Brandeis professor Joel Hoffman’s wonderful linguistic analysis is surprisingly readable and engaging. I recently read his full-length book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning, which is filled with such analysis. Normally I’m not enthusiastic about quoting other readers’ reviews on Amazon, but in this case I can’t resist citing the review by one David Frank, as I can’t put it any better than he does:
This is one of those eye-opening books that is thoughtful, provocative, learned, and a whole lot of fun to read. Along the way you gain startling insights into the issues and difficulties of translating not only the words from one language to another, but also connotations, cultural realities. And these insights come to you in an examination of some of the best known and deeply felt prose in English or any language – the Bible. The author, Joel Hoffman is such a natural teacher and guide through what might have been an arcane or dry academic dissertation. But Hoffman turns it into an exciting conversation and a fascinating search for just the right turn of a phrase that can unlock the ancient meaning of the Biblical stories. I highly recommend it. Its like a college course in linguistics taught by a major-league raconteur.
Since Hoffman has a PhD in linguistics, I’m certainly not surprised at the impeccable quality of his linguistics. With an authoritative voice, he goes into great depth on the subject of the many common errors in Biblical translation — mostly, but not entirely, from the Old Testament. These aren’t trivial errors; most of them are significantly wrong choices in vocabulary and sentence construction. Such common Biblical translations as “shepherd,” “covet,” “king,” and “virgin” come under Hoffman’s eagle eye, though it’s sometimes frustrating that his convincing arguments against those translations aren’t wrapped up with suggested replacements.
In any case, if you’re interested in translation or in the Bible, you should definitely read this book. As Frank says, it will be an eye-opener.