Bible Studies/Translation Question
I asked a religious friend of mine why he thought so many people still followed certain religions; scriptures so intently despite so many advances in science. He explained that, based on how the Old Testament was originally composed, in Hebrew, there is plenty of room for science and in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He said that, originally, the Old Testament started with “In the beginning, there was God.” Basically, he went on, all that statement did was acknowledge some form of consciousness, so, theoretically, the big bang and/or other theories could have unraveled from such a consciousness labeled as God. When the Torah/Old Testament was translated into Latin, phrasing such as “In the beginning, God created heaven and Earth” really eliminated a lot of scientific potential.
My friend also talked about a left side and a right side, particularly the left and right hand. He mentioned something about wisdom and women being represented by one side, grace being another side/part...I think Jesus was involved somewhere. I’m not sure if the head and neck had any metaphorical meaning. What exactly does all that have to do with? I found it interesting but can’t remember most of what he said.
Forgive my ignorance with this subject. I have questions, such as, Is there any reading you might recommend regarding how there is room for science in all three main monotheistic religions? Do many religious leaders believe the old scriptures translations to have been translated wrong? Are the original documents supposed to be much more ambiguous? ...I am not very educated about Christianity, Judaism, or Islam but I have an interest in these religions and I feel it is my responsibility to educate myself about these subjects, simply because I am interested in people. I feel very overwhelmed as to where I should begin.
Thank you for your time and consideration; I realize this is longwinded. I hope to hear from you soon.
First, congratulations on your desire to learn! This is a wonderful thing.
Learning these diverse topics is typically easier when one focuses on a specific tradition rather than trying to learn them all simultaneously. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are very different belief systems despite their similarities. In this reply I'll try and incorporate a more general perspective that incorporates them all, however my tradition is Judaism and that will be my foundation. I have studied all three of these religions in detail and can answer your questions about them if you wish to ask.
I would not agree with your friend's assessments regarding Torah and the nature of God. Because you raised several important topics it will be a bit difficult to be as concise as I usually aim for in these replies. Thanks for your patience.
Bereishit (Genesis) 1:1 In the beginning of God's creation of the heavens and the earth...
א. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:
Or, "In the beginning God created"... God is the origin and destination of all life.
When seeking to understand the Bible one must take many things into consideration. Among these is the entire doctrine presented throughout. No "proof text" can establish sound doctrine. In Judaism the wisdom of our sages throughout the ages must also be considered as they add invaluable wisdom and knowledge to the texts. This makes true Torah study a lifelong pursuit (as well as commandment).
The central biblical statement concerning God's nature is the Shema:
Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: Adonai [the Lord] is our God, Adonai is one ["echad": One and only, indivisible].
Adonai, the Lord, is a self-existing eternal Being beyond all human conception. He alone is God. The Eternal One is neither male nor female (and yet both) although we usually use the male pronoun to describe Him (there are sound Torah-based reasons for this beyond patriarchy). He is not a process (such as the Big Bang etc). He is the Individual behind all creation by whatever process may have been involved (people debate these of course). Religious Jews, Christians and Muslims all agree that God is the eternal and supreme "Person," the Individual God, and not merely a collective unconsciousness etc.
If current scientific theorem is correct, it reflects the methods HaShem (God) used in the creation. It does not nullify Him as Creator. The statements of Torah do not give specifics on the methods He employed. Traditionally it was generally accepted that the creation began "ex nihilo" or out of nothing through the utterance of the Word of God (the three religions differ on what this means). The Jewish Hasidim however have produced volumes on the manifestation of the Eternal (En Soph) into time (as El-Ohyim -- Father-Mother) and Adam Kadmon (the prototype of life). These understandings are in the main harmonious with modern scientific theory and accepted Orthodox Jewish thought. They provide fascinating research opportunities. Of the three religions Judaism is the most consistent with what is currently known objectively in my opinion.
Unfortunately there are no original manuscripts of any book of the Bible extant. Theories abound about what the various books may have originally said however it is all conjecture. Scholarly opinion is nearly unanimous that the most authoritative and historically verifiable form of the Tanach (the "Old Testament") is the Masoretic text used by Jews. Here is a good overview of it:
By Ariel Scheib
The Torah texts that we read today are believed by some to be the same as those given to Moses and the people of Israel by God. It is believed by scholars that the word of God and history of the Jewish people was imprinted on the minds of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Over the years as tradition was orally passed on and eventually written down, many disparities of the Torah emerged as countless scribes wrote numerous scrolls.
After being exiled from Israel, and as the Jewish Diaspora grew more widespread across the World, many Jews understood the importance of creating a single text of the Torah. This uniformity would enable the consistency of the Jewish faith outside the land of Israel. Specific scholars and scribes were chosen for this task, these men were called Masoretes. Masoretes derives its name from the word “masorah” meaning “tradition;” their ultimate goal was to uphold the traditions of the Jewish people. The Masoretes had to decipher the authentic word of God and eliminate the dissimilarities.
The Masoretes attempted to attain consistency through established rules of articulating the words and correcting spelling and reading. The Torah scroll was written, using only the consonants and no vowels or accents. Therefore, the Masoretes created a system of chanting symbols and vowel placement, so future generations would understand the proper pronunciation. The Masoretes made all spelling changes or changes to the text in the margins, because they refused to alter the original text. Finally, the Masoretes provided white spaces in between words to breakup the continuous text.
There were two schools of thought overt the rewriting of the Bible. There was the Eastern or Babylonian school and the other was a Western or Palestinian school. The Palestinian school had two branches of thought, the Ben Asher and the Ben Naphtali in Tiberias. In 930 C.E. Aaron ben Moses ben Asher produced the first complete Bible, called the Aleppo Codex, utilizing masoretic symbols and ordering. For several centuries, various Masoretes continued to influence the pronunciation and writing of the text. However, the first "official" Bible text that is still used today was the Great Rabbinic Bible, published in 1524-1525 by Daniel Bomberg (a Christian in Venice).
The Septuagint Greek/Latin translation of the Hebrew text is, in many respects, inferior to and inconsistent with the Masoretic and reflects Hellenist (Greek) views that were largely at odds with Hebrew custom and Jewish Tradition. The Masoretic version is translated in various Bible versions including those of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) and Judaica Press versions as well as the Christian (Anglican) King James Version (KJV). These versions support the historic understanding of the God of Israel as sole Creator and Maintainer of all that is, as the Giver of Torah to Moses and so on. The God of the Bible is a God that is personally involved in the affairs of humanity, especially of the Jewish people.
The reason that millions upon millions of us still have emunah (faith) in God is because we know (or in some cases believe without certainty) that there is God in Heaven Who alone controls the affairs of existence and is interested and involved in our daily lives. The secular sciences have made no discoveries that undermine biblical integrity and emunah. In many cases they affirm the ancient knowledge. While they may shed insight into the "how" of existence they offer nothing of the "why." This comes from Torah.
Faith is not something that can be dissected and studied under clinical conditions, however time after time it proves itself to those who employ its spiritual principles.
Judaism stresses the importance of knowledge in all areas of life however emunah is the heart of all true religion. Without emunah one can neither understand the Bible nor attain harmony with the Eternal One, blessed be He.
I hope this information is helpful to you. If I can be assistance feel free to write back.
~ John of AllFaith