Translator Tricks

There were questions on the previous post dealing with the plague of flies. In this post I look at that passage more closely, and cover a few of the stock tricks used in the Bible's text. Then I finish with another example from Luke. Read on for more.

1611 or 1769 KJV

In the previous post I mentioned the 1611 KJV put flies in italics. That was a confusing statement. The KJV was first published in 1611, but went through numerous printings. It also had divergent texts, so it was unstable. These were generally fixed by the 1769 revision. Here is a link to a more lengthy history on the KJV.

My fundamental mistake last week was the wrong year. Modern reprints of the 1769 KJV do have that 'flies' word in italics. Here is a link to Exodus 8:21 on the Blue Letter Bible website for the verse in question.

This is a computer facsimile of one of the printed 1769 KJV Bibles we have in our library. The text where we first looked at this plague and found the italics version of the word 'flies.'

Scroll to the bottom of the page linked above and they cite both the 1611 and 1769 editions of the KJV as being the source material for that website. I should have done the same last week.

Strongs Data

The page I link here for the KJV has some other tools. Click the button to the left of Exodus 8:21 and it will list the verse in a word-by-word order. For each word it gives the Strongs data for each word. Strongs is a lexicon constructed to link each original word to some English definition.

Lexicons like Strongs are important tools, but they are complex and constructed circularly, so they are difficult to use well. So looking at entries is only a first step. So scroll down and find the entry for 'flies.'

Note the word 'flies' is in italics because there is no lexicon entry for that word. Flies is not in the original Hebrew text. Flies was added by the translators in what is commonly called an 'assist in translation.' These assists fill in for an idea that would be lost to the reader otherwise.

There are several key issues this brings up, which must be understood to understand how the Bible text is handled by translators and how that textual handling changes across time.

The fact that the text is changing across time is why the KJV only movement exists. In order for the standard doctrine of inspiration to be true, we would not expect change across time. So the KJV Only camp drives a stake in the ground and says, No more changes!

I have sympathy for their position, but they drive the KJV stake way late in textual history.

Swarms Becomes Flies

If you look at the Strongs definition for the 'swarms' term you see it generally giving a swarming sort of definition. You'll also see how the word is pronounced in modern Hebrew, 'arob' and you'll see at that point it has the same sound as the word Arab. The 'o' of course being the added vowel.

The swarming in question is what Arabs do annually in Mecca. This is why the word was given a definition near the word for Arab. This is not flies as in swarms of insects, but should be taken as circulating swarms of people.

But, the community of people who care about the KJV English grew up with that plague being known as the plague of flies. Some went off and did other translations. For them, the term 'arob' now simply means a 'swarm of flies.' This is how language changes across time, and it is a problem if the text was inspired with a certain set of word definitions.

Arabs Becomes Swarms

OK, so our early Hebrew language training explained how vowels were added across time. This was innocently taught as keeping up with pronunciation changes. We were taught that vowels were first added as whole letters. Any letter in Hebrew that maps to a Latin vowel is at risk of being an inserted vowel. That map is loose, but hits at least 5 Hebrew letters. We were also taught that adding vowel letters was eventually supplanted by adding vowel points.

Vowel points are all those dots seen around Hebrew words. Importantly pronunciation changes is but 1 of the various purposes for those points. Vowel points can be used to non sound system purposes. Those are beyond our scope here.

We have since learned some about the timing of this. The first finished vowel pointed text is the WLC from 1008 AD. Vowel points were being worked out over the previous 500 years. Vowel letter additions have a less clear history, and go back to some unknown point in time.

Note that when ancient texts are found in caves they are passed off to private scholars, always working in secret. In the case of the Dead Sea scrolls of the late 1940s, this was done secretly for decades. Those people try and figure out what parts of modern texts the fragments match, if anything. Important spelling changes must always be hidden because they reveal edits across history. Those edits might mean something strange. Those edits can foul with the doctrine of inspiration.

So by the rules of added vowels, the 'arob' term we are discussing here is really 'arb' or simply the modern term Arab. The passage in Exodus 8:21 was calling out a plague of Arabs. Obama to a person.

Why was this word ever changed? Our trainer thought these spelling changes were innocent, just keeping up with pronunciation changes.

Those sound system changes did happen. After Pentecost, the sound systems of all of the Roman world changed. Rapidly. From one valley to the next. At times so fast that grand children were unintelligible to their grand parents.

If they are still online, Wikipedia has numerous articles on this known history. The history of sound system changes in languages is used to reconstruct lost languages, for example. It is not secret knowledge. (Though it is not the right system for reconstructing Paleo pronunciation, a topic for another time.)

Language sound system changes is in part how we got the various languages of Europe today. Written languages changed slower than spoken languages. So Latin, written, and used for legal and religious documents, mostly survived. Hebrew was also a language of written texts, so there was a slower pronunciation change process. T vs. Th, S vs. Sh, D vs V, H vs F, are but a few consonantal examples in Hebrew where the written text no longer has the same pronounced consonant.

OK, but if you want to change the text, this sound system change provides cover to make changes for political reasons. The fact that this word 'arob' maps via an inserted vowel back to the word for Arab points strongly at this case. There was a strong, national, political, reason for someone to make this edit. Using, of course, the cover of added vowels.

Some editor was either trying to curry favor with an Arab, or was threatened by an Arab, or did not want readers to be afraid of invading Arabs. Or, perhaps, some other nefarious purpose.

Another Example

Notice how the problem with the word 'Flies' pointed at the real trouble word, Arab. With the right tooling, especially tools that audit lexicons, it is possible to look for and find other cases like flies.

A word's definition will drift in passages where there is trouble. Arab drifts all the way to flies, for the example above. One way to audit a lexicon is to take every occurrence of a word and list off how it is translated. If the root idea is the same, then all is probably ok. But, there are times when a word is translated in 1 case very differently than everywhere else. Those outliers mark a troubled passage that might mean something else.

We found one of those cases this past week, deployed in the BRB and TT today. The passage in question is Luke 24:49. This verse ends with the well known phrase 'remain in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.'

This has attracted our detailed attention because we are studying Pentecost. It was apparently tampered by editors, so it is getting our scrutiny. Our hunch is this may have been a Paleo event. The reason everyone understood is because they heard phrases in their languages. Those languages all being degenerate forms of ancient Paleo.

The giveaway that there is trouble here is the term that gets translated as 'power.' As in 'receive power from on high.'

There is a normal term that comes into English as power, but that term is not used here. Instead an Aramaic lexicon audit, using our internal tools, shows the term used here is nearly always translated as 'army.' Important to note, this is not a case of an inserted vowel. The spelling is exactly the same, and in nearly all cases it comes out as army, but not here.

This passage is not talking about 'dunamis' style power. It is talking about some kingdom's army. Because this step does not even involve an added vowel, it is a case of a simple change in translation. In this case the term for army is being morphed into the English word power, power like that of an army.

OK, but what if that term should rightfully be translated like everywhere else, as army? Are there other troubled words around this use of army that may have been tampered? Causing army to loose out to power?

The term ahead of army is translated OK, clothed being the most common. Covered, as in covered in cloth, is good too. Surrounded, like surrounded as by clothing is also OK English, but drifting from the common English translations.

What about the term after army? Traditionally in English translated as 'on high?'

That word is a possible vowel insertion into the common name for Rome. The Roman army being the only interesting army in that area in that era. If this was originally Rome, then we might well expect it to follow the term army as modifier to identify which army.

So if this passage has been tampered, the phrase means something like this... 'Remain in Jerusalem until you are clothed/surrounded by an army of Rome.'

Edited by someone who did not think that invasion would come. Or, perhaps, edited after that invasion, because they did not want that prophetic word to be true. In either case edited for a political purpose just like Arab became swarms.

That possible rendering means this passage might have been the key warning that drove the disciples to so strongly flee Jerusalem for Antioch. In order to think about this idea we have changed the English in the BRB and TT to reflect this. Our letter level audit will provide proof in time.

Political tampering, of which these are but a few examples, is one of the big reasons why the doctrine of inspiration, applied to extant texts, is untrue. It is also the reason why all the other editing happened to bulk up the entire work. Editors were always kings and their assistants, and they are fragile and sensitive to politics. They never wanted to stand up to hard truths.

More Later,