The Translation of the Hebrew Bible: A Very Brief Overview

 The two prefaces to the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) Hebrew-English Tanakh are helpful sources of information concerning the text of the Hebrew Old Testament.  In these prefaces, one can read about the history of the Hebrew text, the accuracy of the Hebrew text, and information about the newer JPS translation of the Hebrew text, among other things.  Here’s one section of the 1985 preface that I appreciated.  It has to do with the history of Bible translation, specifically the OT:

Bible translation began about 2200 years ago, in the third century B.C.E., as the large Jewish population of Alexandria, Egypt, came under the influence of Hellenism.  When the Greek language replaced Hebrew and Aramaic as their venacular, and the Torah in its Hebrew original was no longer commonly understood, a translation into Greek was made for the Jewish community of Alexandria. This translation came to be known as the Septuagint, Latin for ‘seventy,’ because of the legend that the committee of translators numbered seventy-two, six elders from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the last few centuries B.C.E., the Jews who lived to the north and east of Judah also found the Hebrew Bible difficult to understand, for their spoken language had become largely Aramaic.  Translations into Aramaic, first of the Torah and then the rest of the Bible, became known as the Targums.

-from the 1985 preface to the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh-

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


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