From Hebrew to... Hebrew

A Fascinating New Bible Translation in Process

Proudly Raised: A new translation of the Bible found fault with an archaic expression referring to a raised horn of a gazelle. The translator switched it to the generic, ‘my strength increased.’
getty images
Proudly Raised: A new translation of the Bible found fault with an archaic expression referring to a raised horn of a gazelle. The translator switched it to the generic, ‘my strength increased.’

By Philologos

Published December 18, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Let’s look at an example. I asked the Ram publishing house for a copy of its Bible and was sent its second volume, the part of Scripture known in Hebrew as nevi’im rishonim, “First Prophets,” and containing the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Opening it at random, I found myself looking at Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving in the second chapter of Samuel I, after she has been granted a longed-for child. Here, respectively, are the first verse of the chapter in Biblical Hebrew, then the Ram Bible translation, the extremely literal King James Version and my literal English translation of the Ram Bible’s Hebrew.

Vatitpalel Hannah vatomar:
V’Hannah hitpalelah v’kakh amra:

And Hannah prayed and said:
And Hannah prayed and said thusly:

Even if you don’t know any Hebrew, you can easily see that the component parts of this verse — the conjunction v’, “and”; the verb hitpalel, “to pray,” and the verb amar, “say” — are the same in both ancient and modern versions and have simply changed their grammatical forms. (The kakh, or “thusly,” inserted in the Ram version could have been left out.) There’s really no problem here. But take the next verse:

Alatz libi b’adonay, rama karni b’adonay.
Libi samaḥ biglal adonay, koḥi ala b’ezrat adonay.

My heart rejoiceth in the Lord; mine horn is exalted in the Lord.
My heart was happy because of God; my strength increased with God’s help.

Here the translator made several decisions. He preferred the everyday verb samaḥ, “was happy,” to alatz, “exulted,” even though alatz is still found in modern literary Hebrew; he turned the splendid but archaic idiom rama karni, “My horn was raised” (the allusion is to the proudly raised horn of a male gazelle or mountain goat), into the modern but much flatter “My strength increased,” despite the fact that the words ram, “high,” and keren, “horn,” are known to any modern Hebrew speaker, and he changed b’Adonai, “in God,” to “because of God” or “with God’s help,” presumably because being happy “in God” was judged too enigmatic a concept for contemporary readers. These choices are all debatable, although certainly not unreasonable.

There’s no doubt that the Bible is a more stirring and evocative book in ancient Hebrew than in this kind of modern rendition. But this doesn’t mean that modern Hebrew can’t be used as a bridge to biblical Hebrew, over which contemporary students can cross to one from the other. What matters is getting to the other side, not the vehicle by which one gets there.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.