Textual Criticism of Translations: Alterations and Corruptions

Posted by on Jun 9, 2024

It is the object of this work to explain the Hebrew text of Leviticus 26 and expose a certain alteration in the KJV translation which significantly changes the messages of the Torah. But it is only possible to explore this issue once we know what the Hebrew text indeed reads, and once we understand the meaning of its words and know its grammar. In the following, therefore, we would like to posit another way to render the Hebrew text, specifically in reference to the Hebrew word vav. This work has also a second object, namely, we will try to show that the question of textual criticism of translations is far from being trivial and hope to provide an adequate explanation of the issue below. We will explain the reason for this in due course. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on verses 40 through 42 of Leviticus 26.

Leviticus 26:3-46 approaches the end of the Book of Leviticus with the section of “blessings and curses” beginning with “If you walk in My statutes . . . I shall give your rain in due season”. And later Torah continues: “If you do not hearken to Me, etc.”– these are the curses with which the chapter is coming to close with the warning that the people who are taken in exile will perish among the nations, and the land of their enemies will consume them (Lev 26:38). The phrase “the land of your enemies will consume them” does not give assurance that the children of Israel will remain as they are in the exile but alludes to them being assimilated. And those who are not assimilated the land of the gentiles will destroy and swallow up through persecutions, pogroms, and inquisitions. The sages comment that this is one of the harshest curses of all in the Torah. Yet even though the Eternal will never forget them, the land will, and thusly she will be repaid for her sabbaths and jubilees that they failed to observe (verses 43-44). But He will remember for them even after many generations the Covenant of the forefathers, and He will take them as He took them out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, even in public display, to be their Elohim, so that all will see that the Eternal is the One who is responsible for all these events. These “blessings and curses” in Leviticus 26 Torah are intended to motivate the people to observe the laws of the Eternal. The Torah warns that the punishment will fit the crime, and thus it happened to them.

Yet, we find in the [English] translations something else that is crawling into the text: a word inserted in a wrong place where it does not belong. A word as small as the English word “if”. We read from the King James’ version of the Bible, as follows,

If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;  (Lev 26:40 KJV)

And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:  (Lev 26:41 KJV)

Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.  (Lev 26:42 KJV)

But this does not appear to us to be correct, for in our view, the Hebrew text rejects such a translation of the verses. When a conditional clause that begins with “if” or “when”, it is typically completed by a second clause that begins with “then”. In Hebrew, the if-then clause is typically introduced by the particle כִּי, kiy, with the meaning of “when”, because”, “if”, indicating causal relations of all kinds. But the actual Hebrew word for “if” is אִם im, which introduces conditional clauses such as “whether” or “although”. Hebrew, however, has no word for “then”. Instead of “then”, Hebrew may use the letter ו‎ vav, which literally means “and”, to express “then” and open the second clause in the sentence if needed in the context, i.e., if a certain condition has been met, then such and such.

Such is the case with the translation in question. In order to read verse 40 this way, the word אִם im must be present in the text, which is not what the Hebrew text reads. The Hebrew language therefore demands a different translation, which will make sense to the critical reader, as we will explain below. 

The conditional clause “if”, with which the KJV translation of verse 40 begins, introduces probability that an event likely but not certainly can be or become true or real, a chance. The conditional clause “if” also introduces clauses such as “whether”, which expresses a doubt or question, or “although”, which expresses “in spite of the fact”, “regardless”, “in defiance of”. What the KJV translation, therefore, insinuates here in a subtle manner is that a condition is set before Israel: if she does not turn away from her sins, then the Eternal will punish the nation or even worse (let it not be) reject her in return. But is this what the Hebrew text says? We will now remove all the difficulties. 

We will read the interlinear translation of the verses after having removed the “extras”. Would we see a different picture?

Leviticus 26:

Levitucus 26,40

(40) And they shall confess their intentional sins and the sins of their fathers, in their trespass which they committed against Me, and also that they have walked contrary to Me.

Leviticus 26,41

(41) I also will walk contrary to them and bring them into the land of their enemies; except at that time their uncircumcised heart shall be humbled, and they shall accept the punishment of their iniquity;

Leviticus 26,42

(42) And I shall remember My covenant with Ya‛akov, and also My covenant with Yitschak, and I shall remember also My covenant with Avraham, and I shall remember the Land.

In order to make the message clear to the reader, the Torah uses the Hebrew word vav, meaning “and”, which the KJV translators have intentionally omitted on two occasions: in verses 40 and 42. They substituted “if” and “then” for “and”, in verses 40 and 42, respectively. Why is that important to discuss?

The ancient Hebrew letter vav (Hebrew spelling: וָו‎) has the meaning of “hook, peg, nail” that secures firmly a tent in place, as its ancient pictograph represents a peg. In the sentence, this Hebrew letter can serve as a connector to add a word or phrase to another. The letter ו‎ vav, can also be rendered with a synonym of “and” such as “moreover”, as this word denotes value, or properties added to an object. Hence, in keeping with the rules of grammar, our verse in Leviticus 26 can be read a new: “Moreover, they shall confess their intentional sins, etc.” And likewise verse 42 will read: “Moreover, I shall remember My covenant with Ya‛akov, etc.” And this is the correct and clear translation of the verses in their simplicity. 

What exactly is being described in the Hebrew text here? Understand this according to what it literally says: Israel will repent, and the nation will be forgiven. This is a plain statement meant to be understood plainly. But because the KJV translators were not able to alter the Hebrew text, for it was not theirs to touch, they changed the translation, and thus they changed the meaning of the original statement. It appears therefore to us on the basis of the Hebrew text that this is a case of a very serious corruption of the translation of Torah, which we have every reason to believe that it was done intentionally. For these translators, it did not seem to matter what the Hebrew text reads, or what Mosheh prohibited in Deu 4:2 and Deu 12:32.

Such a corruption of the text cannot be left unaddressed. As we have stated on other occasions, a translation, even if it is done with good intention, is not the Word of the Eternal Elohim, but it is the word of men. Whenever we read a translation, we read the opinion of the translator. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the translator to accurately convey the message in the Hebrew text to the reader. There will always be challenges before the translators, especially in cases when there is no equivalent word in the receiving language. But as it is evident, this is not the case of Leviticus 26:40. Here a word has been added to the text to make it fit a religious doctrine.

By laying out these factors, a conclusion follows naturally from the plain words of the Hebrew text, and the meaning of the last verses of Leviticus 26 (40-46) is this: “My people will confess their sins. And I will remember My people and My Land, and that they paid its due Sabbaths, while it laid forsaken, and I will remember that they have atoned for their iniquity, and I will forgive them for the sake of the forefathers”. No “ifs”, no “thens”. But if the readers do not know how to be careful when reading translations but take them by blind faith, they will inevitably become confused and misled. And perhaps the most pronounced example of this is the KJV translation of Leviticus 26:40. 

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