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Monday, 15 April 2013

The NIV and God's three loaves of bread

"Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine."   --I Samuel 10:3 NIV (2011)

"And thou shalt go on forward from thence, and shalt come to the oak of Tabor, and there shall meet thee three men going up to God, to Bethel, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three cakes of bread, and another carrying a flask of wine." --I Samuel 10:3 Darby (1890)

"Go on from there, and you will come to the Oak of Tavor. Three men will meet you there on their way up to God at Beit-El. One of them will be carrying three kids, another three loaves of bread and the third a skin of wine." --I Samuel 10:3 Complete Jewish Bible (1998)

Well, this is about a blatant translation error on the part of the CBT, but really it's not fair to single out the NIV without mentioning that virtually every English Bible in the last 400 years has read "three loaves of bread" in 1 Samuel 10:3. Specifically worthy of mention is the Complete Jewish Bible, the editor of which really should have known better.

What is the problem? Well, in English now, as in 1890, "loaf" carries the distinct connotation of leavened bread. Darby knew that, so he used a word that was rather awkward, but nonetheless more accurate: 'cake'. It's the best English word to use to describe what isn't all that common in English culture: a flat piece of yeastless bread baked by turning it on a skillet. Such a food item is actually quite common as a breakfast dish, but as such it is always made with use of a leavening agent: a pancake.

Cakes of unleavened bread, however, were specifically prescribed for offerings to the LORD:

“‘When you bring a grain offering which has been baked in the oven, it is to consist of either unleavened cakes made of fine flour mixed with olive oil or matzah spread with olive oil." --Leviticus 2:4, CJB

"And if thou present an offering of an oblation baken in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil." --Leviticus 2:4, Darby

Okay, so David Stern at least recognized the need to use "cakes" here, where "unleavened loaves" just wouldn't make sense in English. But there was a disconnect between the prohibition on offering leavened loaves here, and the implication of offering leavened loaves just six books later.

Now, there's' something interesting about the word translated 'cakes' in 1 Sam 10:3; it's the Hebrew feminine plural noun kikkaroth, from the verb karar, 'to spin or whirl.' The implication is that these are round slabs of bread, like those from which pizza crusts originated. Although the word itself is not used in Leviticus, clearly there are no grounds for assuming that these round cakes of bread being brought before God at Bethel were anything but unleavened.

Simply put, "loaves" was a bad translation back in 1611, still a bad translation in 1890, and unmistakably a bad translation in 2011.

We haven't made much progress--or even regress--in the past 120 years.

"Then you will go on from there until you reach the Oak of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three cabritos, another three tortillas, and another a skin of wine."   --I Samuel 10:3 The Complete Latino Bible (yet to be published)

UPDATE July 2013
It just occurred to me that the NNIV also mentions "three loaves of bread"  in Luke 11:5--
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread,--

As in all the versions cited. As if such a huge amount of food was needed for a traveler's midnight snack.

1 comment:

  1. Ironically, the "Latino" version is more accurate! ;-)


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