In Genesis 32: 25, Jacob wrestled with God. The Bible says that, God touched “the hollow of his (Jacob’s) thigh.” In Genesis 47: 29, when Jacob was near his death, he asked Joseph to swear an oath not to bury him in Egypt by, “putting your hand under my thigh.” What does ‘thigh’ in those expressions mean? Who puts his hand under someone’s thigh to swear? Was it an ancient tradition? Does ‘thigh’ refer to something else in Hebrew, the original language of the Jews used in the Old Testament scripts? Or was it a euphemism?
Ziony Zevit, a professor of Biblical Literature and Northwest Semitic Languages at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles states that the world “tsela” in Hebrew does not mean ‘rib’ as translated in Genesis. He said that it means ‘side’ literally. In his book, “What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden?” he suggested that ‘rib’ does not make sense in the story of creation that was littered with sexual innuendo. He said that the writers of the book of Genesis used ‘tsela’ as a euphemism for ‘baculum’ – penis bone- found in Chimpanzee, gorilla and males of other mammals. There is no term for penis in Biblical Hebrew. In a way, the story in Genesis provides a mythological explanation for the lack of this bone in man.
Put in that context, the line of the Bible that says, “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and He took the bone of Adam’s rib and made him a woman” will then read that God took the bone of Adam’s penis.
Translation is hard. Translating a text written and rewritten by many writers straight from oral tradition is a lot harder. It is a hardest when the translation is ordered by people with a particular agenda.
The King James Version of the Bible was 400 years old last year.
In 1604, King James I of England gathered 54 scholars at the Hampton Court Conference, all member of the Church of England, to translate the Bible into English. The King was concerned about problems in the available translations of the Bible. Out of the 54 scholars gathered, 47 finished the work in 1611.
The scholars were divided into six groups. Each group was responsible for a different part of the Bible. Some were based in Oxford, some in Cambridge while others were in London. They based their work on the Tyndale Bible, the first printed Bible translation into English from Hebrew and Greek, and on the Bishop’s Bible of 1568. The John Wycliffe Bible was the first English translation of the Bible in a manuscript form. It was banned in 1409 but its texts showed up in the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale Bible was succeeded by the Great Bible of 1539. The Reformed Protestants based in Geneva under John Calvin revised the Tyndale Bible and the Great Bible to produce the Geneva Bible.
The King James Version became the third printed translation of the Bible into English.
King James’ instruction to the translators was to make sure that the new Bible conformed with the ecclesiology of the Church of England. He was also interested in getting a Bible that would reflect the Church’s belief on the ordination of clergy. The other available Bibles at that time had divergent views. The King James Version was seen as ‘a document of political and theological compromise.’
Though the first edition claimed that it was translated “out of the Original tongues,” it was clearly based on the two previous English translations. Scholars were correcting grave errors on the margins of the previous translations like one in the Great Bible where, ‘They were not obedient;’ was translated into ‘They were not disobedient.’
The scholars made draft of changes they recommended on the margins of specially printed Bishop’s Bible. They compared and revised these works. A general committee made general changes with the Archbishop of London having the final say.
The 1611 print was made before the standardization of the English language. Spelling of words, punctuation and grammar were later revised. In the preface, the translators stated that their goal was not to make a bad translation good but to make a good translation better.
Initially the new Bible was rejected by leading Bible scholars of the time. They still preferred the Latin Vulgate. It took a long time for the King James Version to become universally accepted. It reached that height in early 18th century. That was when a challenge to its text was seen as an assault on the Holy Scripture. For over 250 years, the King James Version was the dominant Bible.
Though dominant, thousands of changes have been made in the course of time. From 1638 to 1762 the text had a lot of printers’ errors. In 1631, the Eight Commandment read: “Though shall commit adultery.” That edition is often referred to as the Wicked Bible. In 1653 another error in 1 Corinthians stated that the unrighteous shall inherit the earth. That edition is called the “Unrighteous Bible.” There are greater mistranslations noticed over the years. It is so widespread that each reinterpretation seems to lead to yet another version of the Bible.
Though the King James Version of the Bible was the most influential, it was, like others before and after it, aimed at satisfying its own interest group – in this case, the Church of England. It is not impartial and its translation has been questioned over the years. As our understanding of the world of the biblical age increases, so are questions about the translations. Archaeological excavations have unearthed ancient documents that question the understandings and translations of the texts. The Bible’s continuing translation problems remain us that it a book of other people who lived in other times and spoke other languages.
“The Christian appropriation of the Jewish scripture involved allegorical or figural readings of many of the texts,” says the introduction of the Oxford World’s Classics of The Authorized King James Version of The Bible. “Often, however, these did not so much replace literal readings as complement them, so that multi-level, or polysemous, readings became the normal method of biblical interpretation.”
Unlike the Quran which is in Arabic, the language of the founder and most of the adherents, the Bible came about from scriptures written in a language that no Christian spoke. The Christians believe that the translation of the Bible was inspired. The Muslims believe that the English version of the Quran is not a translation and does not have the inspiration they find in the Arabic Quran.
The Bible, unlike the Quran, evolved from oral tradition. It was written by several writers over a long period of time and in several languages. It was put together by a committee.
The King James Version has remained the most influential translations of the Bible. It is also ranked as one of the influential books in the English language. It makes up over 15% of all American Bible purchases.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ and the 401 years of the King James Version of the Bible, we remember that we still do not know what really happened in the Garden of Eden.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.