THE ORIGINAL TORAH PROJECT
Way back in 2005, I envisioned a project that I thought would take many, many years. I came upon the idea of harmonising the four ancient versions of the Torah – the Masoretic text (MT) – which is the text used by the majority of Jews and Christians today; the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), which is the version of Torah used by the Samaritan Community in the Holy Land; the Dead Sea Scrolls bible (DSS), made up of fragments of texts found at Qumran in the late 1940’s; and finally, the Greek text of the Septuagint (LXX), which is an accurate and faithful rendering of an otherwise unknown Hebrew manuscript, which the Egyptian Jewish translators of the LXX worked from.
In a synoptic comparison of the 4 texts – much like when using a synoptic comparison of the 4 gospels – one can see that there are details missing from the traditional Masoretic text we all know, but which actually help the biblical text make better sense – and I believe, enhance God’s Message, and glorify God.
Originally, I had hoped to reconstruct the Hebrew text itself, but this was taking far too long. Long-term illness from 2012 to 2017 also brought the project to a halt. So in March of 2018, I took the decision to concentrate on producing a harmonisation of the 4 versions of Torah ONLY in English. This speeded up the task considerably – many of the differences between the SP and the MT are in spelling only; without these to worry about, I concentrated on translating.
The task of Translation
Step one was to look at online copies of the Aleppo Codex (considered to be the most accurate copy of the Hebrew Bible, from the 10th century CE), and first do a literal translation of the Hebrew. This gave me the order of the ideas in Hebrew.
Step 2 was to look at my subsequent English, and wherever the English made no sense, I would then try to reshape the words into something that gave a better idea of the sense and meaning in grammatically correct, Modern English. Sometimes, that meant inserting words that do not appear in Hebrew, but have to be inserted in order to make the Hebrew mean something intelligible in English.
For example, the opening lines of Gen 22:17 say in Hebrew, ‘I will bless you in blessing’. While this is grammatically correct English, it doesn’t really convey any sense of meaning to us. To convey the sense to an English-speaker that the Hebrew has for a Hebrew-speaker, we have to insert a word, and rearrange the words slightly. In my translation, the phrase therefore becomes, ‘I will greatly bless you’.
There are other instances where the inserted words are given by way of clarification or explanation. For example, Gen 27: 4b says in Hebrew, ‘so that my soul can bless you before I die’. Not being part of ancient Hebrew culture, the significance of this type of blessing is not immediately obvious to a modern reader; words have to be inserted in order to make the relevance of this statement clear to us: ‘so that my soul can give you my [final] blessing [as my firstborn son] before I die’.
My translations are therefore what are known to professional translators as ‘free translations’ – translations that give the sense and emotion of the original language, rather than a cold, word-for-word literal translation that means little or nothing to the modern reader, unless they speak idiomatic, biblical Hebrew. My goal therefore was to render the Hebrew words in as natural a form of Modern English as possible, while still retaining a flavour of the original Hebrew culture that produced them. In this respect, I have translated the Torah in the spirit of the Aramaic Targums (which I also used to see how the ancients around the time of the Prophet Yeshua` understood the meaning of otherwise difficult Hebrew verses).
The 3rd stage was to look at the Samaritan text (I used Mark Shoulson’s ‘The Torah: Jewish and Samaritan Versions Compared’), the Septuagint ( I used en.katabiblon.com‘s version of the Greek text), and for the Dead Sea Scrolls text, unfortunately the original Hebrew was not available to me, so I had to use an English translation (I used Abegg’s, Flint’s and Ulrich’s ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible’)
If the additional words helped to clarify the MT or enhance its beauty, then I included it, even if it was only found in one other text. If a verse had several different versions, I went with the majority reading, especially if it made more literary and narrative sense.
In some places, verses appear in a different order than they do in the MT – again, I have only followed this change if it makes more narrative or thematic sense.
For those verses which were unclear in Hebrew, I also made use of the Aramaic Targums, to see how ancient translators understood the text. I made use both of the Aramaic text itself, (for which I used Alexander Sperber’s edition of the Targum Onqelos – ‘The Bible in Aramaic’), as well as the JPS 1917 online English translation of Torah Targums Onkelos, Jonathan Ben Uzziel/Palestinian, & Jerusalem Fragments.
My final step was to compare my translation with those of other English translations. The purpose of this step, was purely to see if there was an angle, shade of meaning or emphasis that I had possibly missed, or if there was a way of interpreting the text which appeared to be a better one, and made better sense of the overall meaning.
The Jewish/Israelite translations I used as comparisons were:
– Benyamim Tsedaka: ‘The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah’
– The JPS ‘Tanakh’ (1985)
– Everett Fox: ‘The Five Books of Moses’
– The Artscroll English Tanakh
The Christian translations I used (through the website www.biblegateway.com) were:
– The New American Standard Bible
– The New International Version (UK)
and the hard-copy book versions of:
– The New American Study Bible
– The New Jerusalem Bible
I have to stress that I did not lift translations from these versions; what I did was use them to see if there were different interpretations or emphases of the Hebrew that provided me with a different ‘take’ on the overall story.
The work is still ongoing. I hope to have it finished sometime in 2021 (i.e. by the end of the current 3-year reading cycle). In the mean time, you can read the chapters I have finished on the following link: The Original Torah Project.