An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Studying the Old Testament

Since the Old Testament is Gospel Doctrine course of study for 2010, I’m going to recommend my favorite version, The Jewish Study Bible  produced by the Jewish Publication Society using the Tanakh—a direct translation from the Hebrew Masoretic Text into modern English. The Tanakh is a much more authentic translation than the KJV which was translated into English from a Latin translation of the Greek Septuagint.  The Jewish Study Bible contains the best of Jewish scholarship including essays on Jewish interpretation of passages, historical and geographical background, and textual criticism. Maps and diagrams are provided as well as timelines linking world historical events to biblical texts. Footnote explanations of obscure or controversial passages provide necessary clarification.

The first difference a reader will notice about the JSB is the order of books. The Torah, the first five books is the same, but from then on readers who have memorized the order of their non-Jewish Bibles are in trouble. The Torah is followed by the Nevi’im or Prophets, a divided section containing the books from Joshua through Kings (the former prophets) in the first part and the latter prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) in the second half. The third section, the Kethuvim, was canonized last and has the most diversity—apparently every book thought worthy of inclusion which hadn’t already been canonized. The wisdom literature is included along with the historical books, Ruth, Esther, Nehemiah, Ezra, Daniel and Chronicles. The Jewish Bible includes no apocryphal books.

The JSB gave me insights into the Jewish faith as well as a deeper understanding of the OT. One question I’ve entertained for years is: How could Jews read the Messianic passages in Isaiah and not be converted to Christianity? The historical context of those scriptures shows that more than one interpretation is possible. For example, Isaiah 7:14, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” refers to a sign which Isaiah promised King Ahaz in the 7th century BC. The Jewish interpretation of chapter 7 is that Isaiah is predicting the birth of a child in the near future who would be very young when the Kings of Syria and Israel abandoned their siege of Jerusalem.  Also errors in translation exist—the word translated as “virgin” in English is “almah” in Hebrew and refers only to a young woman of marriageable age regardless of the condition of her hymen.

New translations give intriguing insights into the culture of ancient times. The word “earrings” which the servant of Abraham presented to Rebekah in Gen. 24 is translated as “nose rings,” not only in the Tanakh but other modern translations. It is referenced in a footnote to vs. 47 in the LDS Bible. The image of Mother Rebekah sporting an engagement nose ring or two might endear her to 21st century young women.

Studying the Tanakh translation in depth brought all kinds of fascinating tidbits to my attention. Genesis 28:20-22, in both the KJV and Tanakh, documents Jacob’s interesting approach to tithing. After fleeing Esau’s wrath following the usurpation of the birthright, Jacob bargains with the Lord. “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on/ So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God/ And . . . of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” Paying tithes after the blessings seems like more of a sure deal to me. I doubt it will be implemented in the church anytime soon.

For anyone seeking an in-depth understanding of the OT and insight into Jewish biblical thought, $30 for a copy of the JSB is a real bargain.

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Comments on: "Studying the Old Testament" (2)

  1. I can picture the nose rings. I think it was yesterday or maybe early this morning when I thought about the makeup of tribal employees here on the Rez. I don’t know of one Jew, which makes me curious about the religious relationships or encounters between Native Americans and Jews. I know the LDS influence on our tribe, but nothing of Jewish.

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