This article was actually an email to the original editor back about 1999 or so, but the editor treated it as an article and posted it as such. Today, December 14, 2007, a reader emailed the Painful Truth to point out that the evidence cited in the article is suspect. He writes:
This appears to be wrong, becuase of the information found at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Aramaic which basically says that very very little of the Old Testament was written in Aramaic, which is the majority of what was cited as possibly incorrect use of "many things." (Full text)
Therefore, let the reader beware. The Community Informer may be no more accurate than the National Enquirer.
Problems With Bible Translations
By John B.
I saw something I just had to pass along. Every month in my neighborhood we get in the mail something called the Community Informer. This is an advertising publication put out by a combined group of local merchants. In addition to the advertisements the C.I. is loaded with trivia, jokes, strange facts, and various tidbits.
In the Sept 1999 issue, page 19 contains a section called "Facts about religion and the Bible". I have no idea what the source for these tidbits are, but as far as I know most of them are accurate. Here is a sampling:
"Scholars estimate that the 66 books of the King James version of the Bible were written by some 50 different authors."
"Seven suicides are recorded in the Bible."
"There are 49 different foods mentioned in the Bible."
"Zipporah was the wife of Moses."
"The Hindu holy day begins at sunrise, the Jewish holy day begins at sunset, and the Christian holy day begins at midnight."
As I said, everything is verifiable. Then I came to this nugget, and it was so profound that I felt compelled to pass it on to your website. If this one is true, then . . . Well, judge for yourself.
"Some biblical scholars believe that Aramaic (the language of the ancient Bible) did not contain an easy way to say 'many things' and used a term which has come down to us as 40. This means that when the Bible--in many places--refers to '40 days', it really means 'many days'."
Think about that one, Ed! Can you imagine the impact on the Bible story, and all the numerological implications that has? It blows away 40 years in the wilderness (Moses probably made the trip in a couple of weeks), 40 years in captivity, the temptation of Christ for 40 days, that Moses was 40 when he fled Egypt and 80 when he returned, that Sarai was 90 when she gave birth (more likely 50), etc. All the carefully constructed "meaning" of all the biblical tales collapses into a heap of broken words because of a simple translation error.
That is why one cannot rely on repeatedly translated material to guide one's life. Hell, the books started out variously as Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, then were translated into Latin, then German, then English. Even supposing the books were inspired to begin with (which I don't believe), how many errors were committed in the xlations? Not to mention nuances of meaning.
On this same subject, about a year back I was in my car, listening to Christian radio for laughs, when I heard a speaker that made me sit up. The speaker was a lady, I have no idea what her credentials were, but she was talking about biblical translations. I forget the point she was trying to make, but what I learned from her was, if true, very significant.
Remember how anal people used to get about the various translations of the Bible? One would read something in KJV, then read NKJ or Moffat for a "clearer" translation. Remember? Armstrong on the radio: "And I tell you God says that unless those days should be shortened that NO FLESH SHALL BE SAVED! The Moffat Bible says that NO FLESH SHALL BE SAVED ALIVE! So this is not talking about spiritual salvation, it's TALKING ABOUT YOUR VERY PHYSICAL SURVIVAL, and that of your FAMILIES! I tell you, friends, there isn't much time left! ! !"
This I remember as a prime example of how critical a translation could be. The KJV says "saved", which some could assumed means saved from sin. But Moffat says "saved alive", which suggests saving your ass.
The lady on the radio said--and this makes sense to me--that the different translators are constrained by copyright laws. In other words, if there is a single source that needs to be translated, and somebody else has already done so, and you want to do it yourself, in order to publish it and sell it, your finished translation has to be different than any or all previously published translations. Therefore, in order not to violate the previous translation's copyright, you have to produce a result that is significantly different than others have produced.
Fortunately for Bible translators, the English language is replete with words for every meaning. Therefore, you can find half a dozen substitutes for "love", or "many", or just about anything. So when Moffat got to the place where the Bible said "no flesh shall be saved", since the KJV already said that, he added the word "alive", which means the same thing but could be taken to have additional meaning.
I urge your readers--especially those who put a great deal of stock on one translation over another--to go back to some of the most critical scriptures and look at them in three or four different translations. Think about the importance of those scriptures, and how the emphasis shifts from one translation to the next. Then, rethink the entire passage in the light of copyright law, and tell me if the scripture has any significance at all.
I think this bit of information really takes all the fun out of being a Bible hobbyist.
Thanks, Ed, for the soap box. Later.
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