A New Bilingual Look at the Bible's Hebrew Beginnings


In the beginning was the word, and the word was in Hebrew.

For those who may forget that the Bible was not written in the florid 17th century English of King James, the newly published JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, the Hebrew term for the Scripture, offers a view into the original language of the world's most widely revered book.

The new edition by the Jewish Publication Society is the culmination of a 50-year dream: to present the original Hebrew and a contemporary English translation side by side.

For Jewish readers, the new translation comes at a time of growing interest in study of the ancient writings, and greater enrollment in Jewish day schools and other religious activity. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, for instance, recently launched a nationwide Bible study campaign.

For Christians, the text can help deepen the understanding of their own faith, scholars say.

"You cannot really understand the fullness of Christian teachings without taking seriously the Jewishness of Jesus and his first followers," said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

The translation is also upfront about the enormous guesswork involved in taking ancient oral traditions and rendering them faithfully from imprecise written texts over thousands of years, across hundreds of languages and through countless scribal errors.

Religious conservatives believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. But what, precisely, were those words? For example, in God's lament over his people's wickedness, did Jeremiah 2:20 say "I will not transgress!" or "I will not work!"? Variant readings exist for hundreds of biblical passages, each of which the new translation describes in footnotes.

"There's an increasing number of people who want to figure out where the Bible came from and how it makes sense," said Rabbi David Sulomm Stein, the Redondo Beach-based managing editor for the Hebrew-English Tanakh. "This [translation] is one place to start."

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