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.