The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Monday, July 11, 2016

Joel M Hoffman's Biblical misinterpretations

On yesterday's book thread I was alerted to Joel M Hoffman. Not the rabbi. And not this guy either, G-d forbid. The other one, son of a rabbi.

Today I have found a summary of Hoffman's work on Biblical "mistranslations".

Hoffman assumes of the archetypal shepherd of (MT) Psalm 23 that most today will take him for a marginalized loner who spends more time with sheep than with people. That commandment lô taḥmôd shouldn't be "covet not", but "take not". He doesn't accept to translate that commandment against causing death as "kill not" or "murder not". Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, he says, is poor shorthand; in the reporter's summary, The first Hebrew word refers to all of the intangible aspects of life, including emotions and intellect, while the second connotes the physical flesh, blood, and breath.

If the word "shepherd" has taken on poor connotations, this will come as news to any player of Mass Effect; in which your character - saviour of the universe - is, indeed, named "Shepard". I am pretty sure that Hoffman stands alone among Semiticists and, indeed, among Bible students in his translation of taḥmôd; and besides, unlawful "taking" is already handled in the commandment against stealing. On the flip side, all Bible scholars accept the nuance around "thou shalt not kill" (so why bring it up?). Perhaps we should re-translate the Deuteronomist in terms of "soul and heart"; but again, it's so minor - why bring that up?

Add to that that Hoffman accepts the political-cant term "gay" as acceptable shorthand for "homosexual", and I cannot take the man seriously as a linguist. Nor, come to that, as an honest interpreter of Judaism.

posted by Zimri on 16:49 | link | 0 comments

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