Hebranglish: It’s not Hebrew and it’s not English

gibberishThere is a growing interest among many Christians to understand the Jewish/Hebrew roots of our faith and those who take the time to truly understand the roots of our faith will find that their understanding of Scripture is also enriched. Unfortunately, there is also a growing trend to simply adopt beliefs and practices from Jewish culture without really taking the time to understand them. Sometimes what has been adopted from Jewish culture actually places obstacles in our path that hinder us from understanding our Scripture.

One of the most tragic examples has been the acceptance of the idea that Hebrew is a “sacred” language. This belief has resulted in English “translations” of the bible that are nearly impossible to understand. Here are a few examples from modern English translations of Scripture that have arisen because of this belief.

“And concerning the Goyim coming to emunah, we have sent an iggeret with our decision that they avoid what is offered to elilim and dahm and what is strangled and zenut.”

“and he spoke with them and with all the mishpakhat bais avi imo”

“Are you willing to have da’as, O hollow man, that Emunah unharnessed to Ma’asim, stands idle?”

If you find it difficult to comprehend the meaning of these verses, you are not alone. Even the English speaking congregations that use these translations are often confused about what their own translations mean.

To understand how we have come to the point where translations of Scripture like these are being used in congregations today, it would be helpful to understand a little of the Jewish background from which these practices arose. Because Hebrew has been seen as a “sacred” language in Jewish culture, Jewish people have, for centuries, read the Scriptures in the synagogue and prayed their (memorized) daily prayers in Hebrew even though few understand what is being read or prayed. They have also mixed in significant amounts of Hebrew vocabulary into their native language to such an extend that other speakers of their language may have a difficult time following some of their conversations. The Yiddish language is an extreme example of this tendency, it is basically German written in Hebrew characters and includes a large amount of alternative Hebrew vocabulary; a spoken conversation is difficult for a German speaker to follow and written communication is completely unintelligible.

There is a growing trend in Hebrew roots communities to accept, even more zealously, the idea that Hebrew is a “sacred” language. Today the “Hebranglish” spoken in Hebrew roots communities may use an even more extensive list of Hebrew words compared to what is commonly used in Jewish communities and this vocabulary is being adopted into the “English” translations of Scripture that are being used every week in their congregations. These new translations, which are a mix of Hebrew and English, are difficult to understand because they use an extensive Hebrew vocabulary which is foreign to English speakers and they provide little value to person wanting to learn Hebrew because they frequently use these Hebrew words incorrectly.

One of the greatest blessings God has given His people is His word in a language they can truly understand. We need to remember that the original language of our Scripture is not Hebrew; our Scripture is a collection of books written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek! Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, his disciples wrote in Greek and frequently quoted from their Greek translation of Scriptures, and the leaders of the early church spoke Latin and quoted from their Latin translation; there is simply no one “sacred” language of Christianity. The most tragic misunderstandings of Scripture have arisen at times when some have elevated one language above all others and hindered God’s people from having access to a God’s word in a language they could understand. Scripture is no more sacred when it is written in Latin, Middle English, or Hebrew. Let us not again make the mistake of believing that any one language is God’s Holy language and instead thank him for giving us Scriptures in a language we can truly understand.

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53Who has believed our report?

The arm of the Lord rests on those to whom it has been revealed.

He grew up as a tender shoot before him

Like a root from dry ground

there was no form or majesty[i] that we should look to him,

Nor beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and abandoned by men,

a man suffering in pain and acquainted with injury.

Like one from whom we turn our face,

we despised[ii] him and thought nothing of him.

And yet he was wounded for us,

and suffered in our place.

We thought he was stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions

and crushed for our iniquity.

The punishment for our peace was upon him

and by his stripes we were healed.

All of us are like wandering sheep,

Each one headed his own way.

And the Lord placed on him[iii] the iniquity of us all.

 

He was oppressed and afflicted

but he did not open his mouth.

Like a lamb being lead to the slaughter or a sheep bound before its shearers

He did not open his mouth

Through coercion and judgment he was taken away

and who is concerned about his descendants?

even though he was cut off from the land of the living,

and he was punished for the transgression of his[iv] people.

They[v] intended to place his grave with the wicked

but in death he was given a place with the rich

because he had not acted violently nor spoken deceitfully.

The Lord desired to crush him and to pierce him[vi]

 

If[vii] he makes atonement

He will see his offspring,

His days will be prolonged,

And the desire of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Because of the trouble of his soul has endured,

He will see light[viii] and he will be satisfied.

By his knowledge, my righteous servant will vindicate many

and he will bear their iniquity.

Therefore I will allot to him abundant spoils and he will divide the plunder of[ix] the strong,

because he exposed his soul to death and was counted among the transgressors

and took upon himself the sin of many and interceded for their transgressions[x].

 


[i] The MT reads ‘and no majesty (ולא חדר)’ but 1QIsaa reads ‘and no majesty to him (ולוא חדר לו)’  which more closely mirrors the prior phrase ‘no form to him (לא תאר לו)’

[ii] The MT reads ‘he was despised (נבזה)’ but 1QIsaa reads ‘and we despised him (ונבוזהו)’

[iii] Lit ‘met in him’

[iv] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea reads “his people”; the MT reads “my people”

[v] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea reads “they gave”; the MT reads “he gave”

[vi] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead sea reads “and YHWH desired to crush him and pierce him (ויהוה חפץ דכאו ויחללהו).” This mirrors the statement in verse. 5 which reads “he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquity” and is a much easier reading than the MT which reads “and YHWH desired to crush him, caused sickness (ויהוה חפץ דכאו החלי)”

[vii] Lit. “if his soul make atonement”

[viii] The great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea reads “he will see light”; the MT reads “He will see.” The reading found in the Great Isaiah Scroll is also supported in the LXX.

[ix] The LXX reads “of the rich”

[x] The MT reads ‘and for the transgressors (ולפשעים)’ but 1QIsaa reads ‘and for their transgressions (ולפשעיהמה)’

Wisdom beyond the homosexuality debate

Rosaria Butterfield has written an insightful article about understanding homosexuality through the lens of a Christian worldview, but the beauty of her article is that it goes far beyond dealing with questions about homosexuality alone and focuses on the way that the ideas of others can shape our views about theology and set the direction for our life choices. Her article was prompted by a recent student protest at Wheaton College after she was invited to come and share her testimony. In response to this protest, Rosaria set aside time afterwards to meet with those who had protested against her to hear their concerns and discuss their issues. In her article she states that “This may seem a quirky observation, but I know too well the world these students inhabit. I recall its contours and crevices, risks and perils, reading lists and hermeneutical allegiances. You see, I’m culpable. The blood is on my hands. The world of LGBTQ activism on college campuses is the world that I helped create. I was unfaltering in fidelity: the umbrella of equality stretching to embrace my lesbian identity, and the world that emerged from it held salvific potential. I bet my life on it, and I lost.” Rosaria exemplifies how we can truly reach out in love and grace when we are met with opposition without compromising that which we know to be true. While the issue that prompted her article is homosexuality, it is only one of a myriad of issues facing the church today where a similar loving but firm response is needed from the church.

 

You Are What—and How—You Read by Rosaria Butterfield