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Bible Secrets Revealed, Episode 1: Lost in Translation



At its core, History's new series Bible Secrets Revealed could easily be titled 'How Scholars Read the Bible.' This is because the secrets revealed in the series are not secrets to most Bible scholars, professional archaeologists working in Israel and the West Bank, or to those students enrolled in credible graduate seminary programs. The show examines issues pertaining to the Bible that might not be as well known to those who have not attended a seminary or majored in religious studies at a university.

“Lost in Translation” Act 1: The Oldest Biblical Text

Act 1 of the first installment in the series, “Lost in Translation,” begins at Qumran, the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The discovery of the scrolls fundamentally transformed the way in which we read the Bible because it offered us copies of the Hebrew Bible (aka Christian Old Testament) that were 1,000 years older than the previously oldest copies of the Bible. Why is this important? Because the text of the Biblical books discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls (which represent every canonical book in the Hebrew Bible with the exception of Esther) do not always match the text of the “official” Hebrew Bible we have today. In fact, different copies of the same Biblical books from the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t often match, demonstrating that at the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Biblical texts existed in different versions and traditions that were still being sorted out.

What this means is that it is very difficult to argue that the Bible is the verbatim “Word of God,” especially when all of the ancient manuscripts contain different words. So, people of faith throughout the years have relied on any number of known and unknown scholars and authorities to judge and translate the texts and decide which textual variants would be preserved and which would be discarded. And it is this very messy, often contentious process—evident simply by laying the ancient manuscripts of both Old and New Testament side-by-side and comparing them—that gives us the Bible we have today. But the overarching point should not be missed: for over two millennia, whether they know it or not, people of faith have relied upon scholars to translate and make judgments upon Biblical texts and to interpret them so that those who do not read ancient languages can get an idea of what the ancient scriptures say.

And it is for this reason that we have a classic saying in Biblical studies: “There is no such thing as translation without interpretation.” Every act of translating requires a judgment to be made regarding what the author of the original text meant to say, and this evaluation is often a theological judgment of the scribe or scholar making the translation. This is how we get such different English translations today.

Act 1 reveals what scholars have known for centuries: Despite claims that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible were actually composed by several authors and a number of literary sources. And with regard to the New Testament, the Gospels are all anonymous, with the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John not being attributed to their respective Gospels until the 2nd century C.E. And so not only do we not always know who wrote the Bible, but many of the meanings of the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic words often get lost in translation.

One specific example offered in Act 1 is the translation of the simple Hebrew word םדא, “man.” Of course, this word can be transliterated as “Adam,” but the word can also mean “humankind.” The translator must make a judgment regarding when to translate םדא as “Adam,” as “man” and as “humankind.”


Posted by Conspiracy Cafe on January 24, 2019 at 8:44 PM 330 Views