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I read Hebrew, so you're an idiot!

Discussion in 'Biblical Debates' started by Jayhawker Soule, Jan 25, 2006.

  1. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    It is an unique argument - uniquely stupid - and it should stop.

    Today's Hebrew is a resurrected language. No one who speaks or reads it can claim knowledge of Biblical idiom and vernacular solely by virtue of their language skills. What the overwhelming majority of Jews do, and have done since the Diaspora, is read the Biblical text by translating it into their native language.

    Does this ability give them special insight? Quite possibly yes. The Hebrew student would know, for example, that the word Adam is used both for humanity and the first human. They would appreciate the rich wordplay found throughout the text.

    But what of those who do not speak Hebrew? Must they simply learn to shut up and keep their place?

    While the Hebrew student benefits from his translation skills, his counterpart can and should avail himself of the skills of pre-eminent translators. There exists reams Torah commentary by those who have spent a lifetime studing Biblical Hebrew.

    The Hebrew student may know that Genesis 1:21 refers not [just] to whales, but to the great sea monsters. But you can and will learn the same thing from the commentary. You'll also learn that the same term appears as the name of a dragon God in Canaanite myth. Perhaps you'll read:
    Both the Hebrew word for these creatures (tannin) and the word "Leviathan" appear in Canaanite myths from the ancient city of Ugarit, as the name of a dragon god from earliest times who assisted Yam (god of the sea) in a battle against Baal (Canaanite god of fertility). Fragments of an Israelite version of this myth are present in several biblical poetic texts in which the forces of evil in this world are figuratively identified with "Tannin," the embodiment of the Chaos that God had vanquished in earliest times. By stating that they were part of God's creation, the narrative deprives them of divinity.

    [Etz Hayim]​
    As this example shows, our understanding of Biblical Hebrew and the Torah/Tanakh is not static, but is constantly informed and refined by current ongoing studies of ancient Canaanite text as well as the Dead Sea manuscripts. The result is new insights, new translations, and new commentary.

    All of this is available to anyone interested in pursuing it. The ability to read Hebrew pales in comparison. So, when if and when someone attempts to belittle you because you do not know your ayins from your zayins, go grab your Torah commentary from Alter or Artscroll or Etz Hayim or Friedman or JPS, and be assured that the people offering you those translations are far more skilled than your detractor.

    And, in your spare time, you might wish to learn Hebrew. ;)
     
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  2. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    I was thinking of taking that up, but choose to stay an idiot instead.:D
     
  3. Green Gaia

    Green Gaia Veteran Member

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    For my Religious Studies degree, I'll have to take 2 classes in either Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Japanese or Chinese... the thought of which doesn't really thrill me after struggling through high school French. But maybe I'll take your advice.... ;)
     
  4. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

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    Me too. I wanna take that and Greek.
     
  5. jewscout

    jewscout Religious Zionist

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    Jay you have inspired me to use the 6 credits i get for free at VCU with my new job and take a biblical hebrew class
     
  6. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    Great. In the meantime, consider supplementing your library with the Alter chumash.
     
  7. Deut 13:1

    Deut 13:1 Well-Known Member

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    A thread dedicated to me, thanks Jay. How ironic you start with



    Then you end with...

    Anyways, another reason to learn hebrew is because of the connection of words. I posted this in another thread.

    Notice how what you said is very similar to what you said?
     
  8. angellous_evangellous

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    Lovely title. Thanks for the thread, [the real] Deut.
     
  9. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    Thank you for the excellent example. It is, after all, central to Leviticus, and I apologize for not addressing korban sooner ...
    The opening chapters of the Book deal almost exclusively with animal "korbanos," a word that is commonly translated as either sacrifices or offerings, but the truth is that the English lansuage does not have a word that accurately expresses the concept of korban. The word "sacrifice" implies that the person bringing it is expected to deprive himself of something valuable - but God finds no joy in His children's anguish or deprivation. Does God require our gifts to appease Him or assuage His anger? And if He did, of what significance is a bull or a lamb to Him> "If you have acted righteously, what have you given Him?" (Job 35:7); God does not become enriched by man's largess.

    The root of the word korban is krv, to come near. The person bringing an offering comes closer to God; he elevates his level of spirituality. That is the true meaning of the word and the significance of the act. ​
    The above is from the English introduction to Leviticus found in the Stone Edition Tanach.

    On the following page we can read Leviticus 1:2
    Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: from animals - from the cattle or from the flock shall you bring your offering.​
    And then, for those errant students who skipped the introduction, the commentary on Leviticus 1:2 appearing at the bottom of the page repeats:
    The common translation, sacrifice, does not capture the essence of the word korban, offering, whose root is krv, coming near, because an offering is the means to bring us closer to God and to elevate ourselves (R' Hirsh).​
    So yes, my friend, "it's all in the Hebrew" - and clearly emphasized in English for anyone willing to study.

    There is no doubt that you may well have insights to bring to the text. So, bring your insights ... and leave your silly "I read Hebrew, so you're an idiot!" argument behind.
     
  10. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    I just arrived at work where I keep my copy of the Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary. The notes on Leviticus 1:2 read, in part:
    The word for "offering" [korban] comes from the Hebrew root krv, meaning "to bring close" or "to come close". When we give a gift to someone we feel close to, we feel even closer for having given the gift. The korban both reflects and reinforces the Israelites bond to God. The point of the sacrifice is not to feed or to bribe God but to come close to God.​
    Again, this relevant insight is fully available to the non-Hebrew-speaking student.

    Parenthetically, the whole translation process brings to the fore an issue often ignored by the Orthodox - that of vorlage.

    Vorlage is a German term refering to the text being translated. We know, for example, that many of the differences between the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic text derives not from issues of translation but from differences in vorlage: the translators were using as input a different Hebrew variant than that chosen by the Masoretes, and the study of these variants can often shed light on Torah studies. So, for example, in its notes to 1 Samuel 17:4 bible.org writes:
    his height was six cubits and a span." A cubit was approximately eighteen inches, a span nine inches. So, according to the Hebrew tradition, Goliath was about nine feet, nine inches tall. However, some Greek witnesses, Josephus, and a manuscript of 1 Samuel from Qumran read "four cubits and a span" here, that is, about six feet, nine inches. This seems more reasonable; it is likely that Goliath's height was exaggerated as the story was retold. See P. K. McCarter, I Samuel (AB), 286, 291.​
    While Torah scrolls are not the result of translation, they are instances of textual transmission, and the question of vorlage is every bit as relevant. Unfortunately, for some Orthodox it is a matter of dogma that their scripture is pristine. They simply close their eyes and minds to the possibility of textual variants and, thereby, enter into any discussion of translations and meaning hobbled by their own dogmatism.
     
  11. Deut 13:1

    Deut 13:1 Well-Known Member

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    You'e inspired me to pick up a English copy of the Etz Hayim Torah next.

    I'm glad we agree that if you choose not to learn hebrew, to at least pick up Torah commentary that explains these significances.
     
  12. BUDDY

    BUDDY User of Aspercreme

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    Please correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that the study of ancient Hebrew was made especially difficult due to the lack of clear understanding of what the language was like in ancient times. Has there been some meaning lost in translation purely from the time frame that exists between early Hebrew writtings and the present day? Could many words have lost their meaning or changed there meaning over time? Or are modern day jewish scholars firmly confident in its correct translation because Hebrew is one of the few languages which has been kept alive, in one form or another, over the centuries? Just curious, and thank you for the advice, I think I will look into expanding my knowledge of the Hebrew language.
     
  13. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    Excellent.

    In return, you've inspired me to purchase the newA few more polemics like this and I'll be in the poor house.

    Now I have to go and tell my wife that, once again, I've been a bad, bad boy ... :(
     
  14. Bangbang

    Bangbang Active Member

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    :biglaugh: I have a hard enough time with English. I did learn sign language but lost it after getting away from signing. I worked with the deaf for almost 4 years.
     
  15. Feathers in Hair

    Feathers in Hair World's Tallest Hobbit

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    Do you suffer from the same disease I have?

    :D
     
  16. sooda

    sooda Veteran Member

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    Very interesting.. Thanks.
     
  17. iam1me

    iam1me Active Member

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    I took 2 courses in Ancient Greek and Modern Hebrew back in College. Fun times :) I'd love to pursue additional studies in both - but not planning on taking out more student loans out any time soon. Maybe a local synagogue has classes I can take...
     
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