they did. It’s the best thing out there for that sort of information.

What About the KJV?

I’m arguably the only person in the world who has literally been through every syllable of the Masoretic Text, comparing it to the KJV translation. Seriously. I know the KJV and its relationship to the original languages very well. Why did I do this? It was part of my job at Logos Bible Software. I’m the guy who created our KJV reverse interlinear, OT and NT (by hundreds of thousands of hand links — Hebrew / Aramaic segments to KJV, Greek segments to KJV).1 In broad terms, I like the KJV since I’m used to it and I favor formal equivalence. The archaic language doesn’t bother me much, though it is admittedly impenetrable in places (did you know that “go fetch a compass” means “go around” or “proceed circuitously”?). Don’t feel bad; no one else does either. Aside from oddities like that which simply do not communicate beyond the 18th century, I think the KJV a good translation for the most part. It deserves its reputation as a quality rendering of the original languages. However, I will never trust it again in Job. Job is filled with weird things, such as words that are still uncertain in meaning (since they occur only once and nowhere else in Hebrew) and that must be “translated” by appeal to related (cognate) languages. Ugaritic has a special role in that process (Ugarit = ancient Syria). That alphabetic cuneiform language is the closest linguistic cousin to biblical Hebrew. There were many words in the Ugaritic tablets (discovered and deciphered in the late 1920s-early 1930s) that are consonantal equivalents to difficult words in the Hebrew OT. The KJV translators had no access to that, nor did they have access to other cognate languages for the same purpose (like Akkadian), or the Dead Sea Scrolls. They did the best they could and did it well, but in books like Job, it is easy for someone like me to know they are just simply guessing in places. I also saw many places where one translator (the KJV was a committee translation) knew his Hebrew or Aramaic grammar than another guy, and hence did a better job. But I’m digressing. I like the KJV and the reason I wanted to do the reverse interlinear for Logos was because I felt I owed the project to the translation, since I was weaned on it as a Bible reader.

The above should also inform you that I have little (actually, no) time for the “KJV debate” (aka, “KJV-only”). I taught bibliology and the history of the Bible in Bible college, so I know all the arguments defending the idea that the KJV is the best translation, or that it’s the inspired English translation, or that other English translations are heretical. etc. They are all lame arguments.2 Not only are they lame, but this is really a NT debate (Westcott-Hort vs. the Byzantine Majority text debate). NONE of the arguments for the “KJV only” view work at all when it comes to the OT and the history of the transmission of the Hebrew text. They are DOA (dead on arrival). But KJV-only people usually don’t get into Hebrew. But this is also a digression. If you love the KJV, read it. It’s as good or better than anything out there, as all translations have weaknesses (some have more than others).

The Lamsa Translation

I periodically am asked about this translation, which is an attempt to produce an English translation on the basis of Aramaic (Syriac) manuscripts of the OT and NT. Note: The manuscripts used for the NT are in Syriac, an eastern dialect of Aramaic that is *not* what Jesus spoke. There is no actual manuscript evidence in existence for an “original” Aramaic NT (even Matthew, which is about the only book that would make sense for). Sorry for the digression.

I’ve not used the Lamsa translation, so I can’t evaluate it. However, it has not received good reviews from translators and Syriac specialists. Here’s a half-page length review as an example:

Source: The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts by G. M. Lamsa; Review by: P. A. H. de Boer; Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 8, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 1958), p. 223.

Another review located here is longer and much harsher than that of de Boer. It speaks for itself.

Hope this was informative in some way.

  1. For what a reverse interlinear is and does, click here. I also did the NKJV Old Testament and many sections of the NIV OT, but people who ask this question don’t care about those other translations.
  2. I recommend the following books about the KJV-only debate: The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism; King James Only Controversy, The: Can You Trust Modern Translations?

50 Responses to “Versions”

  1. Ryan says:

    Rather than about Bible ‘translations’, my question pertains to Bible ‘versions’, proper. I’m looking for information about what post-1833 editions of Biblia Hebraica, if any, were considered reprints of Professor Hyman Hurwitz’s 1833-editing of publishers Duncan & Malcom ‘s 1822 edition? I’ve done the best I can on my own, but I am hitting a dead end. I need a scholar to help me. I thought that I was finding all sorts of subsequent reprints, but they turn out to be edited by Augustus Hahn.

    I’ve found an 1839 edition published by J. Duncan (no Malcom), and the frontispiece & preface do not appear to mention who the editor was, though it is considered a “second edition”. Also in 1839 Leipzig published a reprint of Hahn’s 1831 edition (which was considered Hahn’s first edition) ……. so I do not know if J. Duncan’s 1839 London-printing was the British equivalent of Hahn’s German printing and thence was dubbed Editio 2 (as back then ‘edition’ vs. ‘reprint’ was not concretely distinguished); or whether Duncan just so happened to coincidentally publish, in the same year as Leipzig’s Hahn edition, a reprint of Hurwitz’s edition?

    If the latter is the case, then I have a rabbi who’s been corresponding with me about this very issue whose edition I’d like to purchase. For all I know, 1833 stands alone as the year that Duncan published Hurwitz’s revision; or, perhaps, he continued to publish it for many years. I have exhausted my own paucity of resources, and this rabbi was kind enough to not only point me to Harvard’s online catalogue listings but also to let me know of its notoriety for mistakes. Neither one of us understands why his particular edition fails to acknowledge an editor, but an answer as to Hurwitz’s printings may very well be the key. I’ve checked the Dictionary of National Biography, but Hurwitz’s bibliography is incomplete. So, any and all help would be gravely appreciated. Thank you.

  2. Ryan says:

    Hi thank you for replying. (1) No, I have not, as I do not have access to them. Ive searched Google Books and they do not display previews for any of Kittels BHs. (2) Yes, I have, and being that its primary aim is at being an introduction to the *Kittel* BHs, it saw fit to exclude information which I have been looking for. I have also scoured Tovs handbook, but he seems to mention everybody BUT Hurwitz.

    However, I think that I have found the answer. I noticed that J. Duncan did not print beyond 1840. The revised 1822 version appears to be found, from its first printing in 1833, reprinted in 1839 and 1840. The 1839 German editions always mention A. Hahn as its editor. I found an owner of an 1833 Duncan edition and asked him if it mentioned either Hurwitz OR Hahn, and he says, neither! So starting with his 1833 second edition, J. Duncan printed his Biblia Hebraica as revised by Hyman Hurwitz without attributing Mr. Hurwitz as its editor. This correlates with the edition that I have been looking into purchasing. Apparently, the German presses ran Hahns editions, whilst Londons Duncan ran non-Hahn editions. For that matter, the only reason I know that Professor Hurwitz edited Duncans 1833 BH, is because of a mentioning of this fact within an old catalogue advertisement, quoting a book reviewer, within the back of my 1841 Hebrew grammar from which I have been trying to learn Hebrew. Add to this the grief of searching in vain for an 1836 edition as mentioned in the front matter of my grammar, when it appears that either the author or his printer committed a dyslexic mistake of inverting the 9 for a 6 instead. Whew!

    All Ive wanted is to ascertain an edition that will undoubtedly be keyed to my grammar, without any variances. As it stands for now, I am content that I have found the answer to my question. But, thanks again.

  3. Ryan says:

    If I may impose another question, would you happen to know where a fella could find a copy of Cassutos 1953 bible? Ive searched all the regular online vendors, and I cannot even get a hit on this bible within their search engines. Thanks.

  4. ME says:

    Okay… I need help please. I have had a couple of brain surgeries due to brain tumors. I lost 50yrs of memory and I am”challenged” due to them. I have tried to follow what you say and also went on that bible blog, but since I have to write everything down (I forget what I read earlier) and I am not as “brainy” as the commentators.

    I am looking for the best bible (I have spent a couple of months reading the Divine Council info) I have to start now. So should I get the ESV and RSV. The NET is okay but I need something to carry around. Someone also mentioned the NLT.

    Please please give me you opinion .. in a cheat sheet way, or a Yes, use 1,2,3.

    Thank you so much for your understanding. (I am frustrated because I used to be pretty smart… an engineer in fact, now using a calculator is even challenging)

    And, Dr. Michael, you have opened up truth to me and I thank you so much. You have no idea how you have turned a light on for me.

    • MSH says:

      There is no “best Bible” — other than the one you will consistently read. Just pick one and stop worrying about it. Then, as you read, consult study Bible notes and other translations if you like. If you find a point of significant disagreement, then you can drill down at that point in some study. My point is that you shouldn’t be looking to avoid problems and disagreements and lack of clarity on passages — those are the places that can be the most interesting, and you will NEVER eliminate them by a translation choice.

  5. ME says:

    Sorry to bother you again, but I also ordered The Facade….I am excited.

  6. Larry Kelsey says:

    For the Old Testament, I’ve taken a liking to the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
    Not so much for its translation although it seems good for the most part) but for its footnoting of alternate readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, Targums, Samaritan Pentateuch, alternate Greek readings from Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus and how all of these compare with the Masoretic Text (which I’ve heard is actually a family of texts – maybe Michael can elaborate a little more on that for us sometime). I’ve heard that the Aleppo Codex is esteemed more highly than the Leningrad Codex and I can sometimes see why commentators make such a big point of comparing Kennicott’s MSS with De Rossi’s MSS when curious readings cross their paths.

    • MSH says:

      OT textual critics don’t like using the term “family” (unlike the NT side) for technical reasons, but I’ll go with it here (loosely). People tend to think that the MT tradition is basically a single version of the OT transmitted flawlessly, so that there is only one text that goes all the way back to the OT times. That’s a myth. Manuscripts that are within a near total alignment with each other are grouped into one “family” (family being based on the very high % of agreement with each other and harmonious disagreement with other “families”). The MT “family” refers to a textual tradition transmitted by trained “official” scribes since 100 AD or so. Within that grouping the manuscripts are not all completely identical (the differences were actually collected by a German scholar named Aptowitzer, who studied sermons and other rabbinic *writings* looking for places where they quoted the OT text, and then noting when their quotes did not match the “received MT” tradition). Aptowitzer wanted to see if the early rabbis all went along with the “standardized MT” produced in 100 AD and then made official. They didn’t! But there was a high degree of uniformity (just not 100%). B19 (Leningrad) and Aleppo are both MT texts, but the latter is a bit older and it was pointed by the famous Masorete Aaron ben Asher.

  7. Ryan says:

    Hi there again Mike. What can you say about Codex Gigas? Just saw a program on NatGeo the other day about it; had never heard of it before then. Do you know if Dr. Christopher de Hamel (Fellow Librarian, Corpus Christi, Cambridge) who worked on the Codex Gigas Research Team was allowed to read the entire thing (or transcribe any of it) or not? I am curious as to the pedigree of the Hebrew Text and the Greek Text contained therein how they stack up against B19/Kennicott /// TR/MT and/or anything else extant and if it holds high potential for textual criticism or not? I have never read anything on textual criticism which makes mention of this 165lb. behemoth! Yet, the program utilized old line drawings (wood cuts?) depicting clearly some scholars pouring over the 3ft. long monster with copying-pen & paper/parchment in hand! For having a flawless text throughout, how is it that Ive never seen this Codex mentioned in any book before am I blind? The dating of it (f. 1130 AD) would make it the second best [complete] witness that I can think of offhand next to the Leningradensis (1008 AD), for the Masoretic Text [Aleppo aside]!!! Can you tell us anything about this?

    • MSH says:

      I only know it’s a very late (13th century) Latin text in the Czech Republic. It doesn’t appear to be a translation, since it usually gets described as consisting of transcriptions of the OT and NT. Here’s a short paper on it:

      http://ils.unc.edu/courses/2011_summerI/wildemuth/Wheeler-PragueSeminarPaper.pdf

      • Ryan says:

        Hi Mike,

        Thank you for this link! Housed in Sweden (not the Czech Republic), this Bohemian codex is described by the article on page 9 thusly:

        Since education was generally controlled by the clergy, it is only appropriate that the largest portion of the manuscript is comprised of the Old and New Testaments. However, the versions chosen by the scribe are much older than the versions that were typically in use during the early 13th century.

        ..and THIS type of information is what motivated my question to you in the first place, knowing from having seen the Codex pages for myself on NatGeo that the Old Testament is in fact transcribed in Hebrew, not a Latin translation. Granted, this article makes updated and valid arguments to depart from NatGeos 1130AD dating; however, even a 13th century dating is not insignificant when the Quality of the transcription is taken into account .. and now this articles observation that the versions chosen by the scribe are much older than the versions that were typically in use during the early 13th century.

        This equals a magnificently complete OT and NT that MAY represent [faithfully] a VERY early, and perhaps even therefore accurate, set of canonical Biblical Mss. And, so unfortunately, thats all that I can find out so far; hence why I decided to reach out and ask somebody if there IS anything else known about its Biblical texts other than what NatGeo reported on. For having once been the 8th Wonder of the world, I cant believe that Ive never heard it mentioned before in anything Ive read on textual criticism.

        Btw, I deduced that the OT portion must represent the Masoretic Text, since there existed no Hebrew translation of the LXX, and Jeromes Latin Vg. is not what we have here; it was some complete Hebrew Tanakh available during this period of time, and that would have been the Masoretic Text .. hence bearing an important witness (I think) to the Masoretic Text by not only this stage in history, but according to the article: namely a stage much older than the versions that were typically in use during the early 13th century. Am I wrong?

        • MSH says:

          the tentative conclusion (and I know the reply just noted a few items) you are drawing on this does not follow (at this point) for several reasons:

          1. It still isn’t clear what “transcription” means. If it is comprehensible Latin (i.e., you can actually read it and it makes sense) it would not be transcription (think “transliteration” for THAT meaning of transcription – the act of looking at a Greek or Hebrew text and transcribing it into Latin characters; the result would be incomprehensible *as Latin*, as any transliteration would be).

          2. If by “transcribe” what is meant is the act of *copying* Greek and Hebrew characters, that does not seem plausible in this case (since the text is in Latin). Only this task would be useful for knowing if the manuscripts from which the Gigas comes have any value at all for textual criticism.

          3. Ruling out #2, if #1 is not the case, then “transcription” must mean translation. In which case, it isn’t going to make any headlines for textual criticism unless it differs markedly from any Old Latin translations. But even then, it is nigh unto impossible for a textual critic to know with certainty whether any such departures reflect a different Hebrew or Greek text, or whether the “transcriber” was inept, given to paraphrase, confused, or truly working with a different text. In short, it’s the same problem as for the LXX.

          Other notes / questions:

          1. There are no “canonical manuscripts” (the phrase is an oxymoron). BOOKS are considered canonical; manuscripts are copies of said books, and no manuscripts or manuscript “families” have canonical status (though people like to give them such – like the Masoretic Text). The MT is just one of at least four (LXX, SP, and the “unaligned” groups of manuscripts from Qumran) textual traditions of the OT, all of which (because they are found at Qumran) date back to the exactly the same time period.

          2. Gigas could either be a translation from a Hebrew text, a Greek text (e.g., something in LXX tradition), or a transcription (copy) of an older Latin text.

          3. How does one know that Gigas does not reflect MT? *Where* doesn’t it reflect it? (And even if it does not in places, that still does not mean the base text was different, though it might have been).

          • Ryan says:

            Hi again, and thank you for replying. It is transcription #2 that we are dealing with here. That is, unless NatGeo fudged (photoshopped) the images of the Hebrew-characters page that its camera once grazed over from a distance. I paused the image, and yep, theyre Hebrew!

            By canonical, I am referring to the larger-overall agreement within the late MT textual tradition; not to mean *invariably* uniform (as the Massorah well attests). I do mean MT, as opposed to LXX, SP, S, or Tg. But like I said, this is merely my deducement based upon on a single show + the article you linked for me; call it inference if you like, though technically yes I could be dead wrong. I gave earlier my reason for not counting it possible to be the LXX or Vg., but thats precisely the problem here: so few resources detailing further the textual contents of this Codex. I dont exactly have the phone number for Dr. Christopher de Hamel on speed dial, but he seems the man to really ask, for the show mentioned that he is an authority on ancient Biblical mss. + a librarian at Cambridge. Since Im not a scholar (with connections), I just thought that Id ask one :)

          • Ryan says:

            Dear Mike,

            I did some fishing around on a website written in a tongue foreign to my understanding, and then it occurred to me: There! at the top of the page was the option to translate the webpage into English! Needless to say, I found all the answers that I (and you) have been asking. BIG disappointment—

            The Old and New Testaments are given in the translation known as the Vulgate .. But the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation here are both from an earlier translation, called Vetus Latina .. The Book of Psalms is iuxta Hebraeos .. [and finally] The various alphabets of the three biblical languages Hebrew, Greek and Latin are reproduced on the first leaf of Codex Gigas, reminding us of the linguistic frames within which Jerome was working.

            *** See here ***

            So apparently NatGeo zoomed in on that fraction of a Hebrew Script contained on the first leaf, and that is what led me to conjure false impressions; though in my defense, I watched the program 3 times and read your link scrupulously, and NOT ONCE did anyone ever say that the Old and/or New Testaments were translations, and certainly not in Latin. When used, the rhetoric of Latin was always pertaining to the NON-Biblical texts. But now, here we have it: it is in fact a measly *translation* after all. Bummer!

            Case closed. Thanks again for your time.

            Btw youll notice that the entire Codex is digitally scanned & available on the above website. Hopefully that compensates for this fox chase.

  8. Barry G says:

    Has anyone considered that Names don’t get translated?
    they don’t get translated or SUBSTITUTED as The Almighty’s Names has been!
    why is it that satan gets to keep his name in the scriptures and YHUH(Yahuah) gets a pagan deity’s name (gott later rendered god) Lord is also not his name…………..
    so, when choosing your scriptures it’s going to be important to have the correct names as found in the original, which will be transliterated. Names in Ivrit(Hebrew) depict a persons character. In your own studies you can do the translations to get a deeper understanding of the persons character and meaning of the names. When we pray, we should pray in the Character of Yahusha (jesus for some).
    Blessed is he who comes in The Name of Yahuah
    (Blessed is he who comes in the Character of Yahuah)YHUH

    • Ryan says:

      Yes, Barry, it is sad that “YHWH” gets lost in translation. But English translators are just following the tradition initiated by the Rabbinic Jewish scribes. By the way, there is no such word as “Yahusha” in Hebrew. Israel’s Messiah was named “Yeshua” – that is the Hebrew word, if you can read Hebrew; or better yet “Eshoa” if you want to get real technical, since the everyday language and therefore naming-process was in Aramaic.

      • MSH says:

        it’s not Eshoa (the yod is the first consonant in either Hebrew or Aramaic, and it is not part of a compound vowel).

        I just don’t understand why there is so much obsession over the name(s) of God. We don’t know precisely how YHWH was pronounced, though the first syllable is certain (“Yah”) due to the fact that the abbreviated name appears in the OT (YH) and is always given the long “a” vowel. If one presumes that for YHWH, the most likely sound for the second syllable has an i-vowel, and “weh” would be choice since the resulting form of Yahweh would be a Hiphil imperfect third masculine singular verb form (meaning, “he causes to be” – the first person imperfect of Qal = ‘ehyeh = “I am”; of Hiphil = ‘ahyeh – “I cause to be” — but ‘ehyeh is the one that is used in Exod 3:14 at the burning bush). F.M. Cross wrote about this decades ago. I like it, but scholars often object to the Hiphil Impf 3rd singular since the lemma in that stem is not found anywhere else in northwest semitic.

        If you are wondering about the middle y/w difference, the Semitic w/y were interchangeable (varied by dialect) in the verb hayah / hawah (“to be”).

        Sorry for the geek-spasm here.

        • Michael
          sorry I missed this exchange – if I’m too late its my own fault. This comment/response gets to something that bugs me also and I was surprised at your answer.
          I’ve done a lot of study on this and for me pesonally, I have so ingrained the habit of reading “LORD” as “YHWH” that I no longer think of it. [and I do use the Jerusalem Bible as one of my readers though not the main one.] You surprise me because you have such a talent for “waking up” students/listeners to their biases and builtin filters –
          Western [lazy] readers think that when a person on the street refers to “Lord” in the deistic sense that they may mean the same God as you mean, but they don’t. Often they really mean the “god of this world”, and if its a muslim who is a native english speaker… well “is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?” as Timothy George wrote. In the classes I’ve taught, I find that the assumption is that “GOD” is by definition impersonal [more like a thing] and the very idea that YHWH was ONE god/deity out of a large group and that the Jews were unique in their veneration of this one YHWH …. it just brings blank stares and a lot of questions. They tell me the “Bible is monotheistic… like ONE God”. See the point? They take “Lord” to mean a Title not a name, and most cannot distinguish between Lord and LORD.
          Frankly I find it disingenuous for modern translators to follow the old tradition – Just put YHWH as the Jerusalem Bible does and let the reader do a little scratching.

  9. Matthew Norton says:

    Dr. Heiser.

    I had an interessting meeting with some Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Obviously they use the New World Translation as their primary weapon of defense. Are there any academic critiques of the New World Translation. Have you got any views on the NWT.

    • MSH says:

      This is a good question. There are a number of informal critiques. Personally, I think it’s effective to read through John 1 and translate “theos” as “a god” every time it occurs (for consistency’s sake). It sounds absurd and makes the point. (Try it — you can use an interlinear if you don’t read Greek). I know of one scholarly article on the “theos” issue in the NWT:

      http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/Countess.pdf

  10. Matthew Norton says:

    Sorry that link is not working.

    I found a PHD thesis final here.
    http://www.satsonline.org/userfiles/Baumgarten%20K,%20MTh%20Thesis%20%28Final%29.pdf

    If you could reestablish that link I would love to take a look at it.

  11. Ryan says:

    Dear Mike the Hebraist,

    Question about the *Hebrew* of the Book of Jasher:

    First, in the Certificates (endorsements) for the 1840 translation.

    -Isaac Nordhiemer observed that, The Hebrew itself is of a very pure character
    -H.V. Nathan observed that, The Hebrew is very purely written

    -Samuel H. Turner stated that, I have sufficiently examined the English version of the Rabbinical work which heads the title of the Book of Jasher . In v.6, also, the Rabbinical writer does not say called their names Adam and Eve, but in the very words of the Hebrew Bible, v.2, called their name Adam.
    -George Bush stated that, The work itself is evidently composed in the purest Rabbinical Hebrew, with a large intermixture of the Biblical idiom

    Now, in my limited knowledge, to say Hebrew of a *very pure* character is suggestive of the simpler Hebrew of the Book of Genesis, as opposed to the evolved later Hebrew of subsequent OT books. And, according to what I have gleaned so far in my studies, to say Rabbinical Hebrew / work is suggestive of Post-Biblical Hebrew, that is, Mishnaic Hebrew.

    So my question is: are these guys trying to say that the Book of Jasher is written in a very pure *Mishnaic* Hebrew; or rather, written presumably by midrashing rabbis at some distant epoch in very old, very pure Hebrew (making the term Rabbinical synonymous with Masoretic)? I know a lot of folks who think that this is *the* Book of Jasher and probably should be considered canonical. Thats all. I figure that a good litmus test would be to measure its compositional Hebrew, since Jashers read itself is so compelling; it doesnt read like any Rabbinic Midrashim that Ive read.

    A million thanks!
    Ryan

    • MSH says:

      it’s vague. “Rabbinical” can of course date to the late middle ages and even early modern period, where this text is dated. Who knows what “very pure” means. Older Hebrew isn’t more or less “pure” (than what?). Rabbinical can mean anything from the first century to the modern day. “Masoretic” can also mean anything from the 2nd century onward. It’s a text-tradition that gets copied. I put no stock in this “book of Jasher” as anything ancient.

  12. Ryan says:

    Hi Mike,

    Shalom M. Paul’s new Eerdman’s Critical Commentary on Isaiah 40-66 which I just obtained has a section listing the ‘Aramaic influence’ and ‘Late Biblical Hebrewisms’ (used to date this “Deutero-Isaiah” to late-exilic/post-exilic times), and I am wondering if you could be so kind as to point me in the right direction for a conservative response to these alleged data, whether it be recent literature or not. I smell some linguistic tomfoolry at play here, especially after having read “Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel” (Tyndale Press), but I’m not an expert in these matters so I can only smell, not see. Thanks!

    • MSH says:

      The best thing I’ve read by an evangelical on this is the article by Mark Rooker. Email me and I will send you a copy.

  13. Daniel Woodhead says:

    Mike:

    Can you direct me to a fair evaluation of the codex sinaiticus?

    Thanks much

    Daniel

  14. Stephen says:

    I am one sincerely seeking truth and clarity not one looking for debate or argument.

    Have you considered the ” Concordant Literal New Testament ” produced by the Concordant Publishing Concern?

    Since you also are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures ” Old Testament ” and are a Christian, I want to know how one as well educted as you are deal with the many proported contradictions, the inaccuracies and the atrocities attributed to the God of the Bible?

    • MSH says:

      yes; the notion that Hebrew or Greek words should always be translated with the same English word is silly (that’s my perception of this translation, but I could be wrong about it).

  15. gary miller says:

    Thank you Dr. Heiser for all your hard work. You have given me a renewed interest in the Bible via youtube. I have watched most of your lectures and cohere is my new favorite word. I bought a ESV studybible. I hope you have time to enjoy your family. Blessings on you and yours from Texas.

  16. Aaron says:

    Dr. Heiser, since you didn’t cover it above, I was wondering if you could just give me a brief thumbs up or thumbs down on the AENT, Aramaic-English NT. I have a friend in Israel who insists it is superior to and more accurate than the Greek-English translations. The one I have is published by Netzari Press. Are you familiar with it and would you mind sharing any thoughts?

    Thank you, love your work.

    • MSH says:

      There is no proof that the NT was first written in Aramaic, so this seems an odd interlinear (if that’s what it is) or translation (where are the Aramaic originals which were translated into English?). It makes sense that one gospel (like Matthew) could have been written first in Aramaic, but there is no actual evidence for it (one ancient writer refers to such a thing, but no portion has ever surfaced). But other books (most of the NT) would certainly not have been in Aramaic first (e.g., Luke – written by a Gentile for a Gentile) and Paul’s letters to Gentile churches. Aramaic makes zero sense there.

      The Greek NT was translated into Syriac, of course, which is a dialect of Aramaic. But that Syriac text is a translation itself, not the primary text.

      I say all that to say this: it’s a mistake to get hung up on this translation, especially when its apparent premise can’t be proven.

  17. can you help me ? an atheist has challenged me to a Bible verse. I am a Christian and I am up for the challenge. these are his words: Exodus 21:20-21 states that if you beat your slave to death but they survive a day or two after you beat them before they die, then it was ok because they were your property-key word is property. You are owning another human being and then beating them without punishment as long as they don’t die immediately. finish. what would be the best answer I could give him. I suspect he thinks he has me stuck or trapped. thank you brother, God is great, Amen.

    • MSH says:

      The passage:

      “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

      Your friend is confused about the “he shall be avenged” part and the pronoun (not to mention general laws about manslaughter, murder, etc.).

      20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged.” – i.e.,, the slave is to be avenged – the man who deliberately killed him is subject to the death penalty.

      21 ”But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.”

      The supposition is that the *lethal* harm was *accidental here* – and so the man/owner isn’t put to death. The owner’s stupidity is his own punishment (he loses his property).

      Some commentators, so you know this isn’t idiosyncratic with me:

      20. He shall be punished. The great advance on ancient thinking is that a slave is considered here as a person. His master has no right to beat him to death deliberately, even though the slave may be his ‘property’. But, if the slave lingers a while before dying, the supposition is that his master intended only to correct him, not to kill him. This is ‘accidental homicide’, and the financial loss incurred by his master in the death of the slave is considered punishment and lesson enough. Source: R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 176.

      This law—the protection of slaves from maltreatment by their masters—is found nowhere else in the entire existing corpus of ancient Near Eastern legislation. It represents a qualitative transformation in social and human values and expresses itself once again in the provisions of verses 26–27. The underlying issue, as before, is the determination of intent on the part of the assailant at the time the act was committed. Source: Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 124.

      If your atheist friend’s point is broader – that the OT allows the owning of servants, he still needs to get a clue. ALL ancient cultures had slavery (and OT law limited the term in the case of fellow Israelites). But people aren’t commanded to have slaves. The point: the Bible merely *describes* life / culture as it was in those times; it doesn’t mandate the cultural practice, as though it had some godly virtue. It didn’t. The NT puts slaves at equal spiritual status with everyone else and, of course, Paul desires the believer Philemon to release his slave, Onesimus. And the NT as well does not hold up slavery as a virtue as though Christians (then and now) ought to go out and get a slave to please God.

      I guess I’d want to know what other ancient book your atheist friend imposes his own culture on in order to approve of any of its content. The Bible doesn’t bless any one human culture. My guess is that he/she is reacting to some hermeneutically inept Christian who lived in the 19th century who used the Bible to argue for slavery. Or maybe personal pain, perhaps caused in the name of Christianity.

      The OT later (in terms of the writing) goes so far as to have ALL humans (not just Jews) created as God’s imagers (Gen 1:26-27). Elsewhere in the ancient world, that idea was attributed only to royals, who were thought to be descended from, or selected by, the gods for rulership. The OT is far more enlightened. It has ALL humans as servant-kings of the earth. Genesis 1 was written after the patriarchal period. These sorts of episodes, which reflect life as it was. The OT doesn’t have God insisting someone change their culture to serve him. The message is culture-neutral and culture-transcendent. It’s a good thing, too, or none of the content would be for anyone who wasn’t a Jew – and a Jew living between the first millennium BC and the first century AD at that.

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up. Patience is a virtue; there is no need to re-submit your comment.