Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Bible Doesn't Say That by Joel M. Hoffman

The author, a highly respected biblical scholar, describes in this book "40 Biblical Mistranslations, Misconceptions, and other Misunderstandings". 

Considering the age of the Bible texts, and the complications of translation, and the very foreign cultures that produced the Bible, there are many more than 40 items the author could have addressed in his book.  He's picked the ones that come up most often in modern society.

The author also highlights five reasons only linguistic, history and theology scholars should interpret the Bible, not lay persons; these are also the five reasons there are so many mistaken meanings given to biblical passages:
1. Deep ignorance of biblical and Hebrew history, as well as the history of language and the translations of the Bible.

2. Many believe the results of historical accidents and the popular spread of misinterpretations, assuming they are in the Bible.

3. A cultural gap between the people who wrote the Bible and the people reading it today, especially concerning obscure history and language, and the allegorical stories, numerological flourishes, rhetorical tricks, and the poetry of the Bible being taken literally by some modern readers.

4. Meanings obscured by mistranslations and poetic license by translators.

5. Selective quotation and quoting out of context too often used to misrepresent biblical meanings to further a personal agenda, ignoring the many contradictions in the Bible.

Since I've always understood that the Bible is a book of poetry, allegory, philosophy, religious tracts, and some history dressed up with rhetorical flourishes, this book preaches to the choir in my case.  He tries to warn people to not tale the Bible literally since it was never intended to be taken literally.

The scholarly author's heart and mind are in the right place, considering how many arguments in the public debate stem from religious misinterpretations, but I suspect his prose is too dense, to the point of gibberish at times, for the average lay reader.

One thought continued to run through my head as I waded through the forty cases:  the medieval Church was probably right to ban vernacular translations of the Bible, since the translations have led to such bloody strife based on mistranslations and misinterpretations that continue to this day.

I suspect that the author's attempt to contribute intelligent, reasonable and moderate views into public religious and social debates will only end up in the hands of people open to rational thought and scholarly input, and will not get into the hands of people who cherry-pick from the Bible to support views that are biased and mean.

From the book's description:
The Bible Doesn't Say That explores what the Bible meant before it was misinterpreted over the past 2,000 years.  Acclaimed translator and biblical scholar Dr. Joel M. Hoffman walks the reader through dozens of mistranslations, misconceptions, and other misunderstandings about the Bible.

What does the Bible say about violence?  About the Rapture?  About keeping kosher? About marriage and divorce?  Hoffman provides answers to all of these and more, succinctly explaining how so many pivotal biblical answers came to be misunderstood.
In forty short, straightforward chapters, he covers morality, lifestyle, theology, and biblical imagery.

Here is a direct link to the book at Amazon.com:

Please visit the author's blog-website.

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