2015 · Research · Scripture

How Do You Translate That?

I have a very honest Bible. In the footnotes, it unfailingly tells me when the scholars just cannot agree on the proper translation of a word in the original texts. While the official language of Isra’el is Biblical Hebrew, an understanding of the meaning of certain words has been lost. Plus as manuscripts did not include vowels, some words create a great deal of controversy. Two of them are driving me to screaming point at the moment.

Enslave or Kill?
This one really matters. The controversial Scripture is 2 Samuel 12:31 and I cover the full discussion in this article on Faithwriters. When David and his armies capture the Ammonite city of Rabbah, they then go on to eliminate the Ammonite threat throughout all the cities and towns. Here is what the New Living Translation says: “He also made slaves of the people of Rabbah and forced them to labor with saws, iron picks, and iron axes, and to work in the brick kilns. That is how he dealt with the people of all the Ammonite towns. Then David and all the army returned to Jerusalem.”

You need to read the footnotes to hear the alternative version: “He also brought out the people of Rabbah and put them under saws, iron picks, and iron axes, and he made them pass through the brick kilns.” Yes, that does mean they were killed in horrendous ways, using saws, picks, axes and by being cast into the fires of kilns. The Masoretic Biblical text supports this as the correct version, and under the Biblical laws of the time, that would have been the correct course of action for David to take. However, as this is completely unthinkable to the modern brain, many Bible soften the interpretation and the arguments among scholars rage as people like me scratch their heads and wonder what the?

Simple Details on Gender
2 Samuel 6:23 states that after despising David for praising the Lord, his wife, Michal, remained childless all her life. However, if you take that word to the Hebrew meaning, it is a male word יָ֫לֶד or yeled. If you take the gender of that word literally, she may have had daughters, but was eliminated from the line of succession, which as Daviyd’s first wife, could have placed her male offspring as the first heir.

Does this matter. Well, to me, yes. If the Hebrew word is a known masculine word, why don’t the Bible writers just say sons? Look at how it has affected Michal’s reputation too.

So how do I get around this? Sometimes I just don’t. I can’t. The best way of coping I have found is:

  1. prayer for understanding;
  2. understanding the Scripture on the basis of other clear principles, which are solid as granite; and
  3. grinding my teeth and just having to put up with the fact that some things won’t be known until I get to heaven.

It’s not a perfect answer, but it has taught me one important lesson: keep an open mind as to what Scripture means. I have been tempted to write David off as an awful person a few times. Why? Because I was swayed by the word slavery and concept of torture. I hadn’t yet studied Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which tell me why he did what he did… and how he was right.

Many answers are there, if we are willing to let our modern thinking and biases sit quietly for a time, while we find the guiding Scriptures.


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