The Grammar of God

Aviya Kushner’s gentle, engaging prose in The Grammar of God pulls you along on what might at first seem to be a nitpicking journey into the words of the Bible, in its original Hebrew and its subsequent translations into various languages, principally English in the best-known King James Version of 1611.

Then it turns compelling. You discover such “mistranslations,” or perhaps intentional choices, as in the Commandment (in the English KJV) not to kill. Which has occasioned more than 400 years of conscientious objection to war.

In the original Hebrew the word is murder. “In biblical Herbew,” Kushner writes, “there is a gaping difference between the verb ‘to kill’—laharog—and the verb ‘to murder’—lirtzoach….This word choice matters because there are acceptable forms of killing in the Bible (such as self-defense).”

Moreover, “the phrase ‘the Ten Commandments’ appears nowhere in the Hebrew,” she concludes. It’s “the ten sayings.” Which makes it even more obvious that the KJV translators in particular and probably other translators of the Hebrew into Greek, Aramaic, Arabic, Chinese, etc., have brought their own interpretations to the text which millions rely on for spiritual guidance. Some of them on the exact wording.

Nevertheless, Kushner is at pains to forgive such issues: “Translators throughout time have faced impossible choices. They could not bring everything over in the great journey from Hebrew to another language—and maybe they didn’t want to.”

For such surprising discoveries alone the book is worth your time and money.

3 responses to “The Grammar of God

  1. Don’t we all do that? I mean, put our own interpretation on everything? Shouldn’t be surprising. The Bible in all its versions has been re-interpreted so many times, it’s kinda scary. Like the Mel Brooks flick, where he’s Moses coming down the mountain with the Commandments, three stone tablets. “I bring you these fifteen…” then he drops one and it shatters, “…ten commandments…”

  2. Some interpret, some take the words literally. I knew a fellow draftee, a kid in basic, who was a lay preacher of the Holiness sect. He took Shalt Not Kill literally and refused to carry, would not even touch his M-14. The smokey bears threw him down the barracks stairs one night and broke his legs. Faulty translations have consequences.

  3. Sennacherib learned very early that unfortunate things could happen in close proximity with the men in flat hats.