Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Introduction Page One Page Two Page Three

James Moffatt introduction to his traslation of the Bible c. 1913-1924


Under the Ptolemies in Egypt the Old Testament was for the first time translated. The first version of the Old Testament was into the Greek language, the first version of the New Testament into Latin; in both cases other versions were made, into Syriac for example, and all the versions are to some degree useful in enabling us to reach a better text than the traditional. But no version, in either case, quite equals the first. This is particularly true of the Old Testament. The Jews in Alexandria found themselves obliged to render their sacred books into the language spoken round them, instead of remaining content with the sacred and provincial dialect of their ancestors. They needed a version for the purpose of edification in their synagogues, and also for mission-work outside. So, in the course of the third and second Centuries the Greek version came into existence; it was called the Septuagint, for there was a pious legend that "seventy" men composed it. The Septuagint was the Bible of the early Christians. Indeed, some of the Church fathers, from Irenæus onwards, claimed it as a directly inspired work. But its importance for us here lies in the fact that it enables us often to reach a purer text than the later Hebrew or massoretic tradition, which Judaism canonized. In spite of its defects, the Septuagint frequently takes us behind the traditional text to one more original, as for example in the books of Samuel and of Jeremiah. Sometimes its variations from the conventional Hebrew text suggest that both are later, supplementary editions of the earlier autograph. But more often the Septuagint text is to be preferred to the later revision in the massoretic text, whose manuscripts, by the way, are separated by never less than a thousand years from the original writings. One specimen of this may be given. In Psalm xxxiv. 10 the Hebrew text is translated, quite properly,

"The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger;
but they that seek the Lord want not any good thing."

The Psalmist, however, was not contrasting wild beasts with devout men; he was contrasting the impious and the pious within the community. What he really wrote is preserved by the Septuagint, which translates "the rich do lack," etc. This was the original thought of the Psalm, as translators like Wyclif and Coverdale saw, except that "rich " here means" apostates" as often. Another case may be cited, where the present Hebrew text left out by mistake' an important sentence. The full version of Saul's prayer, in 1 Samuel xiv. 41, runs thus:
O thou Eternal, God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant to-day?
If the sin lies in me or in Jonathan my son, then, 0 Eternal, God of Israel, let thelot be 'urim'; but if the sin lies in thy people Israel, let the lot be 'thummim.'" The words italicized were in the original text, as shown by the Septuagint, but the official Hebrew text carelessly dropped them out. Such are examples of the gain yielded to cautious interpretation by this ancient Greek version of the Old Testament.

The Septuagint also serves to remind us of another fact, viz, that our Old Testament is a collection which is a selection, a selection of religious literature of Israel and Judaism which had survived, or which was adjudged authoritative for direction and worship. Even from the Hebrew text we can infer that some books perished; literature sometimes is quoted which no longer exists. But some literature existed which has survived, though it is not in our Old Testament, and the Septuagint recalls this fact. It translated about a dozen books which were produced not earlier than the third century, some of them historical, like the books of the Maccabees, the books of Tobit and Judith, and additions to the book of Esther; some prophetic, like the Epistle of Jeremiah and additions to the book of Daniel; and some didactic, like the book of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. These books, with some others like the book of Enoch, which are outside the Septuagint, were known to the early Christians, but when the Jews came to fix the canon or authorized version of the Hebrew Old Testament towards the end of the first century A.D. they were rejected, and Jerome's influence, when be rendered the Old Testament into Latin, tended to carry the Christian Church along the same line. The fuller canon of the Alexandrian church had regarded these so-called "apocryphal" books as worthy of a place in worship; the stricter Palestinian canon drew a distinction, followed in our English Bible, between the canonical literature as authoritative for doctrine and the literature which was merely edifying. By a decision of the Council of Trent the Roman Church is committed to an acceptance of all these "apocryphal books" as part of the Word of God; when a modern spokesman of that Church claims, for example, that "the Fourth Gospel and 2 Maccabees are equally inspired," he astounds anyone who has ever read 2 Maccabees, but he is at any rate logical. The Reformed Church has been rightly content as a rule to say with Luther that they are "useful and good to read," though not on the level of the Sacred Scriptures, or to judge with the Anglican Church that the Church reads them "for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine."

Our English Bible further owes to the Greek version the titles of some of the books, such as "Genesis," "Exodus," "Leviticus," "Numbers," "Deuteronomy," and "Ecclesiastes"; also their order in one or two places, as in the case of Ruth, which has been already mentioned, Daniel, and Chronicles. The traditional Jewish order was a dogmatic order of merit, a threefold classification, which implied a certain scale of inspiration. There was the "Torah" (or, as it is less adequately termed, the Law), i.e. the first five books. Then came "the Prophets," containing two subdivisions: "the former prophets" included Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, because these were supposed to have been written by prophets like Joshua and Samuel or inspired by prophets; "the later prophets" are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (so-called "minor ") prophets. The Torah or Pentateuch is the first canon of Judaism; when it began to be adopted or enforced after the return from the Exile, Judaism became the religion of a book in which it was supposed that God's full revelation for the people was embodied. "To a certain extent," as Dr. Schechter admits, "the Pentateuch was put on a higher level than the Prophets." And both ranked higher in holiness and authority than the third class of "The (sacred) Writings," which included Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. These, as their position indicates, were all recognized to be late books; hence Daniel could not be ranked among the Prophets, for the canon of the Prophets was already closed, while Chronicles was similarly excluded. The fact of a book being included in the third division implied that its origin was recognized to be late, or that, as in the case of Chronicles, it did not gain admission to the canonical class till late. Indeed, some of these books were occasionally disputed. It is true that even a prophetic book like Ezekiel became suspect in some circles, on account of the discrepancies between its legislative programme and the super-sacred Pentateuch (the truth being that the one sought to amend the other). But this was an exception. It was some of the Writings which were most definitely challenged by ultrair-orthodox circles, books like Ecclesiastes and Esther and the Song of Solomon. Neither Philo nor the New Testament refers to them. This may be a coincidence and little more; yet it is far from certain that this third division of the conventional canon was what it now is, during the first century, when Jesus and His followers .used the Old Testament. Its contents were "sacred Writings," but in certain cases they only acquired authority gradually, and never in the unquestioned, paramount degree of the Torah and the Prophets. In the present translation the books are printed, for the sake of convenience, in the order of the English Bible. But this order was not that of the Jewish tradition in Rabbinism - a tradition, it must be added, which was only definite down to the book of Kings, for the sequence thereafter varies. Nor is it the order of the Greek Bible, although it approximates to that by grouping the books in an arrangement which associates the historical, the poetical, and the prophetic contributions.

Such is the literature here translated into English.


The initial difficulties in making any such version are started by the text. Now the traditional or "massoretic" text of the Old Testament, though of primary value, is often desperately corrupt. At a number of places, for example in Genesis xxxv. 22, Judges iii. 7, 1 Samuel xiii. 1, Jeremiah iii. 1, and Zechariah vi. 15, it is broken or defective, though our English version usually conceals this. At other points it is in such disrepair that no conjecture can heal it. Such passages I have been content to leave with three dots ( . . . ). A longer line of dots, in the poetical books, means that a line of the original text is either missing or too defective to be restored with any certainty, even with the help of the versions. Few scholars will judge that these marks occur too often; indeed, some may think that they ought to have been used more frequently. But, wherever I was satisfied with some correction or conjecture which at least made tolerable sense, I preferred to adopt it. When the choice lay between a guess or a gap, I inclined to prefer the former, feeling that the ordinary reader for whom this version is designed would have a proper dislike of gaps. I can assure him that they have been reduced almost to a bare minimum, and that wherever one does occur it means that the translator could not candidly patch up the text, even by using any of the patches devised by his predecessors.

Since nearly every page contains some emendation of the traditional text in the interests of accuracy and point, it has been impossible to annotate them. Scholars and students will recognize them readily, and I must ask the general reader to believe that none has been admitted except upon what the translator regards as sufficient evidence. This may seem to involve a large act of faith. But very few, apart from those who have done some first-hand work upon the subject, realize how uncertain and precarious is the traditional text of some books in the Old Testament. It would have swollen the book inordinately to have justified either the readings or, for the matter of that, the renderings one after another. Besides, to do this would be, in the words used by the translators of the Authorized Version, "to weary the unlearned, who need not know so much, and trouble the learned, who know it already."

Then, even after a more or less sound text has been secured, it has to be rendered into adequate English, and here the common burden of translators is doubled, for one is never quite sure how far the influence and associations of the Authorized Version have acclimatized some Oriental expressions in our language. The Old Testament is a collection of Oriental books, Oriental in thought as well as in form. No translation can hope to be faithful and forcible unless it manages to preserve as much as possible of the Oriental flavour of the original texts, and yet there must also be an effort to bring this far-off world nearer to the modern mind, an effort which may occasionally forbid the translator to be literal.

Again, several of the most characteristic Hebrew terms, religious, social, and psychological, have no English equivalent which exactly corresponds to their original meaning. Something is dropped as they are passed from Hebrew into English. Even the rhythm of the prose as well as of the verse cannot be carried over into our modern language without a certain amount of alteration, if the version is not to be pedantic. Furthermore, the habit of playing upon words, acrostics, euphemisms, paronomasia, and verbal tropes of this kind, baffle the translator, who may be reduced to the desperate expedient of suggesting within brackets (as, for example, at Genesis iii. 20 and Micah i. 10, 11) the point of some allusion or piece of popular etymology.

One crucial instance of the difficulty, offered by a Hebrew term lies in the prehistoric name given at the exodus by the Hebrews to their God. Strictly speaking, this ought to be rendered "Yahweh," which is familiar to modern readers in the erroneous form of "Jehovah." Were this version intended for students of the original, there would be no hesitation whatever n printing "Yahweh." But almost at the last moment I have decided with some reluctance to follow the practice of the French scholars and of Matthew Arnold (though not exactly for his reasons), who translate this name by '.' the Eternal," except in an enigmatic title like "the Lord of hosts." There is a distinct loss in this, I fully admit; to drop the racial, archaic term is to miss something of what it meant for the nation. On the other hand, there is a certain gain, especially in a book of lyrics like the Psalter, and I trust that in a popular version like the present my choice will be understood even by those who may be slow to pardon it.

It is obvious from what has been said above, that the books of the Old Testament are, for the most part, books which have been either made out of books or edited more or less drastically by later hands. Sometimes a book has passed through both of these processes. Now, I have avoided complicating the translation with unæsthetic marks of sources; but, particularly in the earlier historical books, I have been obliged as an honest translator to distinguish one or two of the strata which have been fused and confused in the traditional text. This has been done only when I found it to be absolutely necessary, for example, to disentangle two separate forms or fragments of a story, as in the case of the Judahite narrative (J) and the narrative originating in Northern Israel (E), which have been drawn upon in the Pentateuch. Wherever it has been necessary to mark an extract from the former, it is printed in italics, while any material from the latter appears within single square brackets ([ ]). When a passage occurs both in italics and also within these brackets, as for example in the case of Exodus iv. 13-16, this denotes an extract from the combined edition of J and E, prepared a century or two after they had begun to circulate separately. All the rest of the text I have left in ordinary type, without making any attempt to indicate the various sources from which it has been derived. The only other mark which requires a word of explanation is the double square brackets ([[ ]]). This denotes, throughout the entire Old Testament, passages which are either editorial additions or later interpolations.

Occasionally, as in Genesis ii. 11 and x. 8, Job ii. 11, and Daniel i. 7, I have marked the correct pronunciation of a proper name.