Ancient Hebrew and the Canadian layperson

I have made friends with a lot of freethinkers on Facebook. What I like about befriending freethinkers is that they share a lot of interesting links, whether they are about politics, science or anything else. Not too long ago, one of these friends found the following story: Researchers Prove Bible Grossly Mistranslated. It is indeed an intriguing title.

The whole thing first became slightly suspicious when I entered the CNN iReport website by following the link. Here is what CNN has to say about their iReport program:

iReport is a user-generated section of CNN.com. The stories in this section are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they are posted.

So basically, somebody with no journalistic credentials can report stories and take advantage of CNN’s prestige. Let me summarize this Bible mistranslation story. In only three years, a group of canadian researchers have found an alternative interpretation of ancient Hebrew which they claim is more correct than what experts in translation had agreed on. They started translating the Bible again using this new system of translation. Unlikely but not impossible, so far so good. They provide a link to a website documenting their work, the Chronicle Project.

The website is where the fun truly begins. This website is filled with giveaways that these people are not actual researchers. The first thing that caught my eye is the 1990’s html geocities website style. For a 2011 website. I figured that with all the fancy web building tools around, there is no reason to have a silly looking website anymore. But of course, that is no real criticism. I just thought it was funny.

The so-called SDH system they came up with, standing for Self-Defining Hebrew system, is based on one principal assumption. Ancient Hebrew, as it appears in ancient scrolls that make up the original version of the Bible, is the language created by God for the people of the Earth. According to the people from the Chronicle Project, this means two things. First, the language did not evolve from previous tongues like any other languages, so that the conventional guidelines to interpret a language do not apply. Second, the language should be possible to decrypt by any person on Earth, therefore becoming a language expert to translate ancient Hebrew is not only unnecessary, it is the wrong thing to do!

Need I say more? This is complete, unequivocal and somewhat funny humbug. Surely, these people have an agenda. What could it be? Hmm… wait a second, what could be done with a brand new custom-made translation of the Bible? Oh, I know! Let’s make the Bible more intelligible to sensible 21st century human beings! Let’s get rid of all the non-sense and let’s make Christianity the moral answer once again, and let’s make it easier to believe! That way, we can save more people! Well, I guess this is what you have to resort to when you are a literalist, and you don’t have the Vatican to fudge things.

Let’s look at their translation of the 3rd commandment. Just to remind you, here is what the conventional translation actually says:

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

I think a lot of people would agree that this is one of the most inconsequential of all the commandments, although it sets the stage for a funny story in the Christian Holy Book involving a golden calf. So, here is their version of it:

To not to proceed to make to your carve and all to proceed to worship to advance amid celestials that, that upon. And to advance amid the Earth, that under. And to advance, that amid water that under Earth.

And then, they proceed to clarify this with a bunch of footnotes, in which they select their own interpretation of it. If this is how God talks, we are certainly not created in his image. Thank God we figured out grammar (pun intended)! Actually, thanks to laziness for forcing us to adapt simpler and more efficient ways to word this. This is such unclear wording that you can distort it to mean anything you like. But like I said before, I think this is the idea. Let’s have a look at at their translation of the 5th commandment (the Sabbath one):

To always remember with day the Sabbath, to, to set apart being. Six to continue length those to proceed to serve, and done, to continue all you employment. And day “to the marvel”, to split to continue (sabbath) to ruler of all, your supreme…

And it keeps going, but that is enough painful syntax to make my point. Attached to this little paragraph is a bunch of footnotes attempting to clarify this jumble of words. And somehow, the obligation to not do any work on Sundays vanishes in the confusion. How convenient! They also make use of their befuddling result to slip in some more sensible morality, like working for the poor during the other 6 days so that they will be fine on the 7th…

You may ask: “why do you give any attention to these wackos?” Simple: entertainment value! They didn’t get much publicity so far (except for the one they probably made themselves on the CNN iReport website), and it would be hilarious if they became famous for being loony. They definitely should get some attention for providing me (and I hope you) with some entertainment! One positive thing I can say about the Chronicle Project is that it seems completely harmless. However, I think that the people investing time in the project are seriously wasting their time, so they are harming themselves. I just hope they won’t get anybody else to waste more time on this.

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