Why You Can’t Read the Bible in English

What is the best English translation of the Bible?

That question gets asked over and over.  My answer, “Probably none,” isn’t really helpful because it doesn’t explain why English translations really don’t convey Hebrew thought.  Now I want to point you to an article that explains all this.

Robert Alter produced a translation of the Hebrew Bible in three volumes (the Hebrew Bible (W. W. Norton & Company, 2019, if you buy it on Amazon, please use Amazon Smile and endorse At God’s Table).  It is significant, amazing, and useful.  But perhaps the best part of this work is the “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible” found in the opening pages of Volume 1.  In this 30 page article, Alter demonstrates why English translations, including Jewish ones, fall far short of really capturing the subtleties and nuances of the original.  YOU SHOULD READ THIS.  Maybe when I get back to Parma I can come up with a way to make it available without expecting you to buy the books, but if you can get your hands on this introduction, you will learn a great deal and you will stop asking, “What is the best English translation?”  You’ll discover that the Bible in the original isn’t anything like the Bible in translation, despite all the theological pundits telling you otherwise.  I will probably be using this as my text reference in Today’s Word from now on.

And you’ll have a new appreciation of the work of unraveling the original text.

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Richard Bridgan