If you are not familiar with my Bible translation work, I must first warn you. The translation you are about to read will seem very strange and foreign to you.
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Excavating the Bible Newsletter #002

Greetings Excavators:

Jeff A. BennerFirst, an update on my new book, A Cultural and Linguistic Excavation of the Bible. The editing is complete and is now with the formatters. We had a rocky start trying to get the book formatted as the formatters were not accustomed to working with the Hebrew fonts in the book, but I think we've fixed the problems. Once I get the book back from the formatters it will be sent off to the publisher. I anticipate the book will be complete about the middle of next month.

In this newsletter I am sharing my recent translation of Psalm 16, a part of a work in progress, The Psalms: A Mechanical Translation. I will be taking one phrase from this translation to demonstrate some of the issues I have had with the mainstream translations.

Book Project: The Psalms: A Mechanical Translation

Heading: Psalm 16

If you are not familiar with my Bible translation work, I must first warn you. The translation you are about to read will seem very strange and foreign to you. The reason for this, is that the Bible was written in a world very different and foreign to our own. What you are seeing in this translation is an unabridged look at the Psalms from the perspective of the Biblical author. The translations most people are familiar with have “fixed” this foreignness of the text by replacing the ancient Hebraic flavor of the text with a more palatable modern English-friendly flavor. While this makes for easier reading, it unfortunately erases much of the original intent of the author.

With this in mind, read my translation and then afterward, we’ll take a look at an example that will demonstrate what I am talking about.

1&A mikh'tam belonging to Dawiyd, safeguard me mighty one, given that I took refuge in you. 2&You said to YHWH, you are Adonai, my function is not upon you. 3&To the unique ones, which are in the land, they and the eminent ones of all, my delight is in them. 4&Their sufferings will increase, they hurried to another, I will not pour their pourings from blood and I will not lift up their titles upon my lips. 5&YHWH is the portion of my distribution and you are upholding my lot. 6&Lines fell to me in delightful places, moreover, an inheritance of brightness is upon me. 7&I will kneel at YHWH who gave me advice, moreover, nights, my kidneys will correct me. 8&I made YHWH be level to me face to face continually, given that from my right hand I will not be tottered. 9&Therefore, my heart rejoiced and my armament rolled, moreover, my flesh will dwell in safety 10&Given that you will not leave my soul to the underworld, you will not give your kind one to see a ditch. 11&You will make known to me the path of life, satisfaction of rejoicings at your face, delightfulness is enduring in your right hand.

In my translation of verse 6, you will find the passage, “…an inheritance of brightness is upon me.” Let’s compare that with some of the mainstream translations.

…I have a delightful inheritance.” (NIV)

…I have a beautiful inheritance.” (ESV)

…I have a goodly heritage.” (KJV)

The first difference you will notice between my translation and the others, is that I use the phrase “upon me,” while the other translations use “I have.” As my translation is a “mechanical” translation, wherever the Hebrew word alai appears, it will always be translated as “upon me.” Whereas in the other translations it is translated a multiple of ways. Here are just a few examples of the NIV’s translation of alai in Genesis.

Upon me” (Genesis 20:9)

On me” (Genesis 27:13)

I must care” for (Genesis 33:13)

Against me” (Genesis 42:36)

Pointing out the differences between “upon me” and “I have” may sound trivial, but many times these little nuances can shed some new light on a passage. For instance, “I have” implies possession while “upon me” does not. Is this an important distinction here? To be honest, I do not know, and it may not be important, but one thing is for sure, no one reading the mainstream translations would even consider asking such a question.

You will also notice that I have this phrase at the end of the passage, which is where it is in the Hebrew. Sure, there are going to be times when we have to rearrange word order in order for a passage to be understood in English, but in my opinion, this should only be done when necessary. This way, the reader begins to learn to read the text with its original Hebraic flavor. The more Hebraicly we approach the scriptures, the closer we will be too understanding them from the perspective of its original authors.

Another difference is the translation of the Hebrew word sha’pha’rah, which I have translated as “brightness,” a noun. The other translations use “delightful,” “beautiful” and “goodly,” all adjectives. Biblical Hebrew does not like adjectives and rarely uses them. It much prefers verbs and nouns. But not only that, Hebrew uses words that have a concrete meaning, which simply put, means that you could draw a picture of the word. One can easily draw a picture of something “bright,” but “delight,” “beauty” and “good” would be much more difficult.

We also know from the grammar of the phrase that the word sha’pha’rah is a noun and not an adjective. Let me explain. The Hebrew word translated as “inheritance” is the noun na’hha’lah, but in this passage it is written as na’hha’lat. When the ah suffix is changed to at it means that this word is the first word in a construct pair, which means, that in English, we will use the word “of” after it—“inheritance of…” The next noun is the second part of the construct pair—“inheritance of brightness.” While it may seem odd for mainstream translations to ignore the grammar of the original language, it is, unfortunately, a very common occurrence.

Essentially, the Hebrew text is a bumpy dirt road and the translators “fix” this road by covering it over with a super highway. Translators will take a difficultly worded passage and rephrase it for ease of readability, regardless of the grammar or syntax. The real travesty is not that they do this, but that the reader is never informed of these “fixes.”

Jeff A. BennerJeff A. Benner
Excavating the Bible
September 24, 2023

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