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The Book of all Books Dr. Azila (Tzili) Talit Reisenberger Head of Hebrew University of Cape Town.

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Presentation on theme: "The Book of all Books Dr. Azila (Tzili) Talit Reisenberger Head of Hebrew University of Cape Town."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Book of all Books Dr. Azila (Tzili) Talit Reisenberger Head of Hebrew University of Cape Town

2 Lecture 5: The Word (issues of language and meaning) Who said what to whom? Said or wrote? In what language?

3 Language of The Book Most books are written in Hebrew Parts of Daniel, and Ezra and Nehemiah are written in Aramaic which is a sister language of Hebrew (Afro-Asian origin Proto Semitic, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Sumerian… Currently Arabic and Hebrew, some Aramaic pockets, also pockets of Ethiopian dialects)

4 Language the biblical ‘characters’ spoke: Hebrew (where does the word ‘Hebrew’ come from? Lingua Franca in the Fertile Crescent: Aramaic. Each tribe/ clan added their location to the word Aram i.e. Aram Zova, Aram Damascus, Aram Ma’acha, Aram Naharaim etc Hebrew was called Yehudit (2 Kings 18) from the word: Yehudah/ Judaea

5 From Oral to Written language The Bible tells stories from 2000 BCE Alphabet was ‘invented’ at time of Moses + 1500 BCE So everything that happened between 2000- 1500 was transmitted earlier as Oral Literature.

6 Can one remember details of a conversation 500 years later? (Tell me what “Aunty Merle” said during last Passover meal…)

7 Even from the same era How does the writer know what people said – if it was a private conversation: Examples: Jud. 3:20-21, “and Ehud came to [Eglon who] was alone…and Ehud said I have a word of God unto thee…” 1Kings 1:11 ff “And Nathan the prophet spoke unto Bat-sheba…let me, I pray thee give thee counsel, that thou mayest save thy own life…” etc

8 How does the writer know what a person said in his/her heart? Gen 18:12-13,15 “and Sarah laughed in her heart…and the Lord said unto Abraham, wherefore Sarah laughed”…” and Sarah denied saying I laughed not”… This chapter taught me the meaning of ‘tact’…

9 What is more authentic (older)/ closer to the Ur-text: Poetry or Prose? Many scholars claim that Biblical poetry is more authentic, and “closest” to the Ur-text See 2 examples: Prose vs. Song on the Red Sea (Ex 14-15-) and war against Sissera (Jud. 4-5)

10 What language did God speak? Was God speaking Hebrew? If God spoke Hebrew, then all people could hear God’s speech. hear yes, but could they understand God ??? And if God spoke God’s language, then:

11 Are the prophets simple translators? Meaning: if God spoke Godly / Divine language and people could not pick it up except the prophets, then what happens 1. if the prophets’ translation is not very accurate? 2. or: if a Divine word has a few meanings in Hebrew?

12 Difficulty in translation No two languages are ever a duplication of each other. So: certain words in the original language may mean various things in the receptive language and while the prophet says something he/she already censors God’s word. Example: Ten Commandments

13 Exodus 20:8 Deuteronomy 5:12 Remember Keep the Shabbat-day What did God say: to remember the Shabbat or keep it holy?

14 Peculiarities of languages Some languages have vocabulary that others don’t have (simple example: bon appétit, gesundheid, mefargen… etc) In the Bible we see examples, such as: (Ex. 3:14) “I will be who I will be” – which turned in English into: “I am what I am” Harmful translation: Gen 2:21-22) Zela/Rib (Patronizing example: Xhosa translation)

15 Personal bias interferes with God’s words In preparation for the giving of the Torah on Sinai, God said to Moses to tell the people, to prepare themselves by: ‘sanctify themselves, wash their cloths and during the epiphany they should NOT touch the mountain’ (Ex 19:10-13) Moses says: (ex 19:14) Sanctify yourselves, wash your cloths and don’t come near your wives… ??????

16 Example of patriarchal Biases The impact of prejudice, social political biases. Zela/ translated into rib instead of ‘Side’ Woman ask, men command

17 Artistic depiction As art is a translation of a written word into visual form I would like to show two examples of mis-translation: What was the fruit that the serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat?

18 Genesis 3:5 says: “The day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened, and ye will be as God, knowing good and evil” Evil/bad in Latin is Malum Malum denotes also Apple … So from a fruit that teaches us between good and evil it became an apple…

19 Lucas Cranach 1526

20 Titian 1576 CE

21 Tree of knowledge… Israeli, 12 years old

22 Moses brings down the 10 Commandments Ex 34:29 (30, 35) “…when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tablets… [he] knew not that the skin of his face shone (radiated/ Karan) because he had spoken with God” How did some artists interpreted /“translate” it?

23 Doré 1865

24 Moses’ face shone – Karan K.R.N. is ‘to shine’ קרן But: K.R.N. also denotes a horn. So: the painter Doré made Moses shining But Michelangelo selected possibility no.2 instead of no.1.

25 Michelangelo 1513-1516 for the tomb of Pope Julius II

26 As we have seen: Translations are NEVER like the original Therefore there is a Muslim prohibition on translating the Quran Is it good? What about accessibility? Let’s see then the History of Biblical translations

27 History of biblical translations Aramaic Targum (Unkelos and Jonathan) Septuagint (the ‘seventy’) 3 rd century BCE ( Iggeret Aristeas ) Origen’s Hexapla (6 columns: Hebrew, Heb transliteration, Aquila’s (literal Greek), Symmachus (idiomatic Greek), + VII; Theodotion (J. Greek) (before 245 CE) Jerom’s Latin: Vulgate (382-420 CE)

28 The script The Hebrew Aleph-Bet is the first alpha-bet in the world. Sometimes it is called: Ancient Hebrew Sometimes Phoenician (as they were the seafarers who spread the script throughout the Mediterranean sea)

29 Difficulty with the written text Hieroglyphs and Cuneiform as two communication systems Hebrew is an actual alphabet Brilliance: Allows expression of abstract… Limitation: Initial a ‘record of consonants’

30 The original Ancient Hebrew Alphabet. Pictorial traces. It was changed/refined by the 5 th Century BCE

31 Gezer Calendar 10 th Century BCE (King Solomon’s time)

32 Hebrew Script

33 Shiloach Siloam Silwan Inscription 701 BCE

34 ‘Technical improvements’ with time Division of words Markings of end of sentence/idea Addition of vowel-letters due to the loss of fluent speech (inconsistent addition and sometimes erroneous) What are vowel-letters vs. vowels

35 Uzziah Tablet 783-742 BCE BUT inscribed between 30 - 70 CE

36 Example of spelling error due to the un-systematic insertion of vowel letters Job 13:15 “Lo, though He slay me, yet will I yearn for Him; …only I will argue my own ways before Him” “Hen Yikteleni Lo A’yachel” לא לו No/ Never to Him

37 “Lo, though He slay me, yet will I yearn for Him; only I will argue my own ways before Him” Whatever is my fate - my faith is complete This is the essence of the Bible: No wonder that the first significant book to be printed was The Bible. (15 th Century) (Gutenberg 1456; Boomberg in 1516)

38 Why don’t we change errors? Rabbi Akiva in 135 CE, at the time of the New Testament and the rise of Christianity, decreed Not !!! Never !!! Are we to touch even the ‘edge of the yota’ ( על קוצו של י ' ) It was to preserve Judaism Indeed it kept Judaism as a separate religion and not ‘being swallowed’ into Christianity.

39 This decree resulted in: Preservation of the authentic Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) and keeping it pure. (this was done by the masoretic families) ALAS, It immortalized some errors It forced the masoretic people to invent a vowel system NOT in the text. Rather above and below it.


41 Boomberg Bible Daniel Boomberg from Antwerp, Belgium, went to Venice and opened a printing press First books to be printed in 1516 were Torah and the 5 Scrolls. He commissioned Jacob Ben Haim Adoniyahu from Tunis to prepare the whole Bible for print. Ben Haim prepared a Synthetic edition by corroborating 16 copies from around the world.

42 What is a synthetic edition? EXPLAIN So: Every printed Bible we have today is actually a synthetic edition !

43 Last question of this course: NOW, after we know a little bit more about “The Book of all Books”, Are we going to buy any book that supports the theory that there is a hidden message if you count letters and spaces in the Biblical text? (secret codes of sorts?)

44 If the books which are under scrutiny are in English or any other translation The answer is clearly NO…!!!! Because the words that are recorded are not God’s words, -but rather a reflection of the translators’ personalities, their social experience and their biases…. -And anyway, they are re-done every few years

45 and in Hebrew? On one hand: the text is comparatively static… kept since 135 CE by the masoretic people ALAS Hebrew vowel-letters were added un-systematically when they stopped using Hebrew as mother- tongue, and needed help in reading And: after all, it is a synthetic edition. Do you remember Ben-Haim’s preparation for the 1 st edition in print?

46 So why did we spend a whole week studying “The Book of all Books”? We could go to the beach? Or read: “The Other Booker Prize”?

47 Because I hope that this course showed you the beauty of “The Book”, how it evolved, and its message - And also taught you how distinguish the real thing from dogmas and sensational theories.

48 If this applies to you, then see you in future courses Thank you. Azila (Tzili) Talit Reisenberger I would like to thank Jutta Schoof for editing these notes

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