May 20, 2019

Passover and the Traitorous Translation

This Friday evening, the holiday of Passover begins with families across the globe gathering for the reading of the Haggadah and the eating of traditional Passover foods.

Haggadah means “telling” in Hebrew and is a written guide to the “Seder” (order) of the retelling of the redemption of the Jewish people from ancient Egyptian slavery. This collection of stories, rituals, and blessings enable us to re-experience and appreciate the exodus from Egypt and the redemption.

Although the highlight of the Haggadah is the story of the exodus, I would like to focus on one point which is frequently overlooked.

The Haggadah states, “Your fathers went down to Egypt with 70 persons, and now, the Lord, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

Despite backbreaking bondage, the Jewish people were able to maintain a family life and grow into a large nation.

Our sages credited the Jewish women’s steadfast faith for encouraging their husbands to have children, despite Pharaoh’s decree to put all male infants to death and raise their daughters in Egyptian culture.

The Torah states that the Jewish people descended into Egypt as a small clan of 70 people and grew to a nation of more than 600,000 men above the age of 20. When you count the women and children the number is over a million.

This population explosion took place over 400 years, of which 210 where enslavement.

The number 70, people who started our nation, is mentioned three times in the Torah, Genesis 46:27, Exodus1:5, and Deuteronomy 10:22. In each instance, Shevim – שׁבִעְִי֣ם†it the Hebrew word used for seventy.

I often ask missionaries to look up these three verses and compare them to what it says in their New Testament. They are surprised to discover that in Acts 7:14, Stephen in a speech to the Jewish Sanhedrin, incorrectly states that it was 75 people who descended into Egypt.

Some missionaries try to explain this contradiction claiming that Stephen was quoting from the Greek Septuagint (literally “seventy”) which they erroneously claim is more accurate than the Hebrew because 70 ancient Jewish scholars did the translation.

There are numerous reasons the missionary argument is wrong. I want to list just a few.

1) If Stephen is speaking to the Jewish rabbinical court, he would quote the Hebrew text and not a Greek translation.

2) Stephen makes another mistake in the next verse when he incorrectly states that Jacob was buried in Shechem when the Torah (Genesis 50:13) clearly states he was buried in Hebron.

3) The Septuagint itself is inconsistent, claiming 75 people in Genesis and Exodus, and 70 in Deuteronomy.

4) The existing Septuagint translation is not the same version that the 70 sages produced in mid-3rd century BCE and does not match the description listed in the Talmud, Megillah 9a. Obviously, the text Stephen was quoting was a later version and not true to the Hebrew original.

5) Both the Talmud and Aristobulus’ earliest account of the Septuagint concur that the 70 sages only translated the Pentateuch – the first 5 books of Moses. Therefore, the editors of the Zondervan version of the Septuagint state that the other books of the bible were translated later by different people. They also point out that “Isaiah appears to be the very worst” translation. This point is especially significant and telling because missionaries like to quote the Septuagint to validate other erroneous interpretations of proof-texts from Isaiah.

There is an old Italian saying: “Traduttore, traditore” which means “to translate is to betray.” Sadly, these Greek mistranslations have misled many people.

On the other hand, Passover commemorates an unbroken chain of tradition validated by the ongoing miraculous survival of the Jewish people over countless centuries by adversaries who were stronger and more numerous than us.

The Haggadah proclaim a message of hope and a promise that God will continue to sustain the Jewish people until the final redemption. May we soon see the fulfillment of the proclamation “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Happy Passover,

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz