Translation is not an exact science, even when translating between two languages that are similar one to the other. Hebrew is not similar to Greek or English -- or indeed to any other language, with the possible exceptions of Aramaic and, to a lesser degree, Arabic.
Few words of any language have one and only one sense (or meaning) - most words in most languages have several different meanings. For example, the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ / rosh means head, but it can also mean top, and it can also mean the most important part of something. Rosh is often mistranslated as "new" (leading to the mistranslation of "new year" for רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה / Rosh HaShanah -- literally translated as "head of the year" not "new year").
This variance in different languages makes translating the T'nach (Jewish bible) from Hebrew into English more art than science as a translator must choose the meaning of a Hebrew word, which may itself have multiple meanings, with an English word which also may have multiple meanings and not be a "perfect" match to the Hebrew.
A good example of this is the Hebrew word יוֹם / yom which is often translated as "day." This causes many missionaries (particularly evangelical missionaries) to insist that B'reshit / Genesis must be speaking of a 24 hour "day" in the creation chapter. However, the word יוֹם / yom can have different meanings other than a 24 hour day. The precise meaning of יוֹם / yom in the T'nach has 4 meanings depending on the context.
There is an additional issue when considering English translations. In English some words have changed meaning over time. This issue is also true of Greek words which were used in early translations of the T'nach into Greek.
A word chosen in translation 1800 years ago may mean something different than the word means today.
Consider the argument that the word in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 means “virgin” when it does not – it more properly translates to “young woman” and does not even suggest virginity or a lack of virginity. The Greek translations of 2000+ years ago (translators unknown, but maintained by Christians) chose the Greek word παρθένος / parthenos.
Today the Koine Greek word παρθένος / parthenos is usually translated as virgin – and thus many a missionary will argue that the word in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 must be “virgin” (this is complicated by the fact that the Christian bible uses this passage as the “prophecy” that Jesus will be a virgin birth). Yet, 2800 years ago παρθένος / parthenos did not mean virgin. The ancient Greek poet Ὅμηρος / Homer (1200 - 800 BCE) wrote in his Iliad. 2.512-515 that a 'parthenos' gave birth ('teken') to two children: “Ascalaphus and Ialmenus, sons of Mars, led the people that dwelt in Aspledon and Orchomenus the realm of Minyas. Astyoche, a noble maiden (parthenos), bore them in the house of Actor son of Azeus; for she had gone with Mars secretly into an upper chamber, and he had lain with her.”
The ancient Greek translation of B’reshit / Genesis 34:3 states that Dinah is a "parthenos" after her rape by Sh'chem – obviously after rape Dinah was no longer a virgin.
In the misuse of παρθένος / parthenos as "virgin" rather than "young woman" the English translators may well have been innocent. It seems that the word παρθένος / parthenos came to mean "virgin" over time. . . . but originally it did not mean virgin. The Hebrew in Y’shayahu / Isaiah 7:14 is הָעַלְמָה (the young woman). Jews have been trying to correct this Christian mistake for nearly as long as Christianity has existed! Indeed, Justin Martyr (100 CE, so VERY EARLY Christinan) wrote in "Trypho the Jew" that Jews of his era said: "you (Jews) and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son."
Missionaries who insist they do not need to learn Hebrew to understand the “bible” are fooling themselves.
Missionaries who fool themselves into thinking that the King James Version (KJV) is "as good" as the original are deluding themselves.
When one relies on translations one is allowing the translator to be interpreter – for that is what a translator must be. . . Whether words in early English translations no longer have the meaning they had in the 17th century when the King James Translation was first completed (and contains the word “unicorn” along with “virgin!), or whether there are mistranslations due to poor choices or even deceitful choices the reader is an innocent victim of the translator.
Since translation is more art than science the trick is in finding the word in the target language which is the closest in meaning to each word in the source language. Modern translators have the added problem that if they want people to buy their translation it must also “match” what people expect to see.
Thus modern translations often use earlier mistranslations, perhaps because readers expect to see them. The “proof” texts are particularly vulnerable to this “borrowing” from earlier translations.
Not all Christian translations of the 20th and 21st centuries are guilty of the same mistranslations – but most are. Take for example Daniel 9:25. The King James Version (KJV) has “the Messiah the Prince.” The KJV puts the definite article "the" in front of the translation they chose for the Hebrew word מָשִֽׁיחַ / (moshiach). They chose to translate מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach as "the messiah” in Daniel 9:25 although the Hebrew word for "the" does not appear at all ('ha").
Let me repeat that: “the messiah” does not appear in Daniel 9:25. There is no “the” in front of the word מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach / messiah / anointed one.
The KJV also capitalizes the “m” in “messiah” (there are no capital letters in Hebrew), thus making it appear to “fit” Jesus.
Let's discuss the word "messiah" -- how is it used? What does it mean? How often is it found in the T’nach (Jewish bible)?
The term מָשִֽׁיחַ / moshiach is usually used to speak of priests and kings who have already lived – not “the messiah.” It means “anointed one” and is used often to speak of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who was a messiah – an anointed priest. It is found 39 times in the T’nach (Jewish bible).
34 times the usage is as a noun (messiah) and 5 times the usage is as an adjective (smeared with oil).
Yet most Christian translations only use the word “messiah” once or twice (usually in Daniel 9, sometimes in T'hillim / Psalm 2). . .
Isn’t that amazing?
The word appears 39 times in the תַּנַ"ךְ / T'nach (Jewish bible) – yet it is not translated as “messiah” 39 times by the Christian versions.
Knowing now that the King James has altered Daniel 9:25 to say “the Messiah” when it truly says “messiah” (or “anointed one”) – and that the KJV uses the word “messiah” in Daniel 9, but not in the other 37 locations in appears in the T’nach (Jewish bible) one can begin to see how translators are liars (whether they mean to be or not).
Let’s just look at a few Christian translations for Daniel 9:
None of them use the word “messiah” in the other 37 locations (39 in all) the term actually is found in the T’nach (bible). This selective translation (mistranslation?) misleads their innocent readers.
Perhaps you can see why it is impossible to rely on English translations to truly read the T’nach (bible).
Even Jewish translations are not perfect. Since translation is more art than science the trick is in finding the word in the target language which is the closest in meaning to each word in the source language – consider the example I gave early in this post that the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ rosh means head, but it can also mean top, and it can also mean the most important part of something.
Hebrew is often poetic, and some subtle nuances of meaning may well be lost in the translation, while in other instances false meanings may be presented even with the best of translators. Consider the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor. This verb is normally translated as to guard, but it can also mean to keep, or even to observe or to fulfill (a law).
However the verbs "to observe" and "to fulfill" also have other meanings: "to observe" can also mean to witness or to watch something happening, and "to fulfil" can also mean to bring something to completion - but the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor cannot have any of these secondary senses. G-d frequently commands us in the Torah to "keep His mitzvot!"
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם מִצְוֹתַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם “keep my commands and do them" (Vayikra / Leviticus 22:31), and לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְיָ אֱלֹהֶיךָ... וְלִשְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו "(to) love HaShem your G-d... and (to) keep His commands, His inexplicable rules and His judgements..." (D'varim / Deuteronomy 30:16).
Any of the identical verbs mentioned above (keep, observe, fulfill) could be chosen to translate there verses but, if "fulfill" were used, it would have to be made clear that it was not being used in the sense of complete/bring to completion because the Hebrew verb לִשְׁמֹר li-sh'mor cannot mean this. Thus, when Matthew reports (5:17) that Jesus claimed that he had come to "fulfill the Torah and the Prophets" it is misused.
Hopefully this post will encourage some of you to begin to learn Hebrew – but even for those of you who cannot dedicate the time to learn the language, just be aware that you need to double check any translations you might use. All translations have issues – even Jewish translations. Yet, many of the Christian translations, even the modern ones, have “built in” prejudices which can lead the reader in error (Daniel 9 and Isaiah 7 are perfect examples of such mistranslations).
The Judaica Press translation of the T'nach is considered by many to be an excellent translation. It is available online free, with or without the commentary of Rashi -- רבי שלמה יצחקי (R' Shlomo Yitzachi / Solomon Isaac), 11th century CE.
The Living Torah is an excellent translation of the Chumash (Torah and Haftarah) by R' Aryeh Kaplan (Z"L). This is also available free online in English, Spanish and Russian.
The Artscroll Stone Edition T'nach (or Chumash) is available for purchase at the Artscroll website.
It was my intention to move on from debunking these "Orthodox" rabbis whom missionaries tout as some sort of proof that even learned Jews can become Christians. So far we've seen that the supposed experts were either not rabbis at all (Cohn, Pearlmutter) or of questionable sanity and education. It is hard to think that a truly learned Jew could ever be conned by the mistranslations and distortions (outright reversing!) of "prophecies," but some have converted to Christianity simply to avoid anti-semitism or being cut off from the Jewish people (the former Chief Rabbi of Rome, R' Zolli is a perfect example of this last type of convert). . . But I was talked into researching one Rabbi Isaac / Ignatz Lichtenstein, of the 19th century.
Before I even discuss this man, realize that we're talking about an era of pogroms and rampant anti-semitism in Europe. Many Jews were slaughtered, and the Reform movement (which had begun in the late 18th century) was gaining momentum as Jews wanted to escape persecution and so either converted to Christianity or tried to remain half fish half fowl (half Jewish / half not) by making their Jewish practices as close to Christianity as they could (to placate the non-Jews). This is the world which many of these "rabbis" touted by the missionaries lived. Yeshivot (Jewish schools) had a difficult time finding enough teachers as the Russians (among others) shut them down and discouraged them. . . Jews lived mostly in abject poverty in Shtetls (very small communities).
From Scrolls: Essays on Jewish history and literature, and kindred subjects, Volume 1 By Gotthard Deutsch (died 1921 -- a Jewish historian). This book discusses "rabbis" in the 19th century often referenced by missionaries as converting to Christianity. From the book starting on page 116:
"the present chief rabbi of London referred to the fact that three reform rabbis had converted to Christianity. He preferred not to give the exact number, because he probably had reason to fear the exact memory of those who remembered a previous statement of his that he could fill a book with the names of the disciples of Isaac M. Wise (founder of Reform Judaism) who has become converts to Christianity.
"The force of the argument was now to be a different one. It never had happened in Israel before — so his "Very Reverence" said — that a rabbi had become a convert to Christianity. I happen to be in possession of a pamphlet, issued by some missionary society, containing the biography of one (Isaac) Ignatz Lichtenstein, who was a rabbi in Tapio Szele, Hungary, and had written pamphlets advocating conversion to Christianity while still officiating as a rabbi.
"The statement was declared by somebody who had reason to hide himself behind the cover of anonymity, an invention (aka a fake).”
A few things to note from the above paragraph:
Missionaries insist that Ignatz Lichtenstein was an Orthodox Rabbi -- thus he is supposedly a "learned" Jew who became a Christian.
So was he Orthodox or Reform? Did he become a Christian? How "learned" was Ignatz Lichtenstein? How well regarded was he as a rabbinical source? (In other words was he a "C" student or an honor roll student?).
We know for a fact that Isaac / Ignatz Lichtenstein is buried in a Reform Jewish cemetery in Hungary, which would add substance to the thought that he might have been a Reform rabbi, and not an Orthodox rabbi. A picture of his tombstone is shown on this page.
Did he write the missionary documents? Did he become a Christian, or was he confused with another Lichtenstein (a fairly common name)?
The book "Apostates, Hybrids, or True Jews? Jewish Christians and Jewish Identity" by Raymond Lillevik quotes an obituary which says "Not until the scandal had lasted a long time did the Reformed Rabbinate of Budapest succeed in inducing the representatives of the community of Tapio Tzele, composed for the most part of relatives or friends of Lichtenstein, to demand his dismissal, in order that he should withdraw from the Rabbinate."
If Lichtenstein was an Orthodox rabbi, why would the "Reform(ed) Rabbinate of Budapest) be involved in his dismissal? Missionaries insist that I. Lichtenstein was an Orthodox rabbi (most likely for credibility sake) – but the details seem to lead more to the conclusion that he was no such thing.
The same book states that many members of his family thought Ignatz was insane. Two years before Lichtenstein left Tapioszele he was without a regular income and was supported by a Christian missionary (Arnold Frank of Hamburg, Germany).
Aside from quotes from people contemporaneous with Lichtenstein stating he was a Reform Jew, and the fact that he was buried in a Reform cemetery take a look at information on the town in which he supposedly had a pulpit in a Synagogue. The town, Tapioszele, was in Pest – which was itself the leading area of Hungary for Reform Judaism. Link.
The book "Apostates, Hybrids, or True Jews? Jewish Christians and Jewish Identity" also sais "Tapioszele belonged to the Neolog (Reform) camp, which is indicated by the reactions in Budapest voiced by the Neolog (Reform) leadership, and by the fact that Lichtenstein was buried in the Reform cemetery in Budapest.”
We must discuss Reform Judaism in the 19th century to understand why this eliminates Lichtenstein a learned Jewish source for missionaries to exploit. Reform Judaism began in the 18th century in Germany. Previously Jews had been separated and not able to be part of the mainstream countries where they lived. When countries began to allow assimilation the number of Jews who ceased being religious climbed dramatically. Per Aish: “an estimated quarter of a million Jews converted to Christianity during this time and that countless others assimilated into the European culture.
“Interestingly, the assimilation rate was higher where there were fewer Jews. In Eastern Europe, where the Jewish population was almost 5 million, 90,000 (or not quite 2%) converted to Christianity in order to have an easier life and mingle with mainstream society. . .”
Many, many of the early Reform Jewish adopters had children who became Christians.
The early Reform movement considered Judaism a religion, but not a people. They were anti-Zionists (did not believe in Jews ever returning to the land). They disavowed the divinity of the Torah, saying it was written by men. They gave up being kosher, and shrimp was often served at official meetings. The early Reform movement moved Shabbat to Sunday (to be like the Christians). The services were held in German, not Hebrew. They had choirs and organs, like the Christians.
A Reform rabbi of this period would not be expected to be a great Jewish expert – and Lichtenstein (Reform or Orthodox) claimed to have received his ordination at the age of 18. His Synagogue was in a very small town, and this rabbi (Reform or Orthodox), was not an important name in his generation. Tapioszele, of Pest in Hungary, was settled in the 18th century by Jews. The Synagogue was founded in 1810 and a school followed in 1840. There were a grand total of 396 Jews and the population declined from there. Again, contemporaries later claimed that most of the people in the town were related to Lichtenstein (source: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and During the Holocaust).
So, this yet another Rabbi that the missionaries tout as being learned who became Christians. Lichtenstein was a small town rabbi (less than 400 people), whose only family questioned his sanity. In all likelihood he was Reform, which in that time period rejected nearly every aspect of Judaism. Again, there are arguments for and against whether he was Orthodox or Reform but the fact that he came from a Reform area and was buried in a Reform cemetery lean heavily in that direction.
His writings also show clearly that he was not well educated in Judaism. Near his death he wrote “'Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way.'” – this is a mistranslation of T’hillim / Psalm 2. Surely a rabbi would not mistranslate basic Hebrew! The Hebrew is נְשְׁקוּ־בַר “arm yourself with purity” and not “kiss the son.” The word בַר in Aramaic means “son” – but T'hillim / Psalm 2 is not written in Aramaic. It is written in Hebrew. In Hebrew the word בַר means pure (Brown-Driver-Briggs' Hebrew Definitions), not “son.”
Wouldn’t a “learned rabbi” know the difference between Hebrew and Aramaic? How could a learned rav make such a basic mistake in translation?
The Aramaic noun בְּרָא (b'ra), a son, does not appear in the Hebrew Bible in its root noun form - only in the possessive form (smichut). In the same sense, the Aramaic word בַּר (bar) appears only in the possessive form phrases as "son of ...", and there is no instance where it appears as a root noun, i.e., meaning "a son.” The phraseנַשְּׁקוּ־בַר in T’hillim / Psalm 2 cannot be translated as “kiss the son” because there is no definite article (the word “the” aka “ha” in Hebrew) or accusative particle in the text. If (for some weird reason) בַּר in T'hillim / Psalm 2:12 was the Aramaic “son”and not Hebrew it would still have to be translated “kiss a son” not kiss THE son. Kiss the son” would have to be נַשְּׁקוּ אֶת הַבַּר or, using the Aramaic grammatical structure, נַשְּׁקוּ יַת בְּרָא.
The simple fact is that there are NO Aramaic words at all in T'hillim / Psalms. If Ignatz Lichtenstein were a “learned” rabbi he would surely know that. Ergo, whether Orthodox (unlikely) or Reform he was a small town rabbi of questionable sanity and expertise.
Given his mistranslation of Tehillim / Psalm 2 it would seem he wasn't well educated -- and given the fact that his Synagogue was in a small town this would seem to also indicate the same. . . I don't know if the Synagogue in question was Orthodox either because he was eventually buried in a Reform cemetery. The early Reform movement lost many members to Christianity. The grandfather of Reform was Moses Mendelssohn (1729 - 1786) Four out of six of Mendelssohn's surviving children converted to Christianity including the children of its founder.
Yet another source held up by missionaries to convince Jews that one can be a Jew and a Christian because "learned Orthodox rabbis" convert to Christianity. Research for yourself. Learn a little something about Judaism in the 19th century in Europe. . .
Two more points to note about Ignatz Lichtenstein:
1. There were a lot of pogroms and killings of Jews going on in Hungary at the time -- siding with the Christians may have been an attempt to prevent more killings of the Jews;
2. He never became a Christian -- he was never baptized (this again is per missionary sites).
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.