STORIES OUR ANCESTORS TOLD ABOUT THEIR ANCESTORS
My goal here is to reclaim these stories from the puerile and bowdlerized forms in which they have been cast and told and sold. These narratives are works by accomplished storyteller/authors, and offer literary pleasure and a link to our early ancestors. The material is for adults, though, with occasional PG and R considerations, children grasp the stories as they are.
I avoid midrash, the rabbinic overlay (fanfic). The rabbis saw divinely revealed word of God where we see creative writing. Midrash is an effort to apply ancient plots to contemporary situations. Teachers and preachers, from Roman times to the present, offer many a sensitive moral in their interpretations. It is not uncommon for the midrashic version to be better known than the original. The problem is that we may miss what the biblical author intended.
The literary experience of reading Bible in Hebrew is what I hope to imitate for English readers. Minimal translation yields a text that sounds foreign and ancient, qualities obvious to the contemporary Hebrew reader. We treasure Torah as eternal and universal but the lines have been transmitted from a distant culture. Many of these lines remain obscure, whether because of lost ideas and vocabulary or copyist errors. Old Hebrew idioms challenge and excite the reader like poetic language.
I see this as obligation to the authors and faithfulness to the ideas their writings reflect. ords. To the extent possible, one wants to take on the persona of the biblical narrator.
I attempt taking on the persona of the biblical narrator. To bridge the distance between us and the text, a few introductory paragraphs: CONTEXT, GLOSSARY, SIGNIFICANT NAMES. This is not intenced as commentary, but rather essential sociological, military, religious, or linguistic information. The story stands on its own, allowing for explanation, analysis, criticism, moralizing, etc.
1 Render the Hebrew as accurately and flowingly as I can, using my own skills as well as the work of published translators.
2 Hebrew idiom is frequently graphic and evocative. Sometimes the narrator has characters speaking in archaic and formal diction. Wherever the expression can be readily grasped, let minimal translation convey the thought at the cost of sounding foreign. The text is, of course foreign, both in language and time. Word order frequently adds to this exotic cast. Seek the author’s intended nuance.
3 Picture a long ago storyteller and audience. The received text has been worked over by centuries of copyists unrestricted by copyright notions. Reconstruct back to the original, moving and sometimes removing clauses to reach the coherent narrative.
4 Copyists and other unknown hands added occasional phrases and lines to the text. These are called “glosses.” A gloss I consider valuable and interesting and helpful to a narrator will be set in parentheses. Longer glosses will be indented. A gloss that does not contribute to the story will be dropped and referenced in CONTEXT.
5 Hebrew names are transliterated as closely as possible to the original, ignoring the Anglicized (via Greek and Latin), e.g. Y'hoshua for Joshua. Vowels follow the Romance language usage: a=ah, e=eh, i=short i as in sit (but leaning towards ee), o= long o, u=long u. Active sh'va='. Both chet ח and chaf כ are rendered ch. The glottal stop ayin ע, where it begins a syllable, is rendered ', as K'na'an (Canaan). Where national groups are mentioned, e.g., Philistines, I used the Hebrew P’lishti, singular, or P’lishtim, plural.
6 Divine references: "Yahh," a short form of the tetragramaton. YHVH can not be spoken by Jews without violating the Third Commandment. (Not taking the divine name in vain developed into never pronouncing the name at all.) YHVH appears commonly pointed with the vowels for Adonay, “my Lord,” a stand-in that avoids pronouncing the name. Many translations render YHVH as “the Lord.” When the stories were composed, the proper noun for God was relevant and, apparently, spoken as written. For the authors, “Yahh” is a leading character, with personality, feelings, and interests. Reverting to the name gets us closer to the storytellers and their audiences. (The doubled "hh" reflects the mapiq dot in the Hebrew, יָהּ.) For us today, particularly in our prayer books, “God” is a proper noun. In Tanach the word is more frequently a common noun, with lower case “g.” Genesis opens with God as the creator’s name. But in the second chapter we have the specific name Yahh, designated as “god.” “Ha’elohim” is to be understood as “the god,” not “God.”
7 Key Hebrew terms are retained and italicized with a minimum of explanation in the GLOSSARY, e.g. brit, kohanim, cherem. Conventional translations of these terms, e.g. brit = "covenant," are generally imprecise and misleading.
8 Words that can be defended as reasonable renditions of the Hebrew appear in san serif. Titles, chapter references, CONTEXT, and add-ons in the text appear in Times New Roman. Passages so obscure or corrupt that no sense comes through will contain whatever words can be read, separated by … and in Typewriter font. The reader is free to guess with whatever evidence is there.
9 I take as a given, the text distinctions suggested by the Documentary Hypothesis. (J= Jahwist, Judean, E=Elohist, Ephriamite, D=Deuteronomist, P=Priestly.) Two major implications apply here: first, the earliest “book of Torah” is Deuteronomy, which emphasizes exclusive worship of Yahh, along with divine retribution. The quasi historical Joshua through Kings are influenced by this thinking. Second, the ultimate biblical narrator is the post exilic P. In addition to his own stories, he preserves the earlier J and E. CONTEXT will include notes about the sources where this is helpful. Where there appears within a story a contradiction between versions, I introduce a device such as, “Some say that. . .”
10 When the story has clearly distinguishable component documents I justify left for J, right for E, and center for P. This visual clue for the reader may or may not affect the way the story is heard, but it reminds us of the function of diversity. When there are clearly two distinct story lines, I present them in parallel tables, e.g. the FLOOD.
©Rabbi David L. Kline http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/