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#580512 - Mon Dec 27 2010 05:25 PM A theological question
romeomikegolf Offline
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Over on FT there are many quizzes with questions taken from different versions of the Bible. There's the King James, the New English, New American, New International Version etc. My question, as an agnostic, is why so many different versions of the same book? Do different churches believe one version over another?

This is not intended to be a discussion on religion, just one about why there are so many versions of the same story.
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#580534 - Mon Dec 27 2010 05:55 PM Re: A theological question
ren33 Offline
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Well if we are discussing stories, just think of how many versions of the Fairy Tales there are. Red Riding Hood, Cinderella etc. Since the original stories were handed down orally, there must have been many versions, some changed to suit their audiences' ages, cultural background and language. So I guess different churches do change the versions , yes.
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#580536 - Mon Dec 27 2010 06:04 PM Re: A theological question
ozzz2002 Offline
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I guess that it is analogous of the various English dictionaries used around the world. An Australian Macquarie has words that an English Oxford or an American Miriam-Websters would not include. Also, the meanings would be similar, but could be worded vastly differently.
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#580541 - Mon Dec 27 2010 06:59 PM Re: A theological question
mehaul Offline
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It might be more of a mystery if there weren't variations to the most widely published title.
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#580619 - Tue Dec 28 2010 07:54 AM Re: A theological question
triviapaul Offline
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Here is my (non-expert) take on it:
The 'problem' with the bible is, that it is not a book written as such, but a collection of books. The definitive choice of which books were to make up the bible only occured in the 4th century or so. Some Christian sects have a different collection of books in their bible, but for the vast majority of Christians, it's the same.
The next problem is, that in the early days, the bible was only available in Hebrew and Aramaic. As a book of interest, it was translated into the Lingua Franca of that time: Greek (from the 4th century BC), with translating errors. For example: a word translated as "camel" might instead mean "ship rope", which gives the saying "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." a lot more sense. The Greek version then was translated into Latin, the Lingua Franca for the next 1000 years or so.
When it was time to translate the bible into English and other languages, the translators were presented with the problem which source to use; the widely used Latin, the more original Greek or even the Jewish version? Different churches made different decisions, and again, translation errors were made.
In many languages, the bible text had to be revised recently, because the language was so archaic that it was almost unreadable by a modern reader, leading to more information loss.
Christian bibles all over the world basically use the same source text, but use different translations. However, the difference in churches are not about what is written, but about interpretations of what is written, or interpretations of interpretations (what date to celebrate Easter, whether to make the sign of the cross with two or three fingers etc).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations
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#580628 - Tue Dec 28 2010 08:48 AM Re: A theological question
Jabberwok Offline
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I don't think Protestant versions of the Bible include the Book of Tobit, and their versions of the book of Esther differ from the Catholic ans Orthodox texts.
There have been various conferences through the centuries to decide what to include and what to discard for different editions as well.
Along with triviapaul's comments on translations. I'm not sure how true it is, but I was informed that the original text read 'Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live' which became translated as 'suffer a witch to live' and caused all manner of subsequent persecutions.
Translation is a very tricky and often subjective business.


Edited by Jabberwok (Tue Dec 28 2010 08:49 AM)
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#580667 - Tue Dec 28 2010 11:36 AM Re: A theological question
lesley153 Offline
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I have a non-expert take too. You could probably spend a lifetime comparing translations. Two I can think of, off the top of my head:

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is described in the original text as a girl, or a nubile young woman. There was a perfectly good word for virgin, but that wasn't used.

When Isaiah wrote about a boy that was going to be born and would be called Immanuel, he was using the vernacular to describe a pregnant woman who was on the point of giving birth, not 600 years in the future.

Has anyone read The Manna Machine?

Two engineers decided (I wonder why) to translate the bible from scratch, and they learnt the ancient languages they needed to do so. Whenever they came across a word with two or more meanings, they found that the translators had normally used the most esoteric one. They used the most everyday one, which is how they converted "Ancient of Days" to Moveable Tank.

They ploughed through writings in a mixture of languages until they were able to apply an engineer's mind to them, and came up with a diagram of the machine that fed the wandering Israelites.

From Wikipedia:
"The Manna Machine is a theory by George Sassoon and Rodney Dale that a machine device was given to the Israelites, when they went on their 40 year journey in the Sinai Desert. The device was said to create manna, a type of chloric algae. It explains how the Israelites survived their 40 year wandering in the Sinai Desert."
"NASA uses chloric algae tanks to provide food during manned space missions."
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#580694 - Tue Dec 28 2010 01:36 PM Re: A theological question
reeshy Offline
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It might simply be because most texts are translated more than once. Novels and other texts such as classic texts are translated more than once, perhaps for different reasons - maybe someone just thought he could do a better job, or wanted to approach in a slightly different style. As has been pointed out, when translating, a word in the original language can translate into many in the new language, and this can cause problems. Translation is an art - a lot of people think it's as simple as knowing two languages, but even when translating my own work (poetry and lyrics; I wouldn't attempt my novel!) from German into idiomatic English - even without trying to maintain rhymes, or flow or anything - is quite difficult. Give a piece of work to two different translators, and you'll most likely end up with quite different works at the end! I think maybe this is what has happened with the Bible.
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#580731 - Tue Dec 28 2010 03:39 PM Re: A theological question
Lochalsh Offline
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I'd say that there are different versions simply because there are different audiences for the same essential text. One group will find the King James Version quite poetic and meaningful; another group will eschew the high-flown language of the KJV and turn to the newer revisions of the Bible. It's whatever makes sense to the reader. Church leaders want to get their message across however they can, and publishers of religious materials want to meet market demands.

Although I'm an agnostic now--and at best--I chose to attend a fundamentalist church as a child and young teenager. Years later, I returned to the church with an older relative, and I was overwhelmed by the nigh-unto-rock sound of the contemporary music played in the service. I asked my tradition-bound aunt about the change from the old hymns I'd enjoyed in my youth, and she shrugged her shoulders in resignation and said "We have to draw the young ones in." As it is with music, so it is with the Bible. You adapt, hoping not to lose the primary theme.

By the way, haven't the Catholics had the Douay Bible for years? It's not as though new versions are...well, new. And who's to say which version is the original one? King James has certainly had lasting power, but the Bible didn't start there.





Edited by Lochalsh (Tue Dec 28 2010 05:08 PM)

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#580783 - Tue Dec 28 2010 06:52 PM Re: A theological question
glendathecat Offline
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Hopefully to add to what has gone before rather than to repeat it!

It seems that there are two basic reasons.

1. As people have mentioned, translating from the original languages - generally, Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament - is not easy. It's not as simple as one being right and others not. Firstly, the more modern translations have access to more copies of the original texts and to developments in scholarship. Also, as far as I remember, the Hebrew did not include the vowels thus, on occasions, giving plenty of room for interpretation. Add to that a lack of punctuation marks and Paul occasionally using words he has invented himself and you can see the potential for different translations.

2. Many churches want a translation that sounds fresh and contemporary in terms of the everyday language that people are using. Thus, translations such as the American Standard and Revised Standard versions arrived to update the Authorised version. Later these were updated by the likes of the Living Bible (a paraphrase rather than straight translation) and Jerusalem Bible (the preferred bible for many Catholics) and by the next generation spearheaded by the New International version. Therefore, you can probably expect these "modern" translations to be updated every 30-40 years or so at present rates.

3 (I know I only promised 2). There may sometimes be commercial and political motivations for commissioning new translations but I couldn't possibly comment on that.

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#582157 - Sat Jan 01 2011 10:58 AM Re: A theological question
rxbigdawg Offline
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I only wanted to add a few things to this overall discussion.

For the most part there is very little difference between modern translations with all the books that they share in common. The biggest difference is that Martin Luther removed 7 books from the old testament of the catholic bible to come up with the protestant one. The catholic old testament is based on the Septuagint (a Greek translation from around 200 BCE) which would have been the primary scripture around the time of Christ and the one that Christ would have known and quoted. After the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, only two sects of Judaism survived: the pharisaic (rabbinical) Jews, of which current Jewish sects descend and the Christians who were well on their way to being more gentile than Jewish. Tensions continued to rise between the two sects as they both struggled to survive the brutal times and were developing very different ways of faith. Around 90 CE, at the Council of Javneh, the rabbinic leaders gathered and decided to only maintain as scripture the books which were written in Hebrew. They wanted strict lines of what was Jewish and what was gentile. The seven books included in the Septuagint (the seven included in the catholic scripture) were written in Greek and so they were removed on the grounds that they were too influenced by gentiles. Not surprisingly they also rejected the new testament books on the same ground. Martin Luther also decided to reject the 7 books of the old testament because they were not originally written in Hebrew and thus why they do not appear in the protestant bible.

Some other things to keep in mind as to why there are slight differences in translation are that ancient texts are VERY hard to read even for the experts. Spaces between words, capital letters and punctuation were not invented until Charlemagnes day. Consistent spelling is also a modern thing due to the development of the printing press. Scribes also may not have been interested in keeping their work completely accurate either. It would have been a very tedious job being a scribe.

http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2286
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#582231 - Sat Jan 01 2011 04:23 PM Re: A theological question
lesley153 Offline
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glendathecat, the original probably didn't have vowels, but vowels would only influence the form of the word, not the word itself, which would be based on a three-letter root. Interpreting text without spaces would be a nightmare, but might not be quite so bad if all the words consisted of three letters.

Danny, that's a very nice summary of a slice of history. Being a scribe was probably tiring, and certainly exacting. The people (probably men, really) who were entrusted with copying holy writings were expected to be totally accurate. Other skilled people (probably rabbis) would scrutinise the finished result, and I seem to remember reading that they would discard it if there was a mistake.

"Written entirely in Hebrew, a sefer Torah contains 304,805 letters, all of which must be duplicated precisely by a trained sofer (scribe), an effort which may take as long as approximately one and a half years. An error during transcription may render the sefer Torah pasul (invalid). "
Wiki - Sefer Torah
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#582233 - Sat Jan 01 2011 05:13 PM Re: A theological question
Tizzabelle Offline
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and for a bit of levity...

A new monk arrived at the monastery. He was assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand. He noticed, however, that they were copying copies, not the original books. The new monk went to the head monk to ask him about this. He pointed out that if there were an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies. The head monk said, 'We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son.' The head monk went down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original.

Hours later, nobody had seen him, so one of the monks went downstairs to look for him. He heard a sobbing coming from the back of the cellar and found the old monk leaning over one of the original books, crying. He asked what was wrong.

'The word is 'celebrate,' not 'celibate'!' sobbed the head monk.

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#582237 - Sat Jan 01 2011 06:08 PM Re: A theological question
lesley153 Offline
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Tizzabelle, thank you for a perfectly wonderful levity break. smilee
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#582292 - Sat Jan 01 2011 10:00 PM Re: A theological question
rxbigdawg Offline
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It's good to hear from you Lesley, it probably has been over a year! I hope all is going well in your life.

I'm sure you are right in that they worked VERY hard to ensure accuracy, but have you ever proof read a long essay only to miss a word because you knew in your head what it was supposed to say, but what was written was actually slightly different. Our monk story above is a great (and funny) example. Some of the sources that we have could be the 1000th copy from the original! I read a book a few years back by Bart Ehrman called 'Misquoting Jesus' where he discussed the frequent differences in the old translations of the New Testament. In some ways he was actually able to date and figure out which versions were copied from which based on carried over errors. While I don't think it takes anything away from the validity or the importance of the texts, it does show that variations did/do exist. Plus when texts were translated several times between multiple languages a whole new level of variation can occur. So if something does not sound exactly right...chances are it might not be (i.e. camel through the eye of a needle example mentioned by triviapaul). I can tell you this, I for one could NEVER have been a scribe as my attention span would have wandered by the 300th letter not the 300,000th!

Happy New Year!
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#582436 - Sun Jan 02 2011 06:43 AM Re: A theological question
lesley153 Offline
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Thanks, Danny - yes, all is well and I hope you're OK too. It's been well over a year. frown

Originally Posted By: rxbigdawg
have you ever proof read a long essay only to miss a word because you knew in your head what it was supposed to say...

When I read what other people have written, I may spot errors but can generally work out what was intended, and ignore mistakes. I've proof-read my own work, very little of anyone else's, and I usually spot mistakes, although I'd never guarantee to spot all of them: but then I'm not a professional proof-reader.

Yes, the scribes must have worked very hard, and still do - 18 months to complete a Torah copy sounds demanding - and I don't know how many people are required to check a new copy. It may be more than one. Homework: Find out!

I couldn't have been a scribe. My prescribed function would have been to iron shirts and make dinner and sons. It probably still is.

The monk story is a joy. It's been a while since I've seen it, and it's always good to see it again.
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#582530 - Sun Jan 02 2011 11:08 AM Re: A theological question
agony Offline

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This can of course be a controversial subject, especially because many people believe the Bible is the literal word of God, and nay "tampering" to be blasphemy. An interesting take on the subject is in the novel "The Promise" by Chaim Potok - one character is a Talmudic scholar looking at just such questions of translation and possible clerical error to explore difficult passages of the Talmud (and possibly the Torah - it's been a long time and I can't quite remember). He faces some very strong opposition - the novel is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s, where many survivors of the Holocaust have settled. They, quite naturally, have strong feelings about the faith that so many have so recently died for. An excellent book.

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#582611 - Sun Jan 02 2011 06:12 PM Re: A theological question
rxbigdawg Offline
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Any time a topic deals with something people hold dear, like faith, controversy can occur; so it is probably better to leave it alone. I apologize if I have offended anyone! I would never dream of suggesting that the Bible is not the word of God, as I first, would never want to offend anyone here and second it IS dear to my heart. As for literalist, they usually believe in an all powerful God and thus the Bible can be whatever God wants it to be, regardless of what someone like me says. So hopefully they won't pay attention to a blasphemer like me.

The biblical scholarship could be wrong or have an agenda (usually does). I can tell you from one who has read close to 50 books on biblical scholarship, there are VERY few writers on the subject who are in the middle and are simply interested in the truth (like me). Most either try to defend a faith stance at all cost or try to tear it all down and make a mockery of it. Very frustrating.

Interesting book idea...might have to check that one out...
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