September 4, 2011

Posting at

I have started a group blog with J. K. Gayle, Suzanne McCarthy, and Craig smith over at  I have a post up about the forthcoming Oxford Jewish Annotated New Testament and racism in translation.

Here is my introductory post on that blog:

Welcome to the blog named BLT. It is not just a sandwich.  It stands for a set of topics that we hope to discuss:  Bible, Literature, and Translation.  We’ll talk about the Bible as literature and the literature of translation and the translation of Bibles and the translation of literature and literature of translation and Bible as a translation and literary translations of Bibles and so on.  And we are certain to throw in the arts, the sciences, philosophy, mysticism, religion, and pretty much everything else.

The initial crew of bloggers represents a diverse set of viewpoints but one that is unified in our openness to new ideas and a fundamental belief in the dignity of all humans.  This blog is open to all: Jews, Catholics, Mainliners, Evangelicals, Eastern Christians, Atheists, Theists outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, etc.  For me a strong underlying theme of this blog is that  everyone has a voice — especially people that have been traditionally marginalized.

I’ll let my co-bloggers (currently J. K. Gayle, Suzanne McCarthy, and Craig Smith) introduce themselves, but I’ll simply mention that I am a professor at a US university with strong interests in applied issues in linguistics.

There won’t be any bacon or other treif meat in my posts, but there will be lots of substance.  I look forward to hearing from you.

August 8, 2011

No girls allowed

If you read the so-called “Better Bibles Blog”, then you simply must look at Kurk Gayle’s important documentation at his brilliantly named “Better Better Bibles Blog.” 

The situation over that the BBB is that all male-blogging team has decided on a secret rule that issues of gender cannot be discussed in blog posts.  However, this rule is inconsistently enforced – it is particularly enforced on women who try to comment on that blog.

April 28, 2011

Norton does King James

Although I have not seen it yet, I am cautiously optimistic about the new Norton Critical Edition of the English Bible (KJV) forthcoming later this year (ISBN 039397507X and 0393927458). Perhaps you are familiar with the Norton Critical Edition series — it is a standard series of annotated volumes used in literature classes. The editors working on these volumes are top-notch, and the blurbs are impressive at least:

Robert Alter: “The Norton Critical Edition of The English Bible, King James Version, appearing on the four hundredth anniversary of the great translation, is a real gift to the English-reading world, making this classical version freshly accessible. The introductions to the different biblical books are apt and often illuminating; the generous annotation clarifies archaic terms, corrects translation errors, and provides insight into the texts; and the appended critical and historical materials give readers a wealth of relevant contexts for both Old and New Testament.”

Harold Bloom: “Herbert Marks demonstrates in this work that he is now the foremost literary exegete of the King James Bible and of the Hebrew Bible that it translates.”

If the work is up to the standard of the better volumes in the Norton Critical Edition series, I expect this will become the standard secular teaching text on the King James Bible, and because of its explanation of archaic terms and phrases, may prove useful for ordinary readers as well.

(I should mention that additional materials and notes included in the Norton Critical Edition of the Writings of St. Paul [ISBN 0393972801] make it the best secular one-volume guide to the subject, although it uses the TNIV translation of the Epistles and Acts and Elliott’s translations [ISBN 0198261810] of the apocryphal works related to Paul.)

September 7, 2010

Quote of the day

From The Novel:  An Alternative History by Steven Moore:

“Can you imagine a Jane Austen heroine declining an invitation to dance because she’s having her period? Can you imagine how much saner our society would be if she had?”

A fun poem

“The Waste Land” by John Beer

Easily the most fun I’ve had in – oh, who can say how long – at least the last 20 minutes or so.

See also Levi Stahl’s take.


In honor of Rev. Terry and his used furniture business

I cannot brook neo-Nazis.  So when news came of the for-profit used-furniture e-Bay church called “the Dove World Outreach Center” (someone with a sense of irony chose that name) burning Talmuds and Qur’ans, I felt I had to do something.

I’m not a big fan of Koranic studies.  Worse, the most popular English translations of the Qur’an are financed by the Saudi government (often with wildly anti-Semitic commentary) – so it is not easy to find decent translations.  But Rev. Terry pushed me over the edge – I decided to order the recent shiny nice new bilingual translation published by Oxford (with a revised translation).  I trust it will be a nice supplement to my other translations (my current favorite) the bilingual Princeton Qur’an translation, the Arberry Koran, and the liberal American translation by Laleh Bakhtiar

Plus, as a bonus, I decided to get Oliver Leaman’s encyclopedia (because who can’t love a Qur’an commentary edited by a Jew?)  to supplement my copy of the “Westerner contributors only” of the Cambridge Companion.

So thank you, Reverend Terry. Without your ravings and ability to attract an incredible amount of publicity for acting like a fool, I’d have more space on my bookshelf.

August 19, 2010

Condolences on Frank Kermode’s death

From the New York Times:

Frank Kermode, who rose from humble origins to become one of England’s most respected and influential critics, died Tuesday at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 90.

April 26, 2010

A story of two Rashi Tehillim

There are now at least two major editions of the Psalms with commentary by the medieval master Jewish commentator Rashi. One is published by the Jewish Publication Society (reprinted by Brill) and is by Mayer Gruber of Ben-Gurion University. It is a 900 page paperback volume and you can buy it from Amazon for $34. The second is also 900 pages but in two hardcover volumes in a slip case published by the Feldheim published by Rabbi Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg (who teaches at two traditional yeshivos in Israel: Yeshivos Yesodei HaTorah and Lev HaTorah. You can buy this set from Amazon for $36.

Physically the Herczeg volumes are much nicer -- they have better and larger paper and they are larger, smyth-sewn bindings with dust jackets, in a nice case. On the other hand, they are much larger, as these photos show (please click on the photos to see larger images -- and click on the magnifying lens to read the individual text):

Lying side by side -- the R' Herczeg volume is much larger.

The R' Herczeg boxed set is almost twice the thickness of the Gruber, even though both have about 900 pages.

But the biggest difference is with the format of presentation. In Gruber, the texts of the Psalms is not presented (in English or Hebrew.) The Rashi is given in block format at the end of the book (here is the Rashi to Psalms 1 and 2, and the first part of Psalm 3) (remember to click to see a larger, more readable image):

And here is his English translation of Rashi, followed by notes:

Now in contrast, here is Rabbi Herczeg's text for the same psalm -- you'll notice that the Hebrew psalm, the English translation, the Rashi in Hebrew, the Rashi in English, and the notes are all on one self-contained page (again, click to see a zoomed in view.)

A couple of notes:

The most obvious difference is formatting.  The R' Herczweg volumes integrates Rashi (in both pointed Hebrew and English), the super-commentary, and the actual text of the Psalms (again, in both pointed Hebrew and English) on a single page.  Gruber omits the text of the Psalms, separates Hebrew Rashi (unpointed), and even separates notes and translation.  There is little doubt that R' Herczweg has both more beautiful typesetting and the more useful layout.

The versions of Rashi's manuscripts used is slightly different in places. For example, Gruber has Rashi making a comment on Psalm 118:5. In the case of R' Herczweg, he demotes the comment to his supercommentary notes -- making full note of the source of it, and and its exegesis, before explaining why it is probably spurious. In general, R' Herczweg treats his Rashi text critically and applies it to integral whole psalms, while Gruber is content to split up psalms with "Interpretation A" and "Interpretation B" (e.g., see pp. 671-675).

R' Herczeg provides full pointed text for the Psalms and for Rashi -- and gives a phrase-by-phrase translation (sometimes with explanatory interpolations, clearly marked typographically). As opposed to Gruber who is willing to shift around Rashi's text (and make a note in the footnotes), R' Herczeg respects the integrity of Rashi's text.

Gruber has some 170 pages of introductory material; in contrast, R' Herczberg's introductory material consists of approbations, a brief preface and Introduction, and the traditional prayer (presented side-by-side in both Hebrew and English) before reciting Psalms.

For some reason Gruber does not often address the Old French terminology used by Rashi -- for example, in Psalm 1 above, Rashi uses three old French phrases: Gabors, Fleistre, and Come bale. R' Herczeg deals with all three; Gruber only with Fleistre (and then, only in Modern French.)

In general Gruber has a less literal translation of Rashi than R' Herczeg.

Gruber has some much longer notes than R' Herczberg, but they do not necessarily contain substantially more information. As an example, here is the supercommentary note to Rashi's תשובת המינים (translated as "heretics" by R' Herczeg and "Christians" by Gruber. Recall that the former has the actual Hebrew on the page, so there is no possibility of missing it.

R' Herczeg: That is, to Christians, who interpret the psalm as referring to their false messiah.

Gruber: Heb. tesubat hamminim; so correctly Signer, p. 274; see the extensive evidence that in Rashi's commentaries minin (or minim) means "Christian" in Awerbuch, Christlich-judische Begegnung im Zeitalter der Fruhscholastik, pp. 101-139. E. Touito, "Concerning the Meaning of the Term tesubat hamminim in the Writings of our French Rabbis," Sinai 99 (1986) pp. 144-48 (in Hebrew) demonstrates on both linguistic and historical grounds that in the writings of Rashi and his disciples tesubat hamminim often means "a challenge to the Christians" rather than "a reply to the Christian". The rendering here "Jewish converts to Christianity" found in Hailperin, Rashi and the Christian Scholars [sic., Gruber does not properly format the title name], p. 60 is no longer tenable. Solomon Zeitlin, "Rashi," American Jewish Yearbook 41 (1939-1940), p. 124 writes as follows: "I examined a manuscript in the library in Moscow in which the reading of this passage is as follows: 'Many of the disciples of Jesus apply this passage to the Messiah, but in order to refute the Minim this passage should be applied to David.' " This version of Rashi demonstrates conclusively that Heb. minim here can only mean "Christians". Moreover, it supports the idea tha thte search for the literal meaning [pesuto] by Rashi and the real, original meaning [pesat] by Rashi's disciples was motivated by the belief tha the Bible understood on its own terms would demonstrate that Judaism rather than Christianity is the only legitimate heir to the legacy, which is commonly called "the Old Testament"; see, in addition to the important literature cited by Signer, p. 273, n. 3, Touito, "The Exegetical Method of Rashbam Against the Background of the Historical Reality of His Time," pp. 48-74; Sarah Kamin, Rashi's Commentary on the Song of Songs and the Jewish-Christian Polemic," SHNATON 7-8 (1984), pp. 218-48 (in Hebrew); Shereshevsky, Rashi: The Man and His World, pp. 119-32. Rashi here suggests that it was not science for science's sake that led him to point out that in Biblical Heb. masiah is not an allusion to the eschatological "King Messiah" of late Second Temple era and later Judaism but simply a synonym of the noun melek "king"; see Rashi also at Ps. 105:15. That Rashi should have found it necessary to differentiate the Christian belief that mesiho in Ps. 2:2 refers to "His Messiah" can be explained as follows: in the LXX masiah, lit., "Annointed One is christos (similarl in the Vulgate, christus). Moreover, the New Testament Book of Acts 4:25-27 declares explicitly that Ps. 2:1-2, which asks, "Why did the Gentiles rage ... against the Lord and his christos," refers to there having been "gathered together against ... Jesus ... both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the People of Israel" (Acts 4:25-27; RSV). While a comparison of eisegetical tradition may be serviceable in interfaith dialogue, the defense of the contention that Jewry rather Christendom was the legitimate child of Hebrew Scripture made it necessary for Rashi and his disciples to seek out the primary meaning of the biblical word and to show that this supported the Jew's adherence to the ancestral faith rather than the adoption the Christian faith. Note that Rashi's demonstration that mesiho in Ps. 2:2 denotes "HIS ANNOINTED KING" resets upon 2 Sam. 5:17, which refers to David's having been "anointed ... king."

As this example shows, Gruber is rather expansive in his comments (although they are riddled with serious and not so serious typographic errors -- I found two or three on every page). Herczeg just gives a more basic comment that let's you understand what Rashi is saying.

However, if you desire to read Gruber, I strongly suggest reading Gruber in conjunction with R' Herczeg -- since this allows you to at least follow the Hebrew wording of Rashi.

The books are nearly the same cost, and I think there is no contest in terms of physical quality or content -- R' Herczeg's is the one to get.

Happy studying of the Tehillim.

April 13, 2010

No comment necessary

Bishop Giacomo Babini blames Jews for attacks on Pope

A retired Italian bishop has provoked fury by reportedly suggesting that “Zionists” are behind the current storm of accusations over clerical sex abuse shaking the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

Monsignor Giacomo Babini, the Bishop Emeritus of Grossetto, was quoted by the Italian Roman Catholic website Pontifex as saying he believed a “Zionist attack” was behind the criticism of the Pope, given that it was “powerful and refined” in nature.

Bishop Babini denied he had made any anti-Semitic remarks. He was backed by the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), which issued a declaration by Bishop Babini in which he said: “Statements I have never made about our Jewish brothers have been attributed to me.”

However, Bruno Volpe, who interviewed Monsignor Babini for Pontifex, confirmed that the bishop had made the statement, which was reported widely in the Italian press today. Pontifex threatened to release the audio tape of the interview as proof.

Monsignor Babini’s reported comments follow a series of statements from senior Vatican cardinals blaming a “concerted campaign” by “powerful lobbies” for accusations that Pope Benedict XVI was involved in covering up cases of clerical abuse both as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982 and subsequently as head of doctrine at the Vatican.

None has explicitly blamed Jews or any other group. However Bishop Babini, 81, said Jews “do not want the Church, they are its natural enemies”. He added: “Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are deicides [God killers].”

He was quoted as saying that Hitler was “not just mad” but had exploited German anger over the excesses of German Jews who in the 1930s had throttled the German economy.

Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee said Monsignor Babini was using “slanderous stereotypes, which sadly evoke the worst Christian and Nazi propaganda prior to World War Two”.

Giovanni Maria Vian, the Editor of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said there was a media campaign against the Pope but suggestions that Jews were behind it were ridiculous.

Speaking to the foreign press corps in Rome, Mr Vian pointed out that L’Osservatore Romano had reprinted remarks made in the Jerusalem Post by Ed Koch, the Jewish former mayor of New York, in which he said that continuing attacks by the media on the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI were “manifestations of anti-Catholicism”.

Mr Koch said that he disagreed with the Catholic Church on abortion, homosexuality, divorce and contraception. But the Church had a right to hold such beliefs, and “much of the attack on it today stems from opposition to those teachings”.

He added: “Many of those in the media who are pounding on the Church and the Pope today clearly do it with delight and some with malice.

“I believe the Roman Catholic Church is a force for good in the world, not evil. Enough is enough.

“Yes, terrible acts were committed by members of the Catholic clergy. The Church has paid billions to victims in the US and will pay millions, perhaps billions, more to other such victims around the world. It is trying desperately to atone for its past by its admissions and changes in procedures for dealing with paedophile priests.”

There were Jewish protests at Easter when Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, compared attacks on the Pope to the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism” in his Good Friday reflections before Pope Benedict in the Vatican.

The Vatican later said the Pope had not been aware in advance of Father Cantalamessa’s remarks, which did not represent the Vatican’s views.

Today Mr Vian said Father Cantalamessa’s observations had been innocent in intention, though whether it had been prudent to make them in the current climate was another matter.

Pope Benedict, who visited the Rome synagogue in January, has sought to mend Catholic-Jewish relations since last year, when he offended Jewish groups by rehabilitating Bishop Richard Williamson, an excommunicated ultra-conservative prelate who denies that six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

The Pope said he was unaware of Bishop Williamson’s views and demanded that he rescind them.

However, the pontiff has also angered Jewish leaders with his continuing support for the beatification of Pope Pius XII, the wartime Pope who is charged by critics with having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Beatification is the step before sainthood.

On Friday Benedict watched a preview of a forthcoming programme to be shown by RAI, the state broadcaster, which praises Pius XII for his role in helping to save Jews behind the scenes in wartime Rome, and is said by aides to have expressed his approval.