The Original Bible Project is an ongoing effort to produce an entirely new translation of the Bible called the Transparent English Bible. What follows is an overview of the merits and approach of this unique translation effort. The project is directed by Dr. James D. Tabor, professor of Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Keynote: The first book of the Bible presented in an authentic translation that allows the English reader to “peer through” to the Hebrew and “come as close as we will probably ever come to the original text.”
Marketing and Positioning: This stand-alone volume is the first book in an ongoing effort by Professor James D. Tabor to produce the first Transparent English Bible (TEB). The unique aspect of the TEB is its ability to appeal at once to the academic market, to the devoted Bible student, and to the non-specialist general reader. Academics frequently lament that none of the current translations, including the more scholarly New Revised Standard Version provide students with what is needed for a careful, historical study of the biblical texts. Often they find themselves correcting these translations, telling the students, “Well, this is actually not what the original says….” Beyond the classroom there are the millions of devoted students of the Bible, who, without training in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, are constantly comparing a dozen or more modern English translations, consulting concordances, and poring over various reference works. Through great effort these dedicated Bible students seek to painstakingly arrive at what they will be able to get at a glance with the TEB. These are people who want to make their own judgments as to interpretation, but need first to have the accurate linguistic and historical tools with which to approach the Biblical text. In a holy book like the Bible, in which each word has bearing on how many people see the world and live their lives, having access to the original texts and their Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek languages is a matter of extraordinary significance. In between there is a huge market of more general readers (Jewish, Christian, and secular), who will find this translation endlessly fascinating for it uniquely refreshing, non-theological literary quality as well as its fascinating explanatory translation notes.
The book of Genesis is arguably one of the most influential texts in Western history and is clearly foundational to the Bible as a whole. It is also fundamental to the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Publishing the book of Genesis separately makes good marketing sense, having been successfully pioneered by Everett Fox, Robert Alter, and others.
- READERS CAN SEE, HEAR, AND FEEL THE ORIGINAL TEXT: This translation allows readers to experience the original Hebrew and the rich resonance of alliteration, pun, word play, and idiom that are so essential to the meaning of the Bible itself. These elements of the text are more than merely stylistic; they allow the reader to understand the echoes and meaning of the text in a way never before available. Beyond the content, the flow and verbal rhythm of the original Hebrew is conveyed, not through English style but through a reflection of its basic structure.
- A CONSISTENT, AUTHENTIC ROOT-BASED TRANSLATION: The TEB seeks to get at the root meaning of key vocabulary and translate in a consistent manner throughout, allowing the English reader to become familiar with the major verbal and conceptual ideas in the ancient texts. All existing translations use multiple English words to translate the same Hebrew words. Although such variation is sometimes necessary to properly convey the original meaning, more often than not it is an arbitrary matter of creating what is considered to be a rich “contemporary” English style. TEB returns the Bible to the archaic and quite different thought world from which it came.
- A POWERFUL BIBLE TRANSLATION WITH THE PRECISION OF A CONCORDANCE: Countless readers pour over concordances to try to find the exact meaning of the original Bible. Interlinear translations try to convey the exact meaning of the text, but their unintelligible syntax make them impossible to read. TEB combines the power of a readable translation, with the precision of a concordance or interlinear translation.
- THE OLDEST MANUSCRIPTS: The TEB is using the two oldest complete manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament (Leningrad Codex and Codex Sinaiticus) as a base text, but then it notes all significant variants, including those of the newly released Dead Sea Scrolls, the Greek Septuagint, and the major New Testament manuscript traditions.
- A 21st CENTURY INFORMATION AGE TRANSLATION: While based on the oldest manuscripts, this translation has been made possible by a combination of archaeological discoveries, scholarly breakthroughs, and computer technology. It would have been impossible to see all usages of every word in the Bible, as well as make instant analyses and comparisons of all the best lexicons without the assistance of the latest computer software.
- THE BIBLE BEFORE THEOLOGY: Most modern translations routinely use a wide range of traditional theological terms. Words such as: atonement, covenant, soul, angel, hell, redemption and salvation, are familiar to traditional ears but misleading and ineffective in conveying the original Hebrew or Greek concepts. This new translation reveals the original or “plain” meaning of the original languages allowing readers to reexamine inherited interpretations of key stories and concepts in the Bible. For example, the notion that women were given “pain” in childbirth as a punishment for Eve’s transgression disappears in the original Hebrew text. The Hebrew word used is precisely the same as the “hardship” that men are allotted in working the soil of the earth, as explained below.
- A BIBLE THAT READERS HAVE ALREADY EMBRACED: This decade-long translation project has been read and cherished by hundreds of non-specialist “beta” test readers who have offered feedback and constructive reactions. The early chapters of Genesis are used in the Liberal Studies courses at Augustana College and Hebrew Bible courses at UNC Charlotte with great success.
There are more than a dozen major translations of the Bible that have been published since the 1980s. They roughly fall into three broad categories in terms of the markets to which they appeal.
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1993) is clearly the translation of choice within the academic world with others occupying niches within this market including the Revised English Bible (REB 1989, formerly New English Bible) and the two Roman Catholic translations, the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB 1985) and the New American Bible (1970).
Among evangelical Christians and the broader mass market of Bible readers, the New International Version (NIV 1985) is the best-selling Bible of our time, with over 200 million copies in print. Similarly appealing to this more conservative market are New American Standard Bible (NASBU 1995, updated) and the New King James Version (NKJV 1988). More recently the English Standard Version (2001) has attempted to take second place after the NIV among evangelical Christians and seems to be in ascendency. As mass market Bibles for the general public the two that have been the most successful are the Contemporary English Version (CEV 1995); Good News Bible (GNB 1992, formerly Today’s English Version).
Translations of the Jewish Scriptures (Hebrew Bible) have been more limited, due to a smaller market, but the Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures produced by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS 1999, updated) has been a commercial success. Everett Fox, who is working on a translation of the entire Hebrew Bible, published his The Five Books of Moses in 1995 (Schocken) and Robert Alter followed in 2004 with his own Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (Norton). The approach of Fox and Alter and has some parallels to the TEB, particularly in its attention to the flow and rhythm of the Hebrew text, but it lacks most of the “transparent” features of the TEB as explained in the following detailed discussion and is not aimed at the wider Christian market.
The Transparent English Bible is completely distinct from any of these major translations in its unique ability to appeal to all three of these readerships.
Illustrating the Concept of Transparency
There is an ancient Jewish adage regarding translating the Scriptures, “One who translates a verse literally is misrepresenting the text, but one who adds anything of his own is a blasphemer.” Modern translators of the Bible continue to echo, in more sophisticated debate, the dilemma of this ancient bit of wisdom. The literal method of translation seeks to convey an exact sense of the words and the structure of the original language, while the paraphrase, or “dynamic equivalent” method, purposely recasts the essential “thought” of the original into the natural idiom and flow of the second language. The problem is that an overly naïve literalism easily becomes nonsense, while “recasting thought” can end up obscuring or even altering the richness of the original text. The TEB is decidedly on the “literal” side of this spectrum, although the concept of transparency better conveys its theory and method.
The following examples, taken directly from the TEB translation of Genesis, allow one to see the many important ways this new translation differs from the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, the two best-selling modern English translations.
Noun and Verbal Consonance
NIV: “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”
NRSV: “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”
- TEB: “Let the waters swarm a swarm of living life-breathers and let the flyer fly upon the land, upon the face of the expanse of the skies.” (1:20)
Here are three examples of poetic consonance in one sentence: with Hebrew nouns and verbs echoing one another: “swarm a swarm” “living life-breathers” and “let the flyer fly.” Comparing translations, the TEB is not only transparently beautiful but it is more literal in reflecting an accurate approximation of the original Hebrew terms. These “life-breathers” are creatures, no doubt, but their distinguishing characteristic is possession of the “living life-breath.” It is this factor that then binds the birds, land animals, and human beings together, as explicitly stated in v. 30. Also, although “birds” is likely intended by the Hebrew word “flyer,” the word itself has a more generic meaning that the TEB retains.
NIV: “Then God said, Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds”
NRSV: “Then God said, Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.”
- TEB: “And ELOHIM said, Let the land sprout the sprout, a plant seeding seed, a fruit tree doing fruit, according to its type, its seed within it, upon the land.” (1:11)
Here are two more examples of poetic consonance with noun and verbs matched: “sprout the sprout” and “seeding seed,” allowing the reader to hear the original effect of the sound of the language. These are completely lost with phrases such as “produce vegetation” and “plants yielding seed.” These word resonances are not just stylistic; they are often fundamental to the story and especially the logic of poetic justice in the Bible. In Genesis 6:11-13 (TEB) the earth is “ruined” through wickedness, because all flesh has “ruined” its way, thus God will “ruin them” with the great Flood. This sequence of interconnected ideas is important to bring out the narrative signals of the text.
Exactitude and Precision
NIV: “God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
NRSV: “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
- TEB: “And ELOHIM called to the light ‘day,’ and to the darkness he called ‘night.’ And it was evening and it was morning—day one.” (1:4)
In Hebrew something is named by literally “calling to” it or “calling toward” it, as if the name is being verbally thrown out at the object of the naming. One speaks “toward” another (see 3:1-4 and the verbal exchange between the woman and the “snake”). Further, in listing the seven days of creation only the first day is designated with a cardinal number (“day one,”) while the rest are all ordinals: “second day,” “third day,” etc. The TEB takes pains to be precise and exact in every case, allowing the reader to judge whether such differences are significant to the meaning of the text.
NIV: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
NRSV: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”
- TEB: “Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and join to his woman, and they become one flesh. And the two of them were nude, the soil-man and his woman—and they were not ashamed.” (2:24-25)
Two different words are used in these verses for “man,” and they should be differentiated. Also, there is no special word here that means “wife.” Hebrew does not use the terms “husband and wife,” but rather “man and woman.” This term “man,” which is Ish in Hebrew, is simply made feminine: Isha, for the woman. In contrast, the second term for man refers to the one made from the dust of the ground or “soil.” Most English translations ignore these important distinctions and thus deprive the English reader of the ability to notice or consider them.
NIV: “To the woman he said, I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children…[to Adam] “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”
NRSV: “To the woman he said, I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children…” [to Adam] “…cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”
- TEB: “Toward the woman he said, Making abundant, I will surely make abundant!—your hardship and your pregnancy; in hardship you will bring forth sons…”[to Adam] “…cursed is the soil on account of you. In hardship you will eat of it all the days of your life.” (3:16-17)
The Hebrew word used for the punishment of the woman and for Adam is the same—namely “hardship” referring to distressful toil. The word should be translated consistently in parallel to show this correspondence. To vary English terms such as “pangs” “pain” “toil” and “painful toil” misleads the English reader into thinking distinctions are being made when there are none and has led to ideas about women being inflicted with special pain in labor as a punishment for sin. The idea here is that both man and woman experience in their respective realms—bearing children and working the soil—an equal hardship.
Genesis 2:22 (TEB) says that God “built the side that he took from the soil-man into a woman” in contrast to “made a woman from the rib” (NIV) or “made into a woman” (NRSV). The verb “build” here might not be our most natural English way of expression, and it clearly means that God “made” the woman, but the TEB allows the English reader to “see” through the English. There is a common Hebrew word for “make” (indeed God “makes” the land creatures in Gen 1:25), but the writer does not choose that verb in this sentence—so why should the English? The verb “build” is readily understandable, and is used throughout the Hebrew Bible in the most natural English sense, whether referring to a house, a boat, or here—a woman.
Root Words, Key Terms and Vocabulary
NIV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”
NRSV: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
- TEB: “And ELOHIM created the soil-man in his image: in the image of ELOHIM he created him, a male and a female he created them. (1:27)
The Hebrew word for “man” (a male), for “humankind” collectively, and for Adam, as the first man, is a single word: adam. It comes from the word adamah and means soil or red dirt. An absolutely literal translation might be “dirt-man” or “dirt-one,” but in English “dirt” carries a negative connotation, whereas “soil,” as a noun, is positive. The TEB seeks to preserve both the primitive feel of the term, as well as its connection to the “ground” or “soil.” Thus in 3:7 we read: “And YHVH ELOHIM shaped the soil-man—dust from the soil, and he blew into his two nostrils breath of life; and the soil-man became a living life-breather.”
In Genesis 2:7 (TEB) “man became a living life-breather” which is the precise term used for the breathing animals in Genesis 1:20. The NIV and the NRSV not only lose the idiom, but, for the man they put “living being” and for the animals they put “living creatures,” injecting an interpretive notion into the English that is completely absent from the Hebrew. Older translations, such as the KJV, even have here “man became a living soul,” interjecting an unwarranted theological element. Here is a case where the loss of the idiom robs one of more than the colorful beauty of the language, it also interjects notions that one assumes are there when they are not.
In Genesis 2:25 (TEB) the man and woman are “nude,” while the serpent in the next verse is “shrewd”—in Hebrew the root word is the same, so there is a consistent attempt to point out such cases of a “play on words.” In Genesis 2:7 God “shapes the soil-man (Adam)—dust from the soil (adamah).” The root words are the same, and it is fascinating to see how this comes through in the English, as God later curses the soil, and sends the soil-man forth to work the soil, until he returns to the soil, from which he was taken.
In general the TEB attempts to render Hebrew and later in the New Testament, Greek words, wherever they occur, in a consistent manner, based as much as possible on their root meanings. This includes tying Hebrew and Greek together, conceptually, through the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Obviously, there are contexts in which a word can have more than one meaning, but there is no attempt in the TEB to multiply English terms in an attempt to produce a complexity that simply does not exist in the original language. For example, in Hebrew there are seven different words for the various types of moral failure, translated in most traditional versions rather arbitrarily and inconsistently by such English terms as sin, iniquity, wickedness, evil, and trespass. The TEB tries to get at the root meaning of each term, whether to “miss the mark, or err,” “to rebel,” “to twist or pervert,” “to be unjust,” and so forth, and then consistently stay with that English concept so that the reader can easily distinguish between this complex of terminology. English is an incredibly rich language with dozens of words for any given concept, reflecting subtleties sometimes absent from the Hebrew, and as often as not from the Greek as well. Even though classical Greek is quite rich in vocabulary, the Greek of the New Testament has its conceptual roots in the Hebrew Bible (as witnessed by the Septuagint vocabulary), and reflects a relatively simply spoken Greek, known as koine, that was common in the 1st century.
Idioms and Figures of Speech
In Genesis 2:16-17 (TEB) Adam is told “eating—you shall surely eat!”, referring to all the trees of the garden but one, but “dying—you shall surely die!”, if he eats the forbidden fruit. This colorful double use of the verb in Hebrew is common, and is a way of showing emphasis. The TEB retains this flavor and flow of language for the English reader. There is a refreshing “oral” quality to the text throughout. Many times the explanation “Look!” is used in Hebrew, to draw attention to a narrative. The TEB also translates the single conjunction “vav” consistently, in all places, as “and,” rather than supplying a whole list of conjunctions common in modern translations, such as: “then,” “but,” “so,” “when,” “or,” “now,” and “that.” Although these conjunctive ideas might be implied by the context of a given phrase or sentence, there is a wonderful “disjunctive” narrative flow in the Hebrew, as one moves through the texts, with the simple repeated flow of the English “and.” (see Gen 1:1-5). One has the impression that one is listening to a story teller, moving in rapid fire fashion from one vivid scene to another, allowing the hearer to paste it all together in his or her mind. The effect is rather extraordinary, as it is with the original Hebrew.
Throughout the TEB one constantly encounters refreshing and fascinating idioms that are found in the original Hebrew. For example in Genesis 29:1 we read: “And Jacob lifted his two feet, and walked toward the land of the sons of the east “ The NRSV has: “Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east,” while the NIV has: “Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples.” In Genesis 12:9 the TEB reads: “And Abraham pulled up stakes, walking, and pulling up stakes toward the Negev,” The NRSV simply has: “And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negev,” while the NIV has “Then Abram set out and continued towards the Negev.” When you get up early in Hebrew you “cause to shoulder up” (see Gen 22:3), a reference to packing up and loading the animals for a journey. All three versions are understandable in terms of the basic meaning, but the TEB offers the English reader a glimpse into the colorful way that Hebrew actually expresses such common ideas.
There are hundreds of such examples, almost on every page, and reading the TEB makes reading the Bible itself a new experience, even for those who are intimately familiar with the standard English translations: “And the nose of Jacob burned against Rachel,” when she complains about her lack of a child (Gen 30:2); Lot bows to the mysterious visitors who come to destroy Sodom, “two nostrils toward the soil” (Gen 19:1); Vindication is called a “covering of eyes” (Gen 20:16); and when Joseph’s hostile brothers see him they declare, “Look! the lord of the dreams yonder comes!” (Gen 37:19).
Rhythm and Cadence
One valued feature of the TEB is its unusual cadence and rhythm. Reading it aloud, even in the case of what seems at first take to be an unfamiliar and mysterious English phrasing, results in a beauty and power that is unavailable in “conventional English.” The rhythm of the TEB is often staccato rather than smooth, with exclamations and disjunctives. One might call it primitive, but that assumes that conventional, modern English is the best way to communicate. In fact, part of the staccato comes from the underlying “oral” nature of the original.
There are, of course, places where we must attempt a bit of smoothing out, or where an idiom does not come over in English, but the aim of the TEB is to “err” on the side of the literal, allowing readers to experience the original language to every extent possible.
The Biblical texts at times can be extremely repetitious, both in narrative style and vocabulary. Often translators are tempted to “smooth things out” a bit, forcing the original languages to conform more closely to modern English usage. Genesis 2:23 reads: (TEB) “This one, this time—bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh! This one will be called woman, because from a man this one was taken.” In Hebrew the feminine demonstrative pronoun (“this one”) is repeated three times in a single sentence. Genesis 11:6 (TEB) says: “This they begin to do, and now nothing is restrained from them of all that they have planned to do.” Both the NIV and the NRSV put “nothing will be impossible for them,” which is surely the meaning, and even much conventional English, but it removes the “flavor and flow” of the Hebrew text.
The TEB attempts to be as consistent with vocabulary as good Hebrew or Greek usage allows. Genesis 27:4-14 mentions the tasty food that Isaac “loves” three times, but the NRSV varies between food he “likes” and food he “loves,” although the Hebrew words are precisely the same, and either expression is fine in English. There is no good reason to translate a single word, even if it occurs a dozen times in a short context, by several different English expressions in an attempt to interject variety. Often the very redundancy of the original text conveys a certain effect that is broken and lost by less precise translations.
There are many cases, especially in the Hebrew Bible, where the text is simply unclear, uncertain, or obscure. The tendency of a translator is to provide some “solution,” or a kind of “best judgment,” as to the proper meaning. The TEB takes quite the opposite approach—where the original is uncertain or obscure, the English should reflect the same, remaining transparent for the reader, and leaving open a range of possible meanings.
In Genesis 6:3 Yahweh declares (TEB) “My spirit will not contend with man for an age, in that he also is flesh—so his days are a hundred and twenty years.” The meaning remains obscure and possible variations of meaning are left for the footnotes rather than incorporated into the text. In Genesis 4:7 God says to Cain (TEB) “Is there not, if you do well, a lifting up? And if you do not do well, at the door is sin—a crouching one—and to you is his desire, but you shall rule over him.” The “lifting up,” possibly meaning forgiveness, is in contrast to Cain’s “fallen” face, in the previous verse. The noun “sin” is feminine, while the verbal form “a crouching one” is masculine—making their agreement problematic. The phrasing in Hebrew is choppy and disjointed, with the referents unclear, but the essential possibilities are left open with variations left to the notes. One of the most engaging examples is in Genesis 29:20 where Jacob serves seven years to earn Rachel as his wife, and, according to the TEB “they were in his eyes as single days, in his love of her,” which might imply the very opposite of the standard translation “but a few days,” or “only a few days” (NRSV, NIV). Perhaps Jacob is watching the days pass one by one, painfully waiting for the period to pass. At any rate, the TEB allows the reader to at least consider other interpretive possibilities.
Theological and Ecclesiastical Vocabulary
Most modern translations are intended for liturgical and devotional use and incorporate a whole range of theological vocabulary that is far removed from the original historical and cultural contexts of the texts. In other words, the ancient text is made to serve our traditional assumptions and modern premises, rather than the other way around. Surprisingly, a long list of comfortably familiar theological terms, so common to all English translations, do not even occur a single time in the original Hebrew and therefore in the TEB—atonement, sanctification, covenant, soul, angel, church, redemption, salvation and so forth. For example, the word “atonement” comes from the Hebrew verb “to cover,” and whether one is burying a corpse with dirt, or symbolically “covering” sins with the pouring out of blood, the same term is used (see Gen 6:14 where Noah’s vessel is “covered” with pitch). The English word “soul” carries with it concepts of human uniqueness, and even immortality, in contrast to the Hebrew term that can refer to animals and even a human corpse (Num 6:6). The words translated “angel” simply mean a “messenger,” and the same words, in Hebrew or Greek, are used for messengers of all types, whether they be human or from beyond this world.
The idea is neither to be different for the sake of being different, nor to indulge oneself in iconoclastic jabs at the religious establishment, but something much more fundamental is involved. Not only do these theological terms interject a “flavor” absent from the original languages, more often than not they carry connotations that are misleading and simply incorrect.
The Textual Basis of the Translation
The TEB is based on the two oldest complete manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament: the Leningrad Codex and Codex Sinaiticus, respectively. In other words, the TEB is not based on an eclectic text—even when it comes to the New Testament. Obviously, for the Hebrew Bible, we have not only variants of the Masoretic tradition, but the Greek Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, plus the various versions such as the Samaritan (Pentateuch) and the Syriac. In the case of the New Testament we have the other great Codices (Vaticanus, Alexandrinus), Bezae, the so-called Textus Receptus, the thousands of papyri fragments, plus the versions (Syriac, Vulgate et al.). Rather than create an eclectic base text from these many dozens of sources, based on the principles of textual criticism, the basic English text of the TEB will be a translation of our two oldest complete manuscripts, with significant variant readings put into footnotes. The advantage of this method is that the reader always knows what text he or she is considering at any point (either Leningrad or Sinaiticus), and is still exposed to the rich and complex legacy of our multiple textual witnesses. Most modern translations end up being an eclectic blending of many manuscript readings. The problem is that the English reader is easily lost with vague notes about the Hebrew or Greek being “uncertain,” the resulting translation labeled as “conjecture,” or references such as “other ancient authorities read” without any specifics. The TEB method is as clear as it is simple, and all significant variants are cited in the notes. In fact, the TEB will be the first modern English translation to include all significant variants from the newly released Dead Sea Scrolls. Once again, the TEB offers the reader access to textual matters usually resolved by the translators, and imbedded, without sufficient explanation, in the resultant English text.
Special Features of the Hebrew Bible: A Reader’s Guide
Names of Deity
Most modern translations, in keeping with traditional prohibitions against pronouncing the name of God, have adopted a complicated and confusing system of translating the names and designations for Deity in the Hebrew Bible. The Tetragrammaton (Yahweh) is thus translated LORD in all capital letters. The problem with this practice is that it then creates confusion with the Hebrew term “Adonai,” which does mean “Lord.” Accordingly most modern translations distinguish this without the capital letters. This is fine until you have the terms used together: YHVH Adonai—which would then become the nonsensical “LORD Lord.” To address this redundancy the translators, in such cases, opt for GOD (all caps) for YHVH. But here another problem is created—the normal terms for God (El, Eloah, and Elohim) are also rendered “God” throughout, with no distinction, so that you can end up with GOD being redundant with “God,” if Adonai is also used. The simple solution is to reflect, in every case, the Hebrew terms actually used, without attempting translations that only further confuse. So in the TEB you will find, written in all CAPS, these special names or terms for Deity:
YHVH (Yahweh or Yehovah)
YAH (shortened form of YHVH)
ADON (“Master” or “Lord”)
ADONAI (plural of ADON)
EL, ELOAH, and its plural ELOHIM (the terms for “God”)
ELYON (“Most High”)
SHADDAI (“Breasts” or “Protector/Destroyer”)
The TEB is not divided according to standard chapters and paragraph divisions common in all other major English translations. Hebrew manuscripts contain special “gaps” or “white spaces” in the text. They are found in every book of the Hebrew Bible except the Psalms. Such divisions are very ancient, and are also found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (dating from 200 B.C.E.). These are of two types: the major breaks, called Petuchot (“Open”), are much like our paragraph breaks, and are indicated in the TEB with a full space and new flush paragraph; and the minor breaks, called Setumot (“Closed”), that are indicated with fifteen unbreakable spaces. The smaller divisions are perhaps the most fascinating, as they seem to suddenly appear to block off or emphasize portions of the text—sometimes even a single verse. For example, in Genesis 3:16, this single verse is separated from the text by these minor spaces before and after. Although these are well known and discussed by the ancient rabbis, they do not appear in modern translations of the Bible, including the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh. Apparently the temptation is quite strong to divide and section the Hebrew text according to a modern Western sense of breaks and transitions. This is unfortunate, since the divisions in the Hebrew manuscripts often strike one as wholly removed from our assumptions about how a text should be divided.
The TEB is the first major translation to reflect in its page appearance the actual “white space” divisions of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts. Just thumbing through its pages offers the reader a new and unique experience; to be able to “peer through” the English to the original Hebrew text.
One unique and fascinating feature of the TEB allows the reader at significant places in the text, to know whether a key word is masculine, feminine, singular, or plural, or whether a noun is definite (has the article), with tiny superscript letters m f s p d placed right after the word. There is also a special form of the verb in Hebrew that carries a “causative” sense that is often difficult to bring out in English. These occur very often, on just about every page of the Bible. In other words, the idea is not just that one “did” something, but that one causes this or that to happen. TEB puts a tiny little superscript c right after the main stem of the verb to indicate it carries this “causative” sense. For example, in Exodus 1:16, the verb, “to die” is in the causative sense. Accordingly, we put “And you will make him diec!” The little superscript flags you that the verb is in the causative form.
These tiny subscripts can make a crucial difference in interpretation, or expose the reader to an aspect of the original text that would otherwise be completely lost in English. For example, in Gen 4:7 quoted above, the “sin” at the door is feminine, while the one crouching is masculine—indicating the one is not a modifier of the other: “And if you do not do well, at the door is sinf—a crouching onem—and to you is his desire, but you shall rule over him.” How to make sense of this difficult text remains open, but the reader is at least provided with the grammatical facts available to someone able to read the Hebrew text.
Then there is the matter of the English pronoun “you,” which can be either singular or plural. In the TEB you can tell in an instant, anytime the context does not make it absolutely clear, whether “you” is plural or singular. For example, how many people know whether the Ten “Commandments” (lit. in Hebrew “The Ten Words”) are “You (singular) shall and shall not” or “You (plural)”? In other words, are they addressed to each individual or to the group? Take a look, in the TEB you can immediately see what is the case. There are even passages where the masculine Yahweh is nonetheless spoken of with feminine pronouns or verbs. There are other cases where the plural word for God, ELOHIM, which usually takes a singular verb, does indeed have a plural verb (see Gen 31:54). The English reader of the TEB will at least be able to recognize such cases, and draw his or her own conclusions.
The TEB makes use of the feature pioneered by the King James Version, and still included by the very successful New American Standard Bible, as well as the New King James Version. Words that are supplied by the translators, in order to produce a smooth English style, are nonetheless, in the interest of meticulous “transparency,” indicated by a special italic type.
In normal Hebrew usage the verb contains within its structure the pronoun subject, whether 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, and singular or plural. In other words, one does not have to specifically express the pronoun. For example, in Gen 3:16 God says “I will surely multiply your hardship,” but the pronoun “I” does not appear in the Hebrew text, since the verb itself is put in a grammatical form that indicates 1st person singular. However, there are many places where the pronoun does in fact appear anyway. What this tends to do is add emphasis. We find just such a case in this same verse in Genesis. In the concluding phrase “and he will rule over you, “ the pronoun “he” is understood from the verb, and thus is not necessary, but here it does occur. In this translation such words are placed in bold italics to indicate the increased emphasis.
Linguistic and Historical Footnotes
Every page of the TEB contains a rich supply of notes. However, these notes are exclusively related to linguistic matters, intended to clarify the translation itself, or indicating textual variants. In other words, the notes are intended to supply the reader with enough information to make an informed judgment regarding the translation, but not necessarily the interpretation of the text—certainly not in any theological manner. The notes contain a few simple abbreviations: Lit (Literal meaning); Heb (transliteration of the Hebrew text); MT (Masoretic Text); DSS (a reading from the Dead Sea Scrolls); LXX (a reading from the Greek Septuagint); I.e. (further explanation of meaning).