6

I'm looking for the best available English translation of the Tanakh, and because I prefer to hold an actual book in my hands, I'd rather have a hard copy as opposed to an online version.

Some insight on what I'm looking for: The most important factor is the accuracy of the translation in relation to either the best extant early manuscripts or the most widely accepted version of the text. If I have a choice between accuracy in a "word-for-word" sense and a "thought-for-thought" sense (this is one of the ways Christian bibles are distinguished from one another - rendering each word as accurately as possible versus rendering each idea as accurately as possible), I would prefer the former.

I would also prefer a version that provides insightful commentary from respected textual critics who are reputable and well regarded, but this isn't strictly necessary.

Is there a good English translation available?

  • 2
    related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/8919/759 – Double AA Aug 19 '15 at 6:13
  • 1
    .....contain commentaries from Rashi, Onkelos, and others. In other words, text without commentary, is not typical in Judaism. If the most accurate text is all you want Wad, the earlier suggestion of Jewish Publication Society's bible sounds right. You might also just go with a Bible you may already be familiar with, King James Authorized Revised. – JJLL Aug 19 '15 at 13:37
  • 2
    @JJLL I'd be skeptical of any derivative of the King James translation. AFAIK it propagates the Is.7:14 error as well as the kill/murder error in the "ten commandments" (scare quotes because there are certainly a lot more than ten, but that's the name non-Jews will know). So I have to assume there are a lot more errors than just those. – Monica Cellio Aug 19 '15 at 14:11
  • 1
    @JJLL I'm not a fan of the King James Bible. It was historically important, but it is a terrible translation and all the flowery prose in the world can't change that fact. – Wad Cheber Aug 19 '15 at 14:49
  • 2
    @WadCheber The 1917 is the best Bible for finding out what the Bible says, but not necessarily for finding out what it means. There are many ambiguous phrases in the Bible, and in the Torah, and the JPS leaves the ambiguisness without interpreting it for you. If you want an interpretive Bible there are many, some said Artscroll. But for you i would recomment the Hertz Chumash, as it's a good introductory Torah with easy to comprehend commentary. And then JPS later published a Bible series that's out of print and rare – Aaron Aug 19 '15 at 15:30
8

Since you said Tanach, I'm going to only include full Tanach translations here and ignore the various translations which only include the Torah.

These are all the complete Tanach translations I know about, and I have reason to believe this is a fairly comprehensive list.

  1. The Jerusalem Bible, by Professor Harold Fisch, Koren. 1950s-ish
  2. The living Torah/The Living Nach, By Aryeh Kaplan and others, Moznaim. 1960s-ish [link]
  3. Judaica Press Books of the Bible, by Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg, Judaica Press.
  4. Stone Chumash/Tanach, by Artscroll. 1990s
  5. Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, JPS. 1985 [link]
  6. Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures, JPS. 1917 [link]
  7. Jewish Family Bible, by Michael Friedlander 1884
  8. Jewish School and Family Bible, Dr. A. Benisch, 1852 [link]
  9. The Leeser Bible, by Isaac Leeser, 1853 [link]

The first question is how you feel about reading a translation which includes lots of sentences like "God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and must" or whether you prefer the more modern "And may God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine." All of the older translations (pre-1920) use archaic language. The Jerusalem bible by Fisch also uses this style, even though it was written in the middle of the 20th century. All the others use modern sounding words. Of these Artscroll and the living Torah are definitely the most modern sounding in their choice of words, while the others try to maintain a stronger sense of formality in their language.

The two JPS translations - JPS 1985 and JPS 1917 are certainly the most academic while still being based in Jewish thought. Artscroll is based solely on traditional Jewish thought. The living Torah/Nach is about as far from a translation as you can get and still call is a translation - it includes a lot of text which is implied by non-Torah sources (like the mishnah) in it's Torah translation. The Jerusalem Bible is a healthy mix of the two approached, but it uses archaic language.

While the main difference between JPS 1917 and 1985 is the language used, the 1985 translation also benefits from updated scholarship. In 1917 biblical scholarship and input from fields like archaeology and linguistics was in its infancy. By the 1980s the JPS team had the advantage of another 70 years of research to utilize. The older JPS translation as the gold standard for decades, but it is dated by today's standards. The new JPS is still the gold standard for those seeking an academic translation.

Although it's not complete, since you did say you're looking for academic translations I would be remiss if I didn't mention Everett Fox's translation and commentary. (Published by Schocken). He does something a little unique, which is to try to convey the rhythm and feeling of the Hebrew, and treats the text more like poetry than prose. I did not include it because it is not yet complete - he's done the Torah and the early prophets, and AFAIK is continuing to work on it, though you may have to be patient if you want to get the whole thing.

Giant TLDR: Get the new JPS, unless you like Fox's approach and are willing to wait.

3

The 1917 JPS Translation is the best Bible for finding out what the Bible says in English, but not necessarily for finding out what it means. There are many ambiguous phrases in the Bible, and the 1917 JPS leaves the ambiguity without interpreting it for you. If you want an interpretive Bible, there are many. Some people recommend Artscroll, but I often find myself frustrated by it because I find that it interprets scripture too much. Rather than give you a middle ground for possible meaning, it will often translate a word or phrase according to the "safe current Orthodox belief" of things rather than allow any other interpretations. An example would be rather than translating "B'nei Elohim" as "the sons of God/Divine Beings" and then giving you possible interpretations in the commentary, it will instead translate it as "descendents of Seth."

But for you I would recommend the Hertz Chumash, as it's a good introductory Torah with easy-to-comprehend commentary using the 1917 Translation. Many "Orthodox" people scoff at the Hertz Chumash, claiming that Rabbi Hertz was a conservative Jew, which he was not. He was the former Chief [Orthodox] Rabbi of the United Kingdom. He attended JTS [Jewish Theological Seminary] which started off more Orthodox and is now more on the Conservative/Reform side. JPS later published a whole series of the Bible with commentary. It is many books long, and is out of print and very rare/expensive to get a whole set.

If you want an easy, all-in-one Bible, there is the Jewish Study Bible printed by Oxford press, but this Bible is technically put out by many Conservative-Movement commentators, mentions things like the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis, and other things that make certain Orthodox people really upset. The translation is the "New JPS," which is a lot like the NIV in that it kind of simplifies the language at times and tries to take the ambiguity out in preference of giving you an understandable sentence. It also doesn't have the Hebrew text for you to read yourself.

The last recommendation I would have is a Torah by Rav Samson Hirsch. And although it's not a full Bible, only the Torah, the commentary is usually very in depth and is mostly inspiring, but it's hard to come across one in print. Also the translations of the words themselves are often interpretations like the Artscroll.

  • I appreciate the insight. I'm interested in an academic approach to Judaism, not a devotional approach. That probably means I would prefer literal translation or commentary from secular scholars. I'm very grateful for your help. – Wad Cheber Aug 20 '15 at 16:33
  • If you want more academic, then the Jewish Study Bible is the best choice as the commentary is much more academic. There is also the Etz Chayim Torah which is a conservative text, heavy on academic commentary. It also has the Hebrew. – Aaron Aug 20 '15 at 16:35
  • Just to clarify, both the Etz Chaim and the Jewish Study bible use the JPS 1985 translation. (This is the most recent JPS translation). – Popular Isn't Right Oct 23 '15 at 2:50
  • Your analysis on the ArtScroll translation is wrong, IMHO. I find that when it comes to finding Jewish translations that DON'T weave interpretation into the text, the Stone Tanach is number one on that list. JPS does a lot of work to try to annihilate Christian understandings from various verses, but in the process does a poor job in bringing the "literal" translation. – ezra Oct 3 '18 at 2:17
  • @ezra artscroll is famous for its doing what it wants.. The artscroll "translation" of song of songs, is legendary in how it is not a translation at all. Rabbi Adam Mintz in his lecture on the artscroll translation tinyurl.com/y4gp9kv8 points out that in the first edition artscroll reveals that it objects to the JPS translation being not in line with the talmud/sages. So artscroll is more in line with the sages/talmud. Out of interest, where does JPS try to annihilate christian misunderstanding and in the process do a poor job of bringing the literal translation? – barlop Mar 11 at 17:17
0

There isn't really a best. A word for word isn't always ideal because sometimes a word needs a few words to translate.

There is Youngs Literal Translation. I see it is in book form.

There is an interlinear translation so you see the translation under each word. Such a thing exists in book form.

There is the NET bible, it has lots of translation notes (that's exactly the kind of commentary one would want academically, for a translation). So many times when there's a question re how to translate something, it gives lots of detail. It is in book form as well as online.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .