Review: Hoffman, J.M. The Bible Doesn’t Say That. 40 Biblical Mistranslations, etc.T. Dunne Books, NY. 2016.

Hoffman, J.M. The Bible Doesn’t Say That. 40 Biblical Mistranslations, Misconceptions, and Other Misunderstandings. Thomas Dunne Books, NY. 2016.

What are we to think of a book that describes the holy Bible, both the New and Old Testaments, the sacred writings of the Jewish and Christian faiths, as filled with mistranslations. How do believers NOW deal with the obvious (but not often addressed) FACT that there is NO first edition of the Bible. This book identifies the mistranslations and misconceptions in CURRENT TRANSLATIONS by a careful review of which writings are incorrect, poorly translated, or misunderstood.

In fact, the “first” documents used by those who wrote what we accept as The Bible are collected COPIES of the writings of others, writers who used, not original writings, but copies of them. NO WRITINGS have survived that ARE DIRECT TRANSLATIONS of what was ORIGINALLY written by those identified in the bible.

Does that mean the Bible is, necessarily, flawed? If so, what are the flaws? Over the many centuries since the events described occurred, blood has been shed, wars have torn nations and peoples apart because of differences of the meanings of the messages of the Bible. And, if historical fact is to be believed, the victors have written the history books. The history of religious conflicts makes it very clear how difficult it can be for believers who use the Bible as the main source of their beliefs to trust that it is truly the WORD OF GOD.

The tragedy of religious conflicts over the history of civilization is obvious, but the details are rarely explained. Among the reasons for that is the need to prevent further conflict about unresolvable issues. In fact, modern Western societies have provided for “freedom of religion” because many have been able to “tame” religious fervor among their citizens. This has been done by using the tenets of major religions that emphasize peaceful co-existence to provide a basis for “tolerance” of the religious beliefs of others.

Actually, the advances of society in literacy and law have evolved in ways that prevent many kinds of conflict, including religious. The education of the majority of citizens has made civilization more capable of dealing with disagreements. With the exception of Islam, so much progress has been made that thousands of Christian sects can exist and worship peacefully. This is true not only among themselves but with a minimum of conflict with Jewish, and Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hindu, Sikh, Tao, and others. The exception is Islam where radical Islamic sects have revolted against the majority Islamic sects in the Mid-east, In Afghanistan and Pakistan, radicalism forces the government there to tolerate support for sectarian violence, mainly outside of the country. Saudi Arabia permits the export of radical Wahibism, though it does not permit dissent internally.

The credentials of the author, as a competent and objective translator is essential. Dr. Hoffman has those, and in addition has written several books that illustrate his ability to apply the objective criteria that clarify errors and mistakes in translation, including, “And God Said: How Translations Control the Bible’s Original Meaning. He has been on the faculties of Brandeis University and Hebrew Union College.

Dr. Hoffman has a perspective on the Bible that is basic to his approach and he explains it in the introduction. He devotes a chapter to each of the 40 misunderstandings he has identified. He says that many people have a fundamental misunderstanding about how to read the Bible that leads them to believe things that are not really in the Bible at all. For example, “The Bible doesn’t say that God performed miracles, or God so loved the world…” He also points out that “all reading is a matter of interpretation…but most people have a sense of what kinds of interpretation are acceptable when it comes to figuring out what the text says.” (p.2)

He also points out that the Bible says hardly anything about modern baptism, kosher food, the rapture, evolution, monogamy and many other activities that religions regulate. This, he says, is because the Bible’s focus is not on any particular religious interpretation. He says, “we (will visit) the Bible itself, stripped of its later interpretations, the biases from agenda-laden theologians, the distortions of both accidental and purposeful mistranslations, and the various impacts of history.”(p.5)

He lists five recurring themes: “The first is simple ignorance…..” By this he means that most readers can’t be expected to know the many languages on which any translation of the Bible is based. Then , historical accident—the wide distribution of an error sometimes perpetuates it—e.g. “fruit as apple.” The third is the “culture gap,” that is for example, the “rural character” of Biblical stories. The fourth is simple mistranslation; as written material passes through hundreds of minds and writings it can be mis-translated in as many ways as there are different languages. Finally,”there is misrepresentation….people purposely misquote and otherwise misinterpret the Bible’s text, in furtherance of a particular agenda..” (p.7)

Common ways the Bible is misunderstood is when persons use a quotation as if it was the ONLY statement on the topic, when there are others that conflict with it—,E.g: on war, sex, marriage, diet, etc. Another is to ignore context of a statement. E.g: Jesus says both, “turn the other cheek”…and “slaughter them (my enemies) in my presence.” (p.8) in difference contexts.

The 40 chapters include many of the most cited and used events. Chapter one describes two different versions of creation, while others address the context of Psalm 23, the prophecies, the rapture, justice, killing, marriage and divorce, violence and many others. He explains what is NOT in the Bible, what IS there and is misunderstood, and what is just not fully knowable from present sources. ..

To first read the Introduction and the Table of Contents, and then the Conclusion, will, for most people, probably be the easiest way to understand HOW Dr. Hoffman approaches the Bible. He does that with a matter-of-fact reverence and acceptance as well as a determination to “get it right” insofar as the source texts permit, and no further.

The Introduction says, “There are no miracles in he Bible.” Because miracles are by definition not scientific. Science decides what is and is not a miracle. But in biblical times there was no science and so there was no controversy, what happened was actually what was observed, ordinary, unusual, frightening, joyful or wondrous.

Dr. Hoffman says “what (those who wrote about Biblical events) they had instead were wonders. Some things were so amazing, so breathtaking, so incredible, or so magnificent that ancient communities were compelled to preserve them even in an era when mass communication was exceedingly difficult: freedom from slavery, a life of dignity, families, beauty, a sense of purpose, a sense of the divine.” (p.275)

Finally, he says, that “we have stripped away the accidental and purposeful grime that discolors the Bible’s original message, and so doing…we are forced to give up miracles…(but0…we gain a renewed sense of wonder.”

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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