10

It is my understanding that Jewish tradition holds considerable reverence for accurate translations of its scripture. Do Jews today consider the King James translation known as the Old Testament to be acceptably accurate? (I understand the issues of not having a perfect match from this question. That's a detail I believe is unimportant for my question.)

If not, what equivalent English translation would best reflect the original writings?

(I recognize that this question might be too opinion-based and apologize if that is considered the case.)

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    I really think this is reader’s preference. Personally, I think that if you want a really accurate version, you can start by throwing out any translation that begins “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” For various reasons addressed by the 11th-century commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki), a more accurate translation would be “In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth...” You might try Sefaria for one that’s a little loose with the translation but stays true to its simple meaning. – DonielF Aug 13 '17 at 4:29
  • Does it make a difference if we are referencing the KJV or Authorized Revision? – JJLL Aug 13 '17 at 14:38
  • Not necessarily. I was being specific to avoid the question becoming unanswerable. – JBH Aug 13 '17 at 18:21
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    @DonielF you want to throw out the Ramban?? – Heshy Aug 13 '17 at 20:23
  • @Heshy I was unaware that he translated the passuk differently. – DonielF Aug 13 '17 at 21:28
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The KJV may give the general sense of a translation in many cases. However, it has a definite Christian bend and does not always follow the Jewish traditions in translation. I will illustrate this phenomenon with a few examples.

Isaiah 7:14 (see here):

MT:

לָ֠כֵן יִתֵּ֨ן אֲדֹנָ֥י ה֛וּא לָכֶ֖ם א֑וֹת הִנֵּ֣ה הָעַלְמָ֗ה הָרָה֙ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥את שְׁמ֖וֹ עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃

KJV:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

NJPS:

Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.

KJV translates עלמה‎ as "virgin"—in "anticipation" of the Christian belief that Mary was a virgin when she begot Jesus—while NJPS translates this term in the usual Jewish way, i.e. "young woman" (virgin = בתולה).


Isaiah 40:3:

MT:

ק֣וֹל קוֹרֵ֔א בַּמִּדְבָּ֕ר פַּנּ֖וּ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהוָ֑ה יַשְּׁרוּ֙ בָּעֲרָבָ֔ה מְסִלָּ֖ה לֵאלֹהֵֽינוּ׃

KJV:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

NJPS:

A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert A road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness A highway for our God!

The KJV translation is based on the interpretations in the LXX and the Christian canon (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; John 1:23) where John the Baptist is described as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ). However, the NJPS translation agrees with the syntax of the te`amim.


KJV Ps. 22:16 = MT Ps. 22:17 (see here):

MT:

כִּ֥י סְבָב֗וּנִי כְּלָ֫בִ֥ים עֲדַ֣ת מְ֭רֵעִים הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י יָדַ֥י וְרַגְלָֽי׃

KJV:

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

NJPS:

Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones closes in on me, like lions [they maul] my hands and feet.

Here the KJV follows the LXX reading, and not that of the MT. It is obvious that the this translation was used to seem like Psalms is "anticipating" the crucifixion of Jesus.


The list goes on. The KJV will also occasionally diverge from the Masoretic verse divisions (e.g. the example above, MT Num 25:19 = KJV Num 26:1, etc.).

At any rate, I find NJPS is a good Jewish translation, in precise and modern language. The 1917 JPS version, which is somewhat outdated, is not bad and is easily found online. Artscroll and Koren are popular Jewish translations too.

  • worth noting that artscroll often isn't literal – barlop Jul 13 '18 at 21:48
  • @barlop If they deviate from the literal translation, they usually give a reason and a source. – Kazi bácsi Mar 10 at 8:50
  • I suppose injure might be a better translation than pierce, for psalm 22, but I think them using the LXX text is legitimate. Injure would also be a better translation than maul (as maul assumes a lion). In the dead sea scrolls one scroll has a letter missing so retains the ambigiuity(lion or not), the other one doesn't have lion, see footnotes dssenglishbible.com/psalms%2022.htm (I understand that there are hebrew proto-septuagint, and proto-masoretic texts in the DSS, and the masoretic is better preserved between now and then).. – barlop Mar 10 at 12:25
  • @barlop The use of the LXX is legitimate in the sense that the LXX is indeed a legitimate source, but the KJV is usually based on MT. Thus the KJV translation is eclectic and selective in accordance with Christian exegesis. – Argon Mar 10 at 15:14
  • Since the LXX was done 100-200 years before Christianity it is impossible for there to be a "Christian" bias or reading. If the KJV follows the LXX it is only because the non-Christian Hebrew scholar understood the passage in that way. One may debate the accuracy of the LXX, but the texts which point to Christ were interpreted that way before Christ was born. – Revelation Lad Mar 17 at 0:06
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Harry Orlinsky, editor-in-chief of the NJPS, in a 1990 essay pointed to the example of three texts in the KJV as being faulty and showing Christian bias: Genesis 1:1-3, Psalm 2:12, and Isaiah 7:14. The Isaiah 7:14 text has been discussed in the above post, so only a discussion of the other two texts needs to be done.

Genesis 1:1-3

MT

:בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ :וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם :וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי-אוֹר

KJV:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

NJPS:

When God began to create heaven and earth--the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water--God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.

Note: The translation of רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים in NJPS as 'a wind from God' follows the interpretation of Targum Onkelos, Midrash Rabbah, Talmud Bavli Hagigah 12a, Saadia, Rashi ('the breath of His mouth'), Rashbam, Bechor Shor, and Ibn Ezra. JPS has 'the spirit of God' (small 's'). The KJV capitalizes 'Spirit,' and it is used as a proof text for the doctrine of a third person who is God (the doctrine of the Trinity),* the proof for the second person being, among others, Psalm 45:7a ('Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever'), another KJV mistranslation (compare Ibn Ezra, Rashi, JPS, NJPS), and Psalm 110:1 ('The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool'), likewise another KJV mistranslation (אדֹנִי in verse 1 of the MT is not the same word as אֲדֹנָי in verse 7 and should not be capitalized: see Radaq, who points out that אדֹנִי has the nun with chireq and אֲדֹנָי has the nun with qamets).


*See in particular Genesis 41:38 KJV: 'And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?' According to this translation, Pharaoh believed in the third person of the Christian Trinity! - For other רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים texts in the KJV, see Exodus 31:3; 35:31; Numbers 24:2; I Samuel 11:6; 16:15, 16, 23; 19:20, 23; Job 27:3; 33:4; 2 Chronicles 15:1; 24:20. The same Trinitiarian bias occurs in רוּחַ-יְהוָה texts beginning in Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 9, 19; 15:14. Ditto for the רוּחִי texts, such as Joel 3:1, Isaiah 42:1, and 44:3. The same for the two 'holy spirit' texts: Psalm Isaiah 63:10 and 11 (רוּחַ קָדְשְׁךָ is correctly rendered in Psalm 51:11 KJV [Psalm 51:13 MT], the other 'holy spirit' text. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, this evolves into 'the Holy Ghost.' Most curiously, רוּחִי in Genesis 6:3 is correctly rendered 'My spirit' in the KJV, but inconsistently with the practice of the translators elsewhere. Recently, the NKJV has caught this inconsistency and changed it (incorrectly) to 'My Spirit.'

Psalm 2:12

MT

:נַשְּׁקוּ-בַר פֶּן-יֶאֱנַף וְתֹאבְדוּ דֶרֶךְ-- כִּי-יִבְעַר כִּמְעַט אַפּוֹ :אַשְׁרֵי כָּל-חוֹסֵי בוֹ.

KJV

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

NJPS

pay homage in good faith [meaning of Hebrew uncertain] lest He be angered and your way be doomed in the mere flash of His anger. Happy are all who take refuge in Him.

Note: The KJV translates בַר as 'Son' (capital 'S'), implying that this refers to Jesus, but the Hebrew word for 'son' is ben (see verse 7, where it is used with a possessive adjective suffix: אֲסַפְּרָה אֶל-חֹק: יְהוָה אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִי אַתָּה--אֲנִי הַיּוֹם יְלִדְתִּיךָ). Bar (var following a vowel) is an Aramaic word and means 'son,' 'a son,' or, in construct, 'son of,' 'a son of' if the absolute noun is indefinite, and 'the son of' if the absolute noun is definite. See כְּבַר אֱנָשׁ ('one like a son of man') Daniel 7:13 JPS, which in the KJV is mistranslated 'one like the Son of man' (definite article and capital 'S') in order to make it refer to Jesus, who used this idiomatic expression when referring to himself. But בַר אֱנָשׁ is indefinite. Bar also occurs in the earlier Aramaic text דָּמֵה לְבַר-אֱלָהִין ('is like to a son of the gods') Daniel 3:25 JPS, which is mistranslated 'is like the Son of God' (definite article and capital 'S') in the KJV, thus making Nebuchadnezzar know about and see the second person of the Christian Trinity, a common interpretation in Christian commentary. But the context clearly indicates that בַר-אֱלָהִין is indefinite. Moreover, verses 28 and 29 indicate that Nebuchadnezzar considered the god of the Jews one god among others, thus making it clear that אֱלָהִין is to be translated in the plural.* The Revised Version corrected the KJV mistranslation, and all Christian translations since that time no longer contain it, except, unsurprisingly, the NKJV, though in a footnote it concedes this as an alternative rendering. 'the son' in Hebrew is הַבֵּן, and, as direct object, אֵת, the direct object marker, precedes it. In Aramaic, 'the son' is בְּרָא, and, as direct object, יַת בְּרָא. This construction does not occur in Psalm 2:12 MT. (For the curious thrice use of bar (Aramaic) in Proverbs 31:2 and ben in the plural construct form (Hebrew) in 31:8 in the oracle of King Lemuel, consult the commentaries; see also A. Hurvitz, 'The Chronological Significance of 'Aramaisms' in Biblical Hebrew,' Israel Exploration Journal, Volume 18, Number 4 [1968]: 234-240, for bar in Proverbs 31:2 consult 236).


*In that light, should not all translations of Genesis 41:38 be revised? The JPS text reads: 'And Pharaoh said unto his servants: 'Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?' But compare the words of Nebuchadnezzar in JPS in Daniel 4:5 and 6a (NJPS is similar): 'But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and I told the dream before him: O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, . . . ' Also the words of the queen of Babylon in 5:11a: ' there is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; . . .' Likewise, the words of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, right next in 5:14: ' I have heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, . . .' The phrase in 5:14 is identical with the phrase in Genesis 41:38, except that רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים is translated 'the spirit of God' in the latter and רוּחַ אֱלָהִין 'the spirit of the gods' in the former. Since Pharaoh was a pagan like Belshazzar, should not רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים in Genesis 41:38 be rendered 'the spirit of (the) gods' as רוּחַ אֱלָהִין in Daniel 5:14?

-----**

Bibliography: Harry Orlinsky, 'The Role of Theology and the Christian Mistranslation of the Hebrew Bible,' in Translation of Scripture, ed. David M. Goldenberg (Philadelphia: Annenberg Research Institute, 1990), 127-132; 'Enigmatic Bible Passages: The Plain Meaning of Genesis 1:1-3,' The Biblical Archaeologist Volume 46, Number 4 (December, 1983): 207-209@JSTOR.com; 'The Plain Meaning of Ruach in Genesis 1:2,' The Jewish Quarterly Review, 48 (1957-1958): 174-182@JSTOR.com; 'The New Jewish Version of the Torah,'Journal of Biblical Literature, 82 (1963): 249-264; Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia, 1969), pp. 52-55; Joseph H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, page 202 (Genesis 49:10, Psalm 2:12, and Isaiah 7:14 discussed); Sophiee Saguy, KJV or Jewish Translation - Virtual Yeshiva Discussion Forums; here in Mi Yodeya my recently written answer to 'What's the Meaning of Shiloh in the Last Blessing of Yaakov on his Children?' in connection with the KJV mistranslation in Genesis 49:10 discussed by R' Hertz.


Postscript: The Shem Ha-Meforash in the King James Version

In the transcription of the Shem ha-Meforash (יְהוָה), which occurs 6,823 times in the Tanakh, the translators of the King James Version made a decision to translate most of these as the LORD. But in seven places they rendered it as Jehovah (in four of these as JEHOVAH), not knowing that the Masoretic pointing was intended to indicate that the name is read by Jews as Adonai and not, as written in the unpointed text, Yhvh. In Isaiah 12:2 and 26:4 יָהּ יְהוָה is rendered the LORD JEHOVAH, and not JAH JEHOVAH, but see Psalm 68:4 (68:5 MT), where יָהּ is rendered JAH.

Genesis 22:14

And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.

Exodus 6:3

And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.

Exodus 17:15

And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi.

Judges 6:24

Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Psalms 83:18

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.

Isaiah 12:2

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

Isaiah 26:4

Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.

The mistransliteration JEHOVAH has been traced to Pugio Fidei ('Dagger of Faith'), an anti-Talmud work by the Spanish Christian friar Ramon Marti (commonly known as Raymond Martin) published in 1270.

Bibliography: 'JEHOVAH,' 'SHEM HA-MEFORASH,' Jewish Encyclopedia (0nline).

Note: The article 'ADONAI (אֲדֹנָי, literally "my Lord," the plural form of Adon, that is, "Lord" or "Lordship")' in the same source incorrectly states that 'Jehovah' was introduced by a Christian writer about 1520, which is at variance with what is stated correctly in the article 'JEHOVAH.' Again, the article 'TETRAGRAMMATON' incorrectly states that the Shem ha-Meforash occurs 5,989 times in the Bible, which is at variance with the 7,823 times stated correctly in the article 'JEHOVAH.' Conversely, the article 'JEHOVAH' incorrectly transliterates אדֹנִי as 'Adonay,' but the article 'ADONAİ' correctly transliterates it. Though אדֹנִי ends with a yod, which is transliterated as y in English, its last syllable is a diphthong, but ay, which represents the sound of long 'A', is not.

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    Note that your first example can work either way for Jews. The disagreement goes at least as far back as R' Yehuda and R' Nechemia. Most people are more familiar with the NJPS version because that's the one Rashi follows. – Heshy Mar 8 at 15:00
  • @Heshy - But Jews would not capitalize 'Spirit' and understand this verse to be a proof text of a Third Person of the Trinity, as the KJV reading. See the JPS (1917): 'the spirit of God' (small 's'), and Orlinsky, 'The Plain Meaning of Ruach in Genesis 1:2,' Jewish Quarterly Review, 48 (1957-1958): 174-182. – Clifford Durousseau Mar 8 at 15:15
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KJV is definitely not considered most-accurate; at the bare minimum, it was not a direct Hebrew-to-English translation. KJV was intended to sound old, and to sound really good when spoken out-loud.

The Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917 (JPS) is commonly-referenced, widely available (full text available at that link), and a good starting point, though there are some valid criticisms of it. (I recall my high school English Literature textbook had a piece of Bible in it; it was the Book of Ruth, using JPS translation.) If you need to cite a verse in a research paper or the like, the same way you could say Jer. 18:18 (KJV), you could just say (JPS) and people can find that easily.

Better yet would be Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation of the first five books (full text linked), where his footnotes will highlight alternative translations; after Rabbi Kaplan's death, other rabbis translated the rest of the Jewish Bible following his style, but that's not available online and never became all that popular. (It's also unwieldy in a few volumes.)

If you're looking for a single-volume, Hebrew/English Jewish Bible in print, the Artscroll and Koren ones are popular.

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    While you provided a nice supply of alternatives, you didn't justify any of your claims about the KJV. – robev Aug 13 '17 at 14:03
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    Shalom, why do you say it was not a direct hebrew-to-english translation? – paquda Aug 14 '17 at 18:45
  • @paquda he probably means it's an English translation of the Greek translation. – robev Aug 14 '17 at 23:25
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    @robev, it's not (and why would English Protestants focus on the Greek version?). The translators of the King James Version worked directly from the source languages. – paquda Aug 14 '17 at 23:38
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    What about the translation used on chabad.org? – Tamir Evan Sep 5 '17 at 10:49
2

Jews today do not consider the King James Bible to be acceptably accurate. That said, it isn't as others have claimed "only a Greek translation," nor did they "ignore the source material." They also didn't 'make it sound old.' The King James Bible was a monumental undertaking with all relevant source materials (Hebrew, Greek, and Latin).

However, as others have pointed out, when faced with the question "Should we translate this as it says, or should we translate it to show faith in Jesus?", they almost always chose the latter. It's for this reason alone that Jews do not, and should not, consider the King James Bible as accurate.

The translators made similar decisions on other issues, like inserting the name Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12, despite Lucifer being a Latin term from the Vulgate.

It's worth mentioning that, in our times, more accurate and less biased translations are coming from Christian sources. The New American Bible, Revised Edition, which is a Catholic translation, has removed some of the problematic Christian-biased verses. Take a look at how it translates the "virgin birth" verse from Isaiah:

New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.

Source: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+7%3A14&version=NABRE

  • @AaronGreat job. Would you consider adding at the end 'But, despite this, it is to be noted that the NABRE used the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis in its annotations to the Torah'? – Clifford Durousseau Mar 15 at 5:31
  • @CliffordDurousseau I would not consider adding it. I just don't think it would add as much as it might potentially take away. But I appreciate your edits and recognize your expertise on this particular topic. – Aaron Mar 15 at 5:38
  • @CliffordDurousseau I just attempted to fix it. let me know if it was the fix you were looking for. – Aaron Mar 15 at 6:14
  • @CliffordDurousseau Let's find a way to be in contact tomorrow. Goodnight – Aaron Mar 15 at 6:27

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