Be Your Own Bible Scholar

All you have to do is think like a Bible character.

Continued from page 4

In the Witch of Endor story (

read Reis' exegesis

), the witch tells King Saul "if you will set your life in my hands, I will 'set' a morsel of food before you." Later, in the same cooking context, there's the word 'set' again. It appears about three times. Then, when she actually has the food all ready, she doesn't "set" it before them, she "offers" it to them.

You mention that the word "offers" is the same verb used with sacrifices.

Yes, you "offer" a sacrifice. It's also the same Hebrew word when women offer themselves. It has a sexual connotation, like prostitution. I'm not saying she did that. I'm just saying here we have "set, set, set," and then a very loaded word.

As an example of omission in that same story: there are three verbs used to describe the witch preparing the bread, and no words used to describe her preparing the meat, and I point out that the meat was probably raw.

Which was, of course, not allowed.

Certainly not kosher. You're not allowed to eat blood. I point out an earlier example of Abraham and Sarah--three strange men come to them, and the meat and bread are prepared using the same amount of verbs for each. To me, that absence just sings out. But to other Bible scholars--and I don't consider myself a

real

Bible scholar--it just seems to slip by. One very famous one, John Fokkelman, says "the witch busies herself with roasting the meat." And I think to myself, where did he get that "roasting"? Because it's just not there at all in the original Hebrew.

So you're saying contemporary Bible scholars are either not paying enough attention or not giving the author enough credit.

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Right. I think both of those things.



What advice do you have for Americans who are not scholars, and won't be learning Hebrew any time soon, but want to understand the Bible?


My advice is to choose your translation very carefully. I prefer the King James Version.



You're going to be very popular with some Beliefnet members.


And unpopular with others (laughs). The Jewish Publication Society came out fairly recently (1985) with a new version that gets rid of all the repetition, and I don't like it at all. But the old JPS version, which was printed in 1917, is almost exactly like the KJV. It's not 100% perfect, but so much better than any other. Every translation is an interpretation, but this one doesn't overinterpret the Bible. My book talks about the supposed rape of Tamar--that story has been very poorly translated.

Anything else Bible readers should keep in mind?

Read slowly. Really slowly. It's hard to notice what's

not

there if you're zipping through. If you read slowly, over and over, you notice little tiny changes. Different things pop out at you. It's like reading a poem: the most possible meaning in the fewest possible words. Every word is packed and important.

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