The Bible is one of the most published books in history, but what do we mean when we call it the Hebrew Bible? Within both Jewish and Christian traditions, there is no consensus on translation or what is included in the final canon. If there is no consensus on what constitutes the Bible, then how do we understand the meaning of this book?
Aviya Kushner grew up in a traditional Jewish home and learned at an early age to read the Bible in the original Hebrew. Her religious education included Hebrew lessons, but her parents were the greatest influence in reading, translating, and drawing meaning from the text. This book is the story of her return to reading the Bible as an adult in a graduate English course, interwoven with her family history of learning and reading the Bible. She quickly realized that different traditions have translations affected by source texts, and culture, and how that culture affects the understanding of man’s relationship to God as demonstrated in the translation.
Throughout the book, Kushner cites specific passages in the original Hebrew, and provides several competing translations from both Jewish and Christian traditions. For lovers of language this is a fascinating and compelling demonstration of how we read the text. Many modern translations are based on translations of translations. The Septuagint (Greek translation) and the Vulgate (Latin translation) are the basis for many current English translations.
Translations of translations filtered through differing theological lenses gives rise to interpretations that can be far from the original Hebrew. But while translation creates distance, it can also create opportunity for dialogue. Kushner begins her book with the beginning, Genesis 1:1, a passage that has given rise to much debate and conversation. The translation of just a few words to’hu va’vo’hu, has been discussed by scholars for generations. What does this phrase mean? Various translations offer meanings such as without form and void, wild and waste, formless and desolate, or, poetically, welter and waste. Evidently, the translation informs our understanding of the very nature of creation.
Kushner offers many source texts in her examination of translation, but it is curious that nowhere does she mention the Masorites. This group of scribes and scholars from the seventh through the tenth centuries that was extremely influential in the final codification of our modern Biblical texts with the addition of vowels, cantillation, and notes, but she offer no credit for their contribution to translation.
The book is very accessible to all readers, regardless of their level of Hebrew knowledge, and provides a thoughtful and personal journey of understanding the core text of Judaism.