God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Q&A: What color is the “blue” of the Bible?

From the About page comes this interesting pair of questions:

1. Is it true that there was no blue in the Bible, and that the word “blue” in our modern versions is a mistranslation? and
2. How do we know what the Hebrew names of the colors represent?

The first question was prompted by a Radiolab episode that claims that the color blue is a relatively modern invention. The episode, like most of Radiolab, is fascinating, so before you keep reading, listen to it. (Or if you’re part of the multitasking generation, listen while you read.)

Continue reading


May 29, 2012 Posted by | Q&A, translation practice | , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

The Well-Dressed Babylonian

Theophrastus has an interesting post — “Men without hats: Anachronism in Daniel 3:21” — about the Aramaic word kar’b’la in Daniel 3:21. He notes that many translations use the word “hats,” even though “we can be sure that the headgear worn in the Babylonian Captivity most certainly was not a hat.”

Take a look. It’s interesting in its own right, and it highlights the kind of very specialized knowledge that’s sometimes required for translation.

May 24, 2012 Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice | , , , | Comments Off on The Well-Dressed Babylonian

An Open Letter to CNN’s Piers Morgan

Again, slightly off topic, but I think important for those of us who take the Bible and these issues seriously:

Is homosexuality a sin?Dear Mr. Morgan:

I believe you have been promoting bigotry and helping to perpetrate a fraud.

During both of your interviews with Pastor Joel Osteen on your CNN broadcast, you let the religious leader tell your audience that Scripture calls homosexuality a sin. But you didn’t ask him where the Bible says that.

It’s both an important point and an easy one to settle. You could have asked Pastor Osteen for the chapter and verse that he thinks calls homosexuality a sin. What you would have found is that he couldn’t provide it, because Pastor Osteen was expressing his personal opinion, not quoting the Bible. The Bible doesn’t say that homosexuality is a sin.

Read the rest…

[Update: An expanded version of this letter, with additional information about how I read the Bible regarding homosexuality, is available on the Huffington Post. (June 5, 2012)]

May 23, 2012 Posted by | Off Topic | , | 9 Comments

The Hidden Message of Redemption in Hosea

In English, Hosea 2:23 (also numbered 2:25) seems bland: “And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah, and I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God'” (NRSV).

But as I just pointed out, the names “Lo-ruhamah” and “Lo-ammi,” Hosea’s children, mean “unloved” and “not my people,” respectively. So what we really have here is this: “I will love [RiCHaM] Unloved [lo-RuCHaMa] and I will say to Not-My-People [lo-ammi], “You are My people” [ammi-atah], and he will say, “My God.” (I’ve put the consonants of the root R.Ch.M in upper case to highlight the close connection between the verb “loved” [RiCHaM] and the name “Unloved” [lo-RuCHaMa] in Hebrew, in which consonants are more important than vowels.)

In other words, Hosea 2:23 is a complete reversal. Whereas before we had “Unloved,” now we have “love.” Instead of “Not My People” we have “my people.” God has forgiven both of Hosea’s children (who represent all of God’s children — more on this soon, I hope), and it is then that God is called “my God.”

It’s an uplifting hope for redemption, an interesting theological position, and beautiful poetry. Unfortunately, it seems to me that in not translating the names, most translations hide the biblical message.

May 17, 2012 Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , | 5 Comments

On the Historical Adam

I’ve posted some thoughts about how modernity and science interact with the historical Adam:

“The Apostle Paul did not Believe in the Historical Adam”

A debate has been raging about whether Adam was an historical figure. I think it’s important, because it represents a more general debate about how to live a modern religious life. I also think it highlights a fundamental misunderstanding.
keep reading…

Even though it’s slightly off-topic, I’m reposting the link, because I’d love feedback from readers here.

Read the whole thing here: “The Apostle Paul did not Believe in the Historical Adam.”

May 11, 2012 Posted by | Off Topic | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disaster, Unloved, and Unwanted: Hosea’s Children

The prophet Hosea, we read, has three children, named yizrael, lo-ruchama, and lo-ammi in Hebrew, but in Greek their names are Yezrael, Ouk-Ileimeni, and Ou-Laos-Mou. What’s going on? Normally Greek names are simple transliterations of the Hebrew sounds.

The answer is that the second two Hebrew names are actually phrases that mean “not loved” and “not my people,” respectively. The Greek translates the meaning of the words, rather than preserving the sounds. Ouk-Ileimeni means “not-loved” and Ou-Laos-Mou means “not-people-mine.” The first name, Jezreel in English, is taken from the disaster at the Jezreel valley — vaguely similar would be living in New Orleans and calling your daughter “Katrina” — and because that’s a place, not just a word, the Greek transliterates the sounds.

English translations, though, usually ignore what the words mean, as in the NRSV’s Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. The CEB and others take a different route, with Jezreel, No Compassion, and Not My People.

Some translations walk a middle ground, as in the latest NIV, which gives us, “Lo-Ruhamah (which means ‘not loved’)” and “Lo-Ammi (which means ‘not my people’),” explaining things for the English reader.

Though this is perhaps the most extreme example of names that are words or phrases, it’s not the only one. The famous passage in Isaiah 7:14 has a kid whose name is emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When the name appears in Isaiah, it remains untranslated in English, though many versions provide a footnote with an explanation of the name. But when Matthew (in 1:23) cites the verse, he adds, “…which translates as ‘God is with us.'”

What should we do with these names in English translations? Certainly a story about “Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi” paints a markedly different picture than one about, say, “Disaster, Unloved, and Unwanted.” Does it do the narrative justice if we strip it of the jarring names “Unloved” and “Unwanted”?

Is turning “Jezreel” into “Disaster” going too far? What about a translation that calls yizrael “Gettysburg,” which, like the Valley of Jezreel, was the site of bloodshed? Should we respect the fact that Hosea has one kid named after a place and two with phrases for names?

And what about Emmanuel? If we translate lo-ruchamma as “Unloved,” shouldn’t Emmanuel be “God-Is-With-Us?”

What do you think? How would you translate Hosea’s kids, Isaiah 7:14, and Matthew 1:23?

May 9, 2012 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

I’m Back, for a Bit

A while ago my laptop crashed, the result of a virus.

My first repair attempt went like this:

  1. Boot Windows XP from the Installation CD.
  2. Windows: “Windows is examining your hardware … Press ‘R’ to repair Windows.”
  3. Me: “R”
  4. Windows: “Insert repair disk into floppy drive.”

I don’t have a floppy drive. Good job examining the hardware, Windows.

“If Windows made cars, you’d be driving from NY to LA, and somewhere around the Rockies the radio would stop working, and you’d be asked to turn the car off and on again. And when you did, you’d be back in NY.”

On one hand, I’m lucky, because I use a different computer for writing, so I didn’t lose anything important. I only use the laptop for three things: to connect to my main computer when I travel; for Bibleworks, which is an indispensable Bible research tool; and for Web-intensive applications, like WordPress. But when the virus hit, I lost those three.

In spite of a background in Computer Science (from my year doing graduate work at the Technion in Israel), I didn’t have the inclination or the patience to reinstall Windows, but I was left with little choice, because I need Windows XP (which they don’t sell any more) and I didn’t want to give up the unlimited data plan that comes with my internal Verizon data card.

Fortunately, I have the installation disks, including the Windows CD and Dell’s supplemental disks.

Unfortunately, simply following the instructions doesn’t work. (It never does.)
One particularly frustrating moment came when the newly installed Windows couldn’t find the Ethernet driver. “Do you want to connect to the Internet to find a driver?” Windows asked.

At any rate, the computer mostly works now. It still gives an error message every time it boots. Oddly, I can’t view PDF files, because installation of Adobe’s Acrobat Reader fails with a “general error.” And there are other quirks. But it works.

Still, between a crippled computer, lots of travel, and even more writing, I’ve been away from this blog for too long. I’m back now, for a bit, on and off, until things calm down.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | meta, Off Topic | 5 Comments