Friday, September 9, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- {{who?}}

I am not alone in calling the Septuagint a bad translation. 
When Jerome did his Latin (Vulgate) translation starting in the late 300s CE, he started with the prophetical books in Septuagint.  By the time he finished, he realized that the Septuagint didn’t reflect the Hebrew well.  He did Psalms next; actually he did two translations of Psalms, one from Septuagint and one from Hebrew.  They are different.  So at the end, when Jerome translated Torah, he gave up on Septuagint as a source and translated directly from the Hebrew.
In the 1500s CE when Calvinists translated the Bible into French and English, they started with the Hebrew instead of the Greek, except for Christian scripture.
In the 1600s CE when James I of England commissioned a new translation of the Tannakh, he insisted that the translators ignore Septuagint and translate directly from Hebrew.
In 1994 when the American Catholic Bishops commissioned a new English Bible translation, one thing that happened was a change to Isaiah 7:14 that the King James scholars didn’t make.  Previously this verse was translated according to Septuagint, which uses parthene, “virgin” to translate Hebrew almah.  The Hebrew does not mean a technical virgin; that is betulah.  A priest must marry a betulah under Jewish law.  The fact that an almah might not be a virgin flows from Proverbs 30:19 where it gives a list of four things that leave no trace, including “the way of a man in an almah.”  For a man to have sex with a virgin does leave traces, eliminating her tokens of virginity, the subject of Deuteronomy 22 that I cited before.  But not when a man has sex with a non-virgin. 
The only excuse for Septuagint to use parthene in Isaiah 7:14 comes from a mistranslation in Genesis 34:1-5 where it calls Dinah a parthene after Shchem rapes her.  That’s a physical impossibility if parthene meant what we call “a technical virgin”, one who still has her “tokens of virginity.”  If it didn’t have that meaning in Septuagint times, two things fall out.  The translation of Isaiah 7:14 can be correct.  Also by 100 CE, three centuries later, the meaning had changed so that it did mean technical virgin. 
So when Matthew 1:18 copied the concept from Septuagint’s Isaiah, it ended up shaping Christian doctrine about the virgin birth but it didn’t represent the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 and it might have misunderstood what the Septuagint translators meant.
The change to the American English Catholic Bible eliminates the virgin birth except as a direct derivation from a translation.  And it admits that the translation does not accurately translate the Hebrew of Tannakh.
I think the Septuagint translators were people who didn’t consider Tannakh as holy but as a political tool, and they didn’t worry about perfect precision in their translation.
We know that Torah and most of Tannakh, existed in writing by the time Ptolemy I and II ordered the Greek translation, except possibly Esther.  And that leads to another urban legend.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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