The Hebrew Bible, Jewish Oral Traditions and the King James Version of the Bible
The translators who worked on the "Old Testament" portion of the King James Bible (the Authorized Version of 1611) used in their work several sources: the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic translations, as well as the Latin Vulgate.
Their main sourcebook for the Hebrew came from Daniel Bomberg's "Second Rabbinic Bible," yet, they made adjustments to the text in many places in order to conform to the Greek LXX and/or Latin Vulgate versions of passages that had Christological significance to Christian tradition. A case in point is the mistranslation of Psalm 22: 16 where they had written: "…they pierced my hands and my feet," instead of writing "…like unto the lion are my hands and my feet!" These texts are known to Christians as the so-called "proof texts".
The "Second Rabbinic Bible" was edited by a Jew named Ben Chaim and was approved by Pope Leo X. His work, however, was rejected by those Jews adhering to mainstream Judaism.
Having had the privilege of examining various ancient Jewish works myself, particularly, those which treat on our oral-tradition where that tradition sheds light on the meaning of certain difficult words and passages written in the Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch), I wish to share some of these findings with you.
In the examples we have given here, we attempt to show the most common errors found with the King James Version of our Bible, while comparing their translations with the oral traditions adhered to meticulously by the people of Israel. In doing so, we also present alternative views to those sometimes taken by RASHI. We bring down the Aramaic Targums, the Midrash Rabba, Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG), and others.
I think any real lover of the truth will quickly come to admire and appreciate this painstaking work. It is presented here, in this short volume, for the first time.
NOTE: The Rabbis (Tractate Megillah 9a - b; Tractate Sofrim 1:8) have pointed out certain gross errors with the Greek translation of our Bible. Though we occasionally bring down references from the Greek translation (Septuagint), particularly where it supports contemporary Jewish views, we also show that, to a large degree, it cannot be relied upon.
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Gen. 2:12 can also be translated: "And the gold of that land is good: there is the pearl and stones of crystal." (NOT "And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.")
The Hebrew is marked by the following:
וזהב הארץ ההוא טוב שם הַבְּדֹלַח ואבן השם
The Hebrew word "bedolah" is actually a homonym having two meanings: It can mean either a stone or a spice. This is why Josephus (Antiquities, Book III, ch. I, vs. 6), calls it a spice plant, bdellium (Balsamodendron mukul), also called Indian thorn, from whence is derived an aromatic resin.
The Midrash Rabba (Genesis Rabba 16:4), on the other hand, when describing that country in Gen. 2:12 where it was reported to be a land of gold and precious stones, calls the "bedolah" in the Hebrew verse a stone! Quoting from the book:
Said R. Aybu: "If you should think to say that this is like unto that bedolah used by the apothecary [in pounding incense], its compatriot will reveal to you its true nature. It says there (Num. 11:7), 'Its colour (i.e. the manna) is as the color of bedolah.' Just as there, in that case, it refers to [the colour of] a gemstone, so, too, here, in this case, it refers to the gemstone."
(Although a pearl is not a true stone, it was nonetheless classified by the ancients as a gemstone. Therefore Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon says the "bedolah" is a pearl, calling it by the Arabic word, "al-lulu." In modern Hebrew, the word bedolah means "crystal.")
Our use of the word as a homonym has, therefore, given rise to some confusion.
It should be noted here that in one of the Aramaic translations known as Targum Yerushlami on Exo. 28:20, it calls the stone which has the Hebrew name "shoham" by the name "bedolha."
As for the other word in our verse, "even ha-shoham,"
it has the meaning of the Persian-Arabic word, "al-ballur," or "crystal," according to Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon. The Arabic word used by RSG is similar to the Aramaic given by Onkelos (ibid.) in describing this very stone, namely, "burla." Perhaps RSG's reliance upon the similarities between the Arabic and Aramaic languages prompted him to make the above translation.
It should be noted here that the writers of the Septuagint were inconsistent in translating the Hebrew word, "bedolah" (i.e. pearl) where it appears in the Bible in two places. In one place (Gen. 2:12), they call it "anthrax," which, in Greek, can be translated as either charcoal, or a precious stone of a dark-red colour (including carbuncle, ruby and garnet), or an aromatic resin which exudes from the Indian thorn (Balsamodendron mukul), called bdellium. Yet, still, in another place (Num. 11:7), "bedolah" is interpreted by them as "krystallos," which is crystal.
Gen. 3:2 definitely should be: "And the angel of the Lo-rd appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thorn-bush, etc." (NOT "And the angel of the Lo-rd appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, etc."
The Hebrew word used here is
meaning, "bramble," or "thorn-bush." So is this word explained by Josephus in his Antiquities (Book II, chapter XII, vs. 1).
Gen. 4:13 definitely should be: "And Cain said unto the Lo-rd, my iniquity is greater than I can bear, etc." (NOT "And Cain said unto the Lo-rd, my punishment is greater than I can bear, etc.") The meaning of the word employed here is very plain to all; therefore it is even more astonishing how the KJV translators overlooked the word's meaning. The Hebrew verse is as follows:
וַיֹּאמֶר קַיִן אֶל יְיָ' גָּדוֹל עֲוֹנִי מִנְּשֹׂא
Some (Talmud, Sanhedrin 101) have explained the above as a question, Viz., "Is my iniquity too great to bear?" which thing Josephus seems to allude to in his "Antiquities" (Book I, chapter II, vs. 1).
Gen. 4:23 definitely should be: "…Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech, have I slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt?" (NOT "…Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech, for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt.") In our commentaries, as well as in the Aramaic Targums, this sentence is presented as a rhetorical question. This is because the Hebrew is marked by the word "Ki,"
which is sometimes used to mark the beginning of a question. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 3a): "[The word], 'Ki' serves four different functions: 'If' (i.e. in the sense of 'when'), 'Perhaps' (i.e., introduction to a question), 'Rather,' [and] 'For behold' (i.e. 'since' or 'seeing that', etc.)."
According to Josephus (Antiquities, Book I, chapter II, vs. 2) and our "Midrash Rabba," Lamech knew that he and his posterity were to be punished for Cain's murder of his brother, although he, himself, had done nothing amiss. He bewailed his plight, as thinking it unfair that he should be punished for what his ancestor had done. Lamech, they say, did not kill any man.
The Hebrew verse is as follows:
...שְׁמַעַן קוֹלִי נְשֵׁי לֶמֶךְ הַאְזֵנָּה אִמְרָתִי כִּי אִישׁ הָרַגְתִּי לְפִצְעִי וְיֶלֶד לְחַבֻּרָתִי
Gen. 4:24 definitely should be: "If Cain's [judgment] shall be withheld for seven [generations], truly Lamech's seventy seven [generations more]." (NOT "If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.") Thus have Onkelos and Yonathan Ben-Uzziel interpreted this verse in their Aramaic Targums, and so did Josephus understand this verse, according to his "Antiquities" (Book I, chapter II, vs. 2).
The Hebrew verse is:
כִּי שִׁבְעָתַיִם יֻקַּם קָיִן וְלֶמֶךְ שִׁבְעִים וְשִׁבְעָה
Gen. 6:13 definitely should be: "…The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with forced robbery through them." (NOT "…The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them.")
The Hebrew word used here is:
which, by all of our ancient commentators, has the meaning of "forced robbery, rapine, or brigandage." (Included in this terminology is to take a thing away by force, and to offer payment for it later.)
Gen. 6:16 definitely should be: "A fanlight thou shalt make to the ark, etc." (NOT "A window thou shalt make to the ark, etc.")
The Hebrew word used for "fanlight" is "tzohar,"
unlike the Hebrew word which is used for "window" in Gen. 8:6, which is "halon,"
A fanlight is similar to a window, but had the distinguishing feature that it was never opened. It was usually made of some transparent stone, such as alabaster, to allow light to filter through the interior of one's abode. When Noah opened the "window" to release one of the fowl, he did not open this "fanlight." Our Sages have taught us that the "fanlight," or "tzohar," was made from a precious stone.
Gen. 8: 8 definitely should be: "Also he sent forth the pigeon, etc." (NOT "Also he sent forth a dove, etc.") Likewise, corrections should be made in the following texts: "But the dove found no rest, etc." (Gen. 8:9); "…and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark, etc." (Gen. 8:10); "And the dove came in to him in the evening, etc." (Gen. 8:11); "And he stayed yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove, etc." (Gen. 8:12). In all these places, the Hebrew word used is "ha-yonah"
meaning, "the pigeon." It is striking to see how that a simple word like this has been misunderstood! Could they have preferred using a romantic word, rather than a word which to them sounded awkward?
Gen 18:8 definitely should be: "And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he waited upon them under the tree, etc." (NOT "And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, etc.") According to Onkelos (ibid.), the Hebrew is marked here by an idiom: "to wait upon" or "to serve." The Hebrew words used here are:
וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם
which Onkelos explained in his Aramaic Targum as meaning:
וְהוּא מְשַׁמֵּישׁ עִלָּוֵיהוֹן
Gen. 30:37 definitely should be: "And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the almond and of the plane tree, etc." (NOT "And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut, etc.") The Hebrew verse is as follows:
וַיִּקַּח לוֹ יַעֲקֹב מַקַּל לִבְנֶה לַח וְלוּז וְעַרְמוֹן
which Onkelos, in his Aramaic Targum, translates:
וּנְסֵיב לֵיהּ יַעֲקֹב חֻטְרִין דִּלְבַן רַטִּיבִין וּדְלוּז וְדִדְלוּב
Note that Onkelos (a proselyte to Judaism who studied under Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Hyrcanus, and Rabbi Yehoshua, the son of Hananiah, during the period succeeding the second temple's destruction, and who was the nephew of Caesar Titus), calls the second tree in our verse by the same name that it is given in the Hebrew, "luz," seeing that its name had not changed in its usage. Even today, the name "luz" remains the same amongst the Arab speaking peoples, where they give the name "luz" for the almond tree.
The third tree in our verse (Heb. "armon") is called by Onkelos, "delouv," or plane tree (Platanus). This tree's appellation has suffered little damage over the years, as, in Arabic, it too is still called by the name "dilb." So do we find the Hebrew word, "armon," translated by Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) in his Arabic translation of the Pentateuch known as "Tifsir," relying upon the similarities that he found between the Aramaic of Onkelos and his native Arabic.
The King James Version of the Bible, following the authority of RASHI (ibid.), translates "armon" as Castanea, or "the chestnut tree."
The three trees named above are all native to Israel and Syria, viz., the poplar (Populus alba); the almond (Amygdalus communis) and the plane tree (Platanus orientalis).
Gen. 35:4 definitely should be: "…and Jacob hid them under the terebinth which was by Shechem." (NOT "…and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.") The Septuagint also has "terebinthos." The Hebrew word used for "the terebinth" is:
which is the tree known under the taxonomic name of Pistacia palaestina. The Aramaic word given by Onkelos (ibid.) for this tree is "butma." Even today, the Arabs living in Israel still call this tree by the name "butum."
Gen. 36:24 definitely should be: "…this was that Annah that found the hinnies in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father, etc." (NOT "…this was that Annah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father, etc.") The Hebrew word used for this animal is:
The verse is explained in the "Midrash Rabba" (Genesis Rabba, 82:17) as meaning that Annah had crossed a she-donkey with a male horse, producing a cross-breed known as a "hinny." (Mules, on the other hand, are a cross-breed between a female horse and a he-donkey. Hinnies have large ears, while mules have small ears. A white hinny has allegedly a very dangerous bite.)
Gen. 37:3 definitely should be: "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a tunic of [embroidered, woolen] wrists [of the finest quality]." (NOT "…and he made him a coat of many colours.")
The Hebrew is marked by the words:
...ועשה לו כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים
The word, "passim," in our verse has been explained by our ancients as having the meaning of wrists attached to the sleeves of the garment and which were made from wool kept clean by covering the sheep's wool at an early age. This was done in order to ensure its untainted whiteness when combing, carding and spinning the wool. (See: Midrash Rabba, Genesis Rabba 84:8; Shabbath 10b, RASHI s.v., משקל ב' סלעים)
NOTE: According to the Midrash Rabba (Genesis Rabba 84:15), it would appear that Joseph was actually dressed with multiple pieces of clothing. He wore a tunic,
,כֻּתֹּנְתּוֹ = חלוק
above which he wore a coat.
Beneath the tunic he wore an undershirt.
כְּתֹנֶת פַּסִּים = פרגוד
(Apparently, having sleeves which projected outwards at arms length.) He also wore breeches beneath his tunic.
Gen. 37:25 definitely should be: "…behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing beeswax, and balm, and mastic, going to carry it down to Egypt." (NOT "…behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.")
Our translation follows that of our Aramaic Targums. The Hebrew is as follows:
וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים בָּאָה מִגִּלְעָד וּגְמַלֵּיהֶם נֹשְׂאִים נְכֹאת וּצְרִי וָלֹט הוֹלְכִים לְהוֹרִיד מִצְרָיְמָה
Gen. 37:36 can also be translated: "And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, a eunuch of Pharaoh's, and chief cook." (NOT "And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard."
The Hebrew verse is as follows:
וְהַמְּדָנִים מָכְרוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מִצְרָיִם לְפוֹטִיפַר סְרִיס פַּרְעֹה שַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים
The Hebrew word for "eunuch" has not changed in all these many years, and remains "saris,"
although, in most cases, a eunuch of the king's was a man of reputable position. The KJV follows the authority of the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel, Onkelos and Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) when using the word "officer," but it is by no means the simple meaning of the word. So, too, when using the words, "captain of the guard," it follows the authority of the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel, Onkelos and RSG, who wrote, respectively,
רב ספוקלטוריא / רַב קָטוֹלַיָּא / רייס אלסייאפין
while our translation follows that of Josephus' understanding of those words in his Antiquities (Book II, chapter IV, vs. 1).
Gen. 43:11 definitely should be: "…take of those things within your vessels that are praised in the country, and have a present carried down to the man, a little balm, and a little dates, beeswax and mastic, oil of turpentine [the terebinth] and almonds." (NOT "…take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices and myrrh, nuts and almonds.") So have these words been translated by nearly all of our ancient writers; the Midrash Rabba, the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel, the Aramaic Targum of Onkelos and Josephus (Antiquities, Book II, chapter VI, vs. 5).
It should be noted here that the Hebrews will give the name "devash," or "honey," to what are merely dates from the date palm tree, as well as to that honey produced by bees.
The Hebrew verse is as follows:
"...קחו מזמרת הארץ בכליכם והורידו לאיש מנחה מעט דְּבַש נְכֹאת וָלֹט בָּטְנִים וּשְׁקֵדִים."
Exo. 12:4 can also be translated: "…every man according to his eating, ye shall make a slaughter upon the lamb." (NOT "…every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.") The present translation in the King Jame's Version follows the opinion of Onkelos (ibid.). However, in the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel (ibid.) it is as we have noted. The Hebrew words used here are:
...איש לפי אכלו תָּכֹסּוּ עַל הַשֶּׂה.
Indeed, the Aramaic word for "to slaughter" (kous) (cf. Exo. 12:21) has the same root letters as those used in our Hebrew word here.
Exo. 14:8 definitely should be: "…and the children of Israel went out [of Egypt] openly." (NOT "…and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.") The Hebrew is marked here by an idiom, "biyad ramah,"
meaning, "openly," or "in plain sight." So writes Onkelos in his Aramaic Targum (ibid.) where he uses the Aramaic words:
Exo. 12:22 definitely should be: "And ye shall take a bunch of marjoram, etc." (NOT "And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, etc.") In all places where the King James' Version writes "hyssop," or what is called in Hebrew "eizov,"
as in Exo. 12:22, Num. 19:18, Lev.14: 4,6, etc., our Rabbis of old have always understood this word to mean not the Greek hyssop, but that which grows in our own country and which is called by the Arabs "za'atar." In modern English, it is known by the name "marjoram" or sometimes "sweet marjoram" (Majorana syriaca). Thus have we received by way of an oral tradition, just as we find written in Rabbi Hai Gaon's Commentary on the Order of Mishnah known as "Tahoroth," and in Rabbi Saadia Gaon's translation of the Pentateuch known as "Tifsir," as also in Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah. The compiler of our Mishnah in the year 189 C.E., recognizing the accurate transmission of this oral teaching, went so far as to write in the Mishnah (Parah 11:7) that the Greek hyssop
is invalid when used as the "eizov" of the Bible!
All this begs the question: If the Jewish translators of the Hebrew books who gave the gentile world its Septuagint have unanimously called the "eizov" hyssop (Gr. hyssopus), and if it is, indeed, marjoram, why then didn't the ancient Greek writer Theophrastus, in his "Inquiry into the Properties of Plants," give also the name "hyssopus" to the plant described by him as marjoram? Rather, he calls marjoram by the Greek name "amarakos," while hyssop has a different description altogether.
The answer is simple. The Jews and Grecians living in Judea at the time of Ptolemy simply gave the name "hyssopus" to what we call "eizov," because of the similarities between these two plants, although the Sages of Israel knew all along that the "Greek hyssop" (hyssopus) was actually a different plant.
Exo. 13:18 definitely should be: "But G-d led the people about through the way of the wilderness of the Gulf of Suez…" (NOT "But G-d led the people about through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea…") So does Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG), in every place, translate this word, calling this body of water by its Arabic name, "Bahar al-Qulzum," or what is presently known as the Gulf of Suez. The ancient Hebrew appellation given for this same body of water was "Yam Souf,"
or what can literally be translated as the "Reed sea," owing to the cane reeds which grew alongside the banks of the Gulf of Suez. (The "Red sea," however, is a misnomer by all accounts, and refers to a different body of water which stretches from the Sinai Peninsula to Yemen in south Arabia.)
Exo. 21:8 definitely should be: "If she has become withal unpleasant in the eyes of her master, for which [reason] he has renounced plans of taking her [unto himself], or of redeeming her, to sell her unto a foreign nation he shall have no power, etc." (NOT "If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed; to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, etc.")
The KJV is marked by a gross error, having forgotten to translate the negative in the ensuing lines, after the words: "If she please not her master, etc." The Hebrew words of the biblical text are:
אִם רָעָה בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְעָדָהּ וְהֶפְדָּהּ, לְעַם נָכְרִי לֹא יִמְשֹׁל לְמָכְרָהּ וגו'
By the way: In the writings of Israel's ancients, we find: "By saying, 'for which [reason] he has renounced plans of taking her [unto himself],' we learn thereby that, if he wishes, he can have her as his bride." This form of logic is known as "insinuations," without which we would not know that a slaveholder is commissioned, as a first resort, to marry his Hebrew maid-servant (with, of course, her consent). If he should decide to marry her, he is not required to pay any further dowry or the price of her betrothals. Her betrothals were included in her cost of purchase.Thus do we learn in the "Mekhilta of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai," (ibid.), and thus is this teaching brought down in the Midrash Hagadol.Exo. 25:5 definitely should be: "And rams' skins dyed red, and skins dyed with a purple sheen, and shittim wood." (NOT "And rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, and shittim wood.") So is this verse explained by the translators of the Hebrew books who gave the gentile world its Septuagint, as also explained by Josephus in his "Antiquities" (Book III, chapter VI, vs. 1) who wrote: "The Israelites… brought silver and gold, and brass, and the best sorts of wood… and sheep-skins, some dyed blue, others crimson, some displaying the sheen of purple, etc."
Returning to our verse, the transliteration of the two Hebrew words which have, as we said, erroneously been translated as "badgers' skins" is "oroth tehashim."
While the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbath 28a-b) says that the "tehash" was a clean animal bearing one horn that was created specifically for its use in the holy tabernacle of the congregation, and that it soon became extinct thereafter, and that the animal once had the coloured markings (or, according to RASHI, spotted markings) of an animal known as "tala ilan," it is, therefore, clear that we cannot be talking about a badger. The badger is not a clean animal, neither is it extinct, nor does it have a horn. The Palestinian Talmud (Shabbath 16b – 17a) tells us that the word, "tehash," simply refers to the method in which the leather was dyed, hence: the purple sheen!
As for the alleged extinction of this animal, we seem to find a conflicting statement made by the prophet Ezekiel who says that shoes were still being made in his days by using what was called "tehash." (Ezekiel 16:10) On the other hand, if we say that the old method of treating leather was being applied for the shoes, the animal in the wilderness whose skins were treated in the exact same way may have, indeed, gone extinct.
Exo. 30:23 can also be translated: "Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of musk absolute five-hundred shekels, etc." (NOT "Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five-hundred shekels, etc."). So do we find in the Arabic translation of the Pentateuch written by Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG). Although the KJV follows a literal translation of the Hebrew, "mor deror," or "pure myrrh,"
it was, nevertheless, understood by our ancients that these words refer to none other but that precious oil extracted from the orifice of a male Musk deer (Moschus moschiferus), used in perfumery. So, too, was it used as a component in the holy anointing oil.
Exo. 30: 34 definitely should be: "And the Lo-rd said unto Moses, 'Take unto thee sweet spices, rosin, and the operculum [of mollusks], and galbanum; [even] spices, and pure frankincense; each [spice] shall be pounded separately." (NOT "And the Lo-rd said unto Moses, 'Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense; of each shall there be a like weight.")
The Hebrew is marked by the following words:
ויאמר יי' אל משה קַח לְךָ סַמִּים נָטָף וּשְׁחֵלֶת וְחֶלְבְּנָה סַמִּים וּלְבֹנָה זַכָּה בַּד בְּבַד יהיה
Our translation, "each spice shall be pounded separately," follows the explanation given of this verse in the Babylonian Talmud (Taanith 7a).
Although the KJV is not mistaken in its writing "stacte" (i.e. any aromatic gum resin that exudes from trees) for what is called in Hebrew "nataf," or in its writing "onycha" (the Greek transliteration of a spice known as "fingernail," which is the same term employed in Mishnaic Hebrew ("tzipporen" or "fingernail") for describing what the Bible calls "sheheleth," we are still left with very little understanding of the meaning of this last word.
Josephus writes in his "Wars of the Jews" (Book V, chapter V, verse 5) that there were "thirteen spices" used in the holy incense, some of which came "from the sea!" The alleged "sea spice" is confirmed also by Don Isaac Abarbanel in his commentary on the Pentateuch (Exo. 30:34), as well as by Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Nahmonides), ibid. In Ramban's own words: והשחלת, צפורן יוצא מן הים
(Translation)"But as for the sheheleth, it is the 'fingernail' [spice] which comes from the sea."
Indeed, the ancients knew this "fingernail" spice (Gr. "onycha") as the fragrant outer shell, or operculum, of certain mollusks (gasteropods), which had the appearance of a claw. The same shell had the function of closing the aperture of the mollusk's shell. This fragrant operculum has also been described in Ulysis Aldrovandus' "Natural History" (De Testaceis), and was called in Latin by the name of "Byzantos" or "Blatta Byzantia." It can be found in those species of mollusk with the following taxonomic names: Strombus fusus and Strombus murex, as also Pleurotoma babyloniae and Pleurotoma trapezii.
Although the Babylonian Talmud (Kerithoth 6b) says that the "fingernail" spice is a "product of the ground," or what was classified by our ancients as being "gidulei qarqa"
(which anecdote led RASHI to believe that it was the root of a plant), this is only because the horny or calcareous plates of this sea creature were often cast ashore by the waves, where they were found lying upon the sea shore. Now since they knew not its origin, it was formerly thought to be a product of the earth. The Arabians have often mentioned this incense in their books, and is to this very day called by them "the devil's fingernail," or "edhfar al-jinn."
Moreover, as far as this "tzipporen" or "fingernail" spice is concerned, the Talmud (ibid.) says that its odour was enhanced by rubbing it down with an alkaline soap, and treating it in a bath solution of Cypriot wine, or in any white, dry wine.
(For your information: To give the operculum a stronger savour when crushed and laid to the coals, it was first steeped in a bath of white Cypriot wine, of that kind which has come to be known today as "Commandria." This wine is taken from a variety of grapes which were indigenous to Cyprus and known by the name, "Xynisteri." Wines made from it contain a high level of acidity, since they are picked early.)
Exo. 30: 37 definitely should be: "And as for the incense which thou shalt make, etc." (NOT "And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, etc.") The Hebrew word used here is:
which to everyone's knowledge means "incense." (The same correction should be made in the KJV ibid., vs. 35)
Exo. 36:19 definitely should be: "And he made a covering for the tent of rams' skins dyed red, and a covering of a purple sheen above that." (NOT "And he made a covering for the tent of rams' skins dyed red, and a covering of badgers' skins above that.")
(For an explanation of the above, see supra Exodus 25:5)
Lev. 2:14 definitely should be: "…green kernels of grain roasted in the fire, even parched flour taken from green barley." (NOT "…green ears of corn dried by the fire, even corn beaten out of full ears.") See: Targum Yonathan ben Uzziel, ad loc. The Hebrew words used here are:
meaning, "parched flour of green barley."
Lev. 4:19 definitely should be: "And he shall take all his suet from him, and burn it upon the altar." (NOT "And he shall take all his fat from him, and burn it upon the altar.")
וְאֵת כָּל חֶלְבּוֹ יָרִים מִמֶּנּוּ והקטיר המזבחה
The Hebrew word used in our verse is "helev,"
which same word appears in other places throughout the Bible (e.g. Lev. 3:17, Lev. 9:19, Lev. 9:20, etc.) and has the connotation of that fat which is hard and brittle, and white in coloration. Only this fatty tissue (suet, or tallow) was offered upon the altar, whereas the flimsy, lucid-coloured fat on the flesh of animals is known as "shoman,"
and was never offered upon the altar. The way in which the suet was recognized by butchers was that if it were laid out in the hot sun, it becomes harder. The lucid-coloured fat, when exposed to the sun, remains as it is, and will not harden.
Lev. 8:23 definitely should be: "…and Moses took of the blood of it, and put it upon the tragus of Aaron's right ear, etc." (NOT "…and Moses took of the blood of it, and put it upon the tip of Aaron's right ear, etc."). Thus has it come down unto us by way of Jewish tradition, that the "tanukh"
written about here is the hardened middle part of the ear which is made-up of cartilage. (see: Aramaic Targum Yonathan Ben-Uzziel, ibid.)
Lev. 8:33 definitely should be: "And ye shall not go out of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation in seven days, until the days of your ministerial duty have been fulfilled; for seven days ye shall perform your duty." (NOT "And ye shall not go out of the door of the tabernacle of the congregation in seven days, until the days of your consecration be at an end; for seven days shall he consecrate you.")
The Hebrew verse is as follows:
וּמִפֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֹא תֵצְאוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים עַד יוֹם מְלֹאת יְמֵי מִלֻּאֵיכֶם כִּי שִׁבְעַת יָמִים יְמַלֵּא אֶת יֶדְכֶם
in which the last words of the verse are marked by an idiom,
יְמַלֵּא אֶת יֶדְכֶם
meaning, "ye shall perform your duty."
Lev. 11:16 definitely should be: "And the ostrich and the night hawk…, etc." (NOT "And the owl and the night hawk…, etc.") So have all of our commentators explained the Hebrew word, "bath ha-ya'anah,"
as having the connotation of "ostrich." So, too, the translators of the Hebrew books who gave the gentile world its Septuagint have called this bird, in all places that it is mentioned, "strouthos," meaning ostrich. Why then did the KJV deviate from that opinion expressed by the overwhelming majority is uncertain to me.
Lev. 11:18 definitely should be: "…and the pelican and the Common Roller." (NOT "…and the pelican and the gier eagle.") For so have we learned in the Talmud (Hullin 63a) that this bird, which by the Hebrews is called "raham,"
was in later years called by us "shiriqraq," which name is still used today by the Arabs of Israel for the Common Roller (Coracias garrulus).
It should be noted here that the Septuagint is inconsistent when assigning a name for this bird (i.e. "raham") in the books of Leviticus (ibid.) and Deuteronomy. The translators of the Book of Leviticus have given for this bird the Greek name "cycnus," or "swan," while the translators of the Book of Deuteronomy have given the same name "cycnus" (swan) to that bird which the Hebrews call "yanshouf."
Lev. 11:19 definitely should be: "…and the hoopoe and the bat." (NOT "and the lapwing and the bat."). The Hebrew word used for "and the hoopoe" is
The taxonomic name given for this particular genus and species is Upupa epops, a bird also called in the Aramaic of Onkelos (ibid.) as "Nagar Tura" (Mountain Carpenter) because of its habit of taking fertile seed and planting it in desolate places, thereby producing a settled place. It is sometimes known simply as "Turnegol Bar" (Wild Rooster) because of its crest feathers resembling that of a cock's comb. So is this bird called by the translators of the Hebrew books who gave the gentile world its Septuagint. (see: Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 68b, and the Second Targum of Megillath Esther for a description of this bird.)
Lev. 11: 29 definitely should be: "These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the mole, and the mouse, and the big lizard after his kind." (NOT "These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind.")
The Hebrew text is as follows:
וְזֶה לָכֶם הַטָּמֵא בַּשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ עַל הָאָרֶץ הַחֹלֶד וְהָעַכְבָּר וְהַצָּב לְמִינֵהוּ.
The KJV follows the authority of RASHI's commentary on the Pentateuch (ibid.) who translates the word "holed" in our verse as meaning "weasel" (Old French: mustele), based after the translation of this word in the Greek Septuagint. But as for the Hebrew word "tzav," the KJV does not follow here the authority of RASHI's commentary who gives the Old French word "froit" (or "toad") to the Hebrew word "tzav." Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) who lived long before RASHI translated the same words as meaning "mole" and "big desert lizard," respectively. In fact, the Arabic word (chuld), or mole, is similar to our Hebrew (holed), as is the Arabic word "dhab," a large desert lizard (Uromastix aegyptius), similar to our own Hebrew word "tzav," both tongues being Semitic languages. Anyone familiar with these two languages can tell you that there are many other similarities besides these. In the case of the words tzav / dhab, the Hebrew letter "tzadi"
in the word "tzav" is equivalent to the Arabic letters "sad" and "dhad,"
the latter of which is used in writing "dhab." So, too, the letter "v" (the non-accentuated Hebrew letter "Beth" in the word "tzav") and the letter "b" (the Arabic letter "Be" in the word "dhab") are, in actuality, one and the same letter. (Such is my belief that where we find equivocal meanings of certain Hebrew words, we can rely upon the classical Arab language in helping us to understand their accurate meanings, especially when the same word is being used in both languages. Long periods of Jewish exile in foreign countries may have caused some to forget their mother tongue, but the Arabic meanings of most of these words have not been lost or misconstrued over the years.)
Besides the language similarities, Yonathan Ben-Uzziel, in his Aramaic Targum of the Pentateuch (ibid.), also says the "tzav" is a large lizard whom he calls in the Aramaic tongue, "hardona," or what is also known in English as Agama lizard. Moreover, the Jewish translators of the Hebrew books who gave the gentile world its Septuagint also translated "tzav" as "big lizard" (Gr. krokodeillos), not to be mistaken with the animal that is called by this name today, or crocodile. For in ancient Greek, any big lizard was called "krokodeillos." At any rate, the general consensus that we find here is that the "tzav" is not the tortoise. I do not know how this word "tortoise" found its way into the KJV of the Bible. (By the way, in modern Hebrew where there are many corruptions, the name they give for tortoise is "tzav.")
Lev. 13:24 definitely should be: "Or if there be [any] flesh, in the skin whereof there is the singe of a hot-iron, and in the effected [flesh where there was a] burn there is found a white bright spot, etc." (NOT "Or if there be [any] flesh, in the skin whereof there is a hot burning, and the quick [flesh] that burneth have a white bright spot, etc.")
So is this verse understood by all those who understand the Arabic language and its culture, for in Arabian countries the hot iron is still put to the skin, usually the forehead, of him who suffers a fever in order to rid him of the effect of his fever. The Hebrew word used for "the singe of a hot-iron" is,
literally, "[the application of] a fiery hot-iron," which is the same word used in the Arabic language, namely, "mikwah," or "kawi," used to describe the hot-iron which is put to the skin of an ill patient as a remedy of his ailment.
Lev. 17:15 definitely should be: "And every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts, whether it be one of your own country, or a proselyte, he shall both wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even, etc." (NOT "And every soul that eateth that which died of itself, or that which was torn with beasts, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger, he shall both wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even, etc.")
The Hebrew word improperly translated in all places in the KJV as "stranger" is "ger,"
which same word, when used in the Hebrew language, has actually a double meaning. Sometimes it is used to represent the foreigner who has joined himself to the people of Israel, and who now follows their religion (i.e. a convert or proselyte to Judaism). For this reason, it says in the scriptures (Num. 15:16): "One law and one ordinance shall be for you, and for the proselyte ("ger") that sojourneth with you."
At other times, the same word, "ger," is used to represent he that has not yet converted to the Jewish religion, yet lives amongst the Jewish people. Hence: stranger. For this reason, it says of him in another place: "Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself; thou shalt give it unto the stranger ("ger") that is in thy gates, that he might eat it, etc."
Note that in one place (Deut. 14:21) the scripture says that carrion can be given as food to the "stranger" ("ger"), but in a different place (Lev 17:15) the scripture says that carrion should not be given to a "stranger" ("ger"). The Rabbis, seeing this contradiction, said that in one case the word refers to a foreigner was has not yet converted to our religion, while in the other place, the word refers to a proselyte. So do we find the words translated accordingly in the Aramaic Targums.
Lev. 19:19 definitely should be: "…Thou shalt not let thy beast gender with a diverse kind, etc." (NOT "…Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind, etc.")
The Hebrew is plain to all:
בְּהֶמְתְּךָ לֹא תַרְבִּיעַ כִּלְאַיִם
Num. 7:89 definitely should be: "And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then he heard the voice being spoken unto him, etc." (NOT "And when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with him, then he heard the voice of one speaking unto him, etc.") Thus do we find the vowel punctuations for the Hebrew word, "being spoken,"
unlike the Hebrew word, "speaking," which is punctuated differently, Viz.,
So has the word been explained by RASHI (ibid.), and thus is it translated in the two Aramaic Targums of Onkelos and Yonathan Ben-Uzziel.
Num. 11:7 can also be translated: "And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of pearl." (NOT "And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium.")
So has Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) translated this word.
Num. 15:16 definitely should be: "One law and one ordinance shall be for you, and for the proselyte that sojourneth with you." (NOT "One law and one ordinance shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.")
תּוֹרָה אַחַת וּמִשְׁפָּט אֶחָד יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם
(For a discussion on the Hebrew word, "ger," or "proselyte," see supra, Leviticus 17:15.)
Num. 21:14 definitely should be: "Wherefore, it is said in the book of the wars of the Lo-rd, Eth and Heb were caught-up in a whirlwind, as also the ravines of Arnon." (NOT "Wherefore, it is said in the book of the wars of the Lo-rd, What he did in the Red sea, and in the brooks of Arnon.") This passage has been explained by way of Jewish tradition, Viz., the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel (ibid.) and the Midrash Hagadol (ibid.), that at the time of Israel's wanderings in the wilderness, there were two lepers by the names of Eth and Heb who were banished from the Israelite camp on account of their leprosy. When Israel passed through the ravines of Arnon, the enemy (Moabites and Edomites) laid in wait within the clefts of the rocks, all along this riverine gulch. Suddenly, there was a fierce whirlwind which caused the rocks to move out of their place, crushing the enemy. This incident was witnessed by the two lepers who brought the good news to the people. The Hebrew is marked by the words:
על כן יאמר בספר מלחמת יי' אֶת וָהֵב בְּסוּפָה ואת נחלים ארנון
(Note how the words "yam souf," or "Red Sea," do not appear here at all! Rather, the Hebrew word used is "besoufah," meaning "in a whirlwind.")
Num. 23:3 can also be translated: "…and he (Balaam) went alone." (NOT "…and he went to an high place.") So writes Onkelos in his Aramaic Targum (ibid.), while relying upon the oral traditions passed down unto him by Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Hyrcanus, and Rabbi Joshua, the son of Hananiah.
The Hebrew words used in our verse are "wayelech shefi,"
The KJV, however, follows the authority of Rabbi Abraham Ibn-Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch (ibid.), where this Rabbi explained the Hebrew word "shefi" in the verse as meaning "an high place," similar to a word we find in Jeremiah 3:21, "A voice is heard upon the high places, etc." (Heb. "shefayim")
Even so, other explanations have been given by our ancients concerning the meaning of the words "wayelech shefi." Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) claims that the words "wayelech shefi" refer to his "going off to a quiet and solitary place." The Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel (ibid.) explains the words as meaning that "he (Balaam) went off crawling like a snake," an obvious exegesis on the word "shefi" since it is similar to the Hebrew word "shefifon," or "snake." The second Aramaic Targum (Targum Yerushlami) translates these words as, "…and he (Balaam) went off with a contrite heart."
Num. 23:22 definitely should be: "G-d brought them out of Egypt, he hath as it were the majestic strength of a rhino." (NOT "G-d brought them out of Egypt, he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn.")
The old Hebrew word for "rhinoceros" is
(For an explanation of this word, see infra, Deuteronomy 33:17.)
Deut. 6:4 definitely should be: "Hear, O Israel: The Lo-rd is our G-d. The Lo-rd is one." (NOT "Hear, O Israel: The Lo-rd our G-d is one
The Hebrew verse is well known to all, namely:
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְיָ' אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְיָ' אֶחָד
Yet, this sentence can only be understood in the context of the oral tradition that has come down unto us concerning it, Viz., when Israel our forefather, who is also called Jacob, was worried that perhaps one of his twelve sons might be coerced into going off and serving some foreign god, they all gathered themselves together and assured him with one voice, saying unto their father, "Hear us, O Israel, our father. The Lo-rd is our G-d. The Lo-rd is one and the same for all of us." Moses, himself, knew this oral tradition about Jacob and the progenitors of the twelve tribes, and so, by way of calling the children of Israel to remembrance, he wanted them to recollect for a moment who their G-d was, and who it was that their fathers vouched to serve. (This oral tradition is brought down in nearly all of our Midrashic literature, as well as in the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel.)
Deut. 6:5 definitely should be: "And thou shalt love the Lo-rd thy G-d with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy substance." (NOT "And thou shalt love the Lo-rd thy G-d with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.") The words,
have been explained by our Sages as meaning one's love for his G-d should not only go so far as his physical life is concerned, but as far as his money and resources are concerned also. For some men are more readily prepared to lay down their lives for their G-d but not to encounter monetary loss on his account (for their love for money is greater than their love for G-d), while others are more willing to suffer monetary loss but not to suffer physical harm for his sake.
Deut. 7:4 definitely should be: "For he will turn away thy son from following me, etc." (NOT "For they will turn away thy son from following me, etc.")
The wording of the Hebrew verse is plain to all, Viz.,
כִּי יָסִיר אֶת בִּנְךָ מֵאַחֲרַי
which if it had been "they will turn away, etc.," the Hebrew word used would have been
The existing wording is absolutely necessary and critical for an exegesis which we find later in all our Midrashic literature, including the Talmud, whereby from this very verse we learn that a child born from a Jewish mother (although he might have had a gentile father) is still to be considered a Jew. In Deuteronomy 7:3-4, we find the prohibition about taking the Canaanites in marriage, Viz., "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away your son from following me." By looking very closely and diacritically at the wording of the text, it says "...for he (the Canaanite father) will turn away your son (i.e. the child born to your Jewish daughter and the Canaanite father) from following me." Here, we see that G-d still reckons the child to be Jewish by calling him, "your son" - id est, even though such unions were forbidden. G-d calls him "your son," implying that he is still an Israelite because he was born from a Jewish mother. However, the opposite is not true. The Torah does not say, "...for she (the Canaanite mother) will turn away your son." In this case, the child would no longer be considered your son, but rather a gentile. (cf. Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 76a; and Numbers Rabba 19:3).
Deut. 8:8 definitely should be: "A land of wheat, barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey [of dates]." (NOT "A land of wheat, barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey.")
So do we find the Hebrew word, "devash,"
explained by all of our ancients, and should not be confused with ordinary bees' honey which also is called "devash."
Deut. 14:5 definitely should be: "…and the wild ox and the giraffe." (NOT "…and the wild ox and the chamois." So writes Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) in his Arabic translation of the Pentateuch (ibid.). So, too, was the word translated by the translators of the Hebrew books who gave the gentile world its Septuagint, calling it by the Greek word "camelopardalus" – meaning, "giraffe." The Hebrew word used here for "giraffe" is "zamer,"
so-called because of the way it crops the leaves from the top branches of trees. Indeed, the Hebrew word for the verb, "to crop," or "to prune," is "zemor." (It should be noted here that only those four-footed animals that have cloven hooves and that regurgitate their food, or chew their cud, are considered animals that are fit to be eaten under Jewish law. The giraffe meets these criteria.)
Deut. 16:9 definitely should be: "…from such time as the sickle is put to the standing grain." (NOT "…from such time as the sickle is put to the corn"). The Hebrew word used for "the standing grain" is
Deut. 20:19 definitely should be: "When thou shalt besiege a city many days, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax against them... Is the tree of the field like unto man, to come in from before you during the siege?" (NOT "When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax against them... for the tree of the field is man's life, to employ them in the siege.")
The Hebrew verse is as follows:
כי תצור אל עיר ימים רבים להלחם עליה לתפשה לא תשחית את עצה לנדח עליו גרזן... כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר.
The beginning of a question is sometimes marked in the Hebrew by the introduction of the word, "Ki," as we find in a teaching taken from the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 3a):
Resh Lakish said: "[The word], 'Ki' serves four different functions: 'If' (i.e. in the sense of 'when'), 'Perhaps' (i.e., introduction to a question), 'Rather,' [and] 'For behold' (i.e. 'since' or 'seeing that', etc.)."
In our case, according to Josephus' paraphrase of the same matter in his "Antiquities" (Book IV, chapter VIII, vs.42), the last clause of our verse has the connotation of a question, Viz., "Is the tree of the field like unto man, to come in from before you during the siege?"
So, too, have we found the explanation of this verse given by Onkelos and by Yonathan Ben-Uzziel in their Aramaic Targums, where they both write:"...the tree of the field is not like unto man, to come in from before you during the siege."
This seems to have been the Jewish consensus at that time, namely, that the last "Ki" in the verse is the introduction to a rhetorical question which follows.
Deut. 21:23 definitely should be: "…for [his] cursing of G-d was he hanged." (NOT "…for he that is hanged is accursed of G-d.") Thus have we found the verse explained by all of our commentators, as it is also explained in the Aramaic Targum of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel. The Talmud (Sanhedrin), along these same lines, says that the words "ki kilelath Elo-him talui"
כִּי קִלְלַת אֲלֹהִים תָּלוּי
should be understood as the cause for our being commanded to take down his body from the tree before nightfall, Viz., "…for his being hanged will amount to the belittling of G-d." (For, in Hebrew, the root words for "to curse" and "to belittle" are the same.) Meaning, if you leave a man's corpse to remain hanging on a tree, those who pass by to observe this man's most unfortunate condition will somehow call to mind that he was created in the image of G-d, and that despite his status of being made in G-d's image, it was of no avail to him. Therefore, G-d's image is made small, or it is as though G-d, himself, was hanged! (May G-d forbid!)
Deut. 24:21 definitely should be: "When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not pick after you the defective grape-cluster, etc." (NOT "When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward, etc.") The words, "lo the'olel aharekha," are used in the Hebrew verse,
לֹא תְעוֹלֵל אַחֲרֶיךָ
which verb, " 'olel" has the connotation of harvesting any cluster of grapes that lacks both shoulder and pendant, meaning, it is defective. So is this word explained in our collection of oral laws, the Mishnah (Peah 7: 3-8). The lack of an oral tradition by the KJV translators have kept them from rendering due service to this verse. Had we simply been commanded not to glean the vineyard, this action would include both whole clusters and defective clusters that were left behind. Yet, having forbidden picking only the defective clusters, it is permitted to return back into one's vineyard to pick those clusters which are whole.
Deut. 26:14 definitely should be: "I have not eaten thereof while bereaving my near of kin who has yet to be buried, neither have I taken away [the tithe] in a state of uncleanness…etc." (NOT "I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use…etc.")
The mistranslation of this verse is, without question, due to a lack of understanding of the Hebrew language. For in all of our Talmudic books and in other ancient rabbinic works, without exception, the meaning of the Hebrew word,
has been explained as having the meaning of
which word means," bereaving the loss of one's near of kin who has yet to be buried." In Hebrew, one word is sufficient to express a case where one's relative has yet to be buried, whereas in English, we have no single expression for this situation. According to the Mishnah (Hagigah 3:3) and the Jerusalem Talmud (Hagigah 17b), a state of uncleanness hovers over a man or woman who has suffered the loss of a close relative (father or mother, brother or sister from the same father, son or daughter) and who has yet to be buried. Such persons are forbidden to eat of the hallowed things (i.e. the sacrifices), but they can still touch them. (So writes Maimonides in his "Mishne Torah," Hilkoth Avoth Tum'ah 12:15). Now since the first part of our verse is concerned with eating those tithes in a state of ritual purity and cleanness, it is virtually impossible for that person to do so until his relative has been buried, and until he has immersed himself in a ritual bath, or ablution.
Had our verse been referring simply to a state of mourning, as suggested by the KJV, mourning can continue for seven days, long after the person's relative has been buried, which is not what the scripture is concerned with here.
In the second clause of the scriptural passage, the Hebrew word,
refers simply to "being in a state of cleanness," in which we have been admonished not to separate the tithes while, either, we ourselves suffer a state of pollution, or the fruits being tithed suffer a state of pollution.
Deut. 28:37 can also be translated: "And thou shalt be for astonishment, [and] for a proverb, and for gossip among all nations, etc." (NOT "And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations, etc.") So does Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) interpret the Hebrew word
in his Arabic translation of the Pentateuch (ibid.).
Deut. 29:11 definitely should be: "Your little ones, your wives, and thy proselyte that is in thy camp, etc." (NOT "Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, etc.")
The Hebrew word used here for "and thy proselyte" is:
(See supra, Leviticus 17:15 for a discussion on this subject.)
Deut. 33:17 definitely should be: "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of a rhinoceros..." (NOT "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns…") So has Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) translated this word in his Arabic translation of the Pentateuch known as "Tifsir." It would seem that this was also the sense of the translators of the Septuagint, who wrote for this creature, "mono keros" / "mono kerotos" ("ox with only one horn"). Although, today, the Greek word used to describe this animal is "rhinokeros," this discrepancy can be attributed to the fact that two words were being used to describe the same animal, similar to our use of the words "bison" and "buffalo." The ancient Hebrew word used for this animal is "raem,"
which word appears in other places throughout the Bible (e.g. Num. 23: 22, Job 39:9, Psalms 92:10, etc.) In modern Hebrew, they have given a different name for this animal, while calling the "gemsbok" (Oryx gazella) by its name. Still, the ancient writers of our Midrashic literature knew the animal by its original name. Rabbi Yehudah said: "The raem did not enter into Noah's ark, but its cub did." ("Midrash Rabba," Genesis Rabba ch. 31) A story is also related there (ibid.) about the offspring of a "raem" that was once seen in Israel, and had gone on a rampage and would have torn down all of the trees in the land had not its mother called out for it. Upon hearing its mother's call, it departed the land. Archaeological evidence reveals that the rhinoceros was once indigenous to these parts, as their bones were unearthed in a cave in Galilee.
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In many of the above examples, we have relied occasionally upon the tradition bequeathed to us by the Septuagint, particularly when that view is supported by the Sages. But we, as Jews, do not follow the authority of the Greek texts whenever we find a dispute over the meaning of a word and the vast majority of our Sages contend contrary to the Greek texts. For our Rabbis have followed a carefully guarded tradition regarding the meanings of certain words, whereas the seventy-two Jewish scholars who went down to Alexander to have the Hebrew scriptures procured into the Greek language for Ptolemy did not always have a full command of the Greek language vis-à-vis their own mother tongue. The Hebrew word, "hasidah,"
for example, appears on numerous occasions all throughout the Hebrew Bible. It is the name given for one of the unclean birds mentioned in the book of Leviticus, and what today (i.e. in modern Hebrew) is popularly translated as "stork," based upon RASHI's interpretation of this word. Yet, if one were to look at the Septuagint for an understanding of this word, he would soon be filled with consternation, for there are vast and widespread discrepancies between the Jewish translators themselves over the meaning of this one word. For example:
* In Leviticus 11:19, the bird "hasidah" has the Greek meaning of "glauka," a word used for either owl or heron.
* In Deuteronomy 14:18, the bird "hasidah" has the Greek meaning of "pelekana," or pelican.
* In Psalm 104:17 (Ps. 103:17), the bird "hasidah" has the Greek meaning of "strouthia," or ostrich.
* In Jeremiah 8:7, the bird "hasidah" has the Greek meaning of "strouthia," or ostrich.
* In Zechariah 5:9, the bird "hasidah" has the Greek meaning of "epopos," or hoopoe bird.
* In Job 39:13, the bird "hasidah" was given no Greek name, but rather transliterated as it appears in the Hebrew, "asida" (hasidah).
Rabbis of later generations have also been equally divided over the meaning of the word. RASHI says "hasidah" is a stork, from whence derives our use of this word today; Rabbi Saadia Gaon (RSG) says it is a falcon, while one of our ancients suggests that it is the ibis. In the Talmud (Hullin 63a), Rav Yehudah says the "hasidah" is the white kite. (alternatively: white ibis) "And why," he asks, "is she called hasidah? (i.e. from the Hebrew word "hasid," or "pious.") Because she acts piously towards her companions." This opinion also happens to be the opinion of Yonathan Ben-Uzziel in Lev. 11:19.
D. B. A.