More Fun with Bible Translation
Picking up on the theme of yesterday’s post, I want to point out another Bible passage where a subtle tweak of the translation radically alters the meaning.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah lived in the early 6th century B.C.E., at the time of the Babylonian Exile. At one point in his career, Jeremiah makes a withering attack on the Temple and the entire sacrificial system which was the reason for the Temple’s very existence. His famous “temple sermon” includes these words:
“Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jeremiah 7:21, RSV)
This is an astonishing passage because Jeremiah clearly states that there was never any divine mandate to build the Temple. And there was never any divine mandate for all the ordinances regarding liturgies, vestments, and sacrifices spelled out at length in the Torah. In short, Jeremiah is saying that they made the whole thing up! And this fundamental contradiction in the Old Testament is a really big problem for Christianity on too many levels to get into here. (Suffice it to say that Christianity is basically an evolved form of a human sacrifice cult, and if there was no divine mandate to sacrifice, it kind of messes things up–like the perpetual sacrifice of the Mass, for instance.)
So what do we do about this contradiction at the heart of the Christian scriptures? Have no fear. Along comes the New International Version , the favorite Bible of evangelicals, to save the day. Here’s Jeremiah 7:21 in the NIV:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves. For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Did you catch it? The NIV resolves the contradiction by inserting the word “just.” “I did not just give them commands…”–indicating that the Lord had indeed commanded the sacrificial system, and, presto!, another nasty biblical mess goes away.
But here’s the thing. The word “just” does not appear in the Hebrew text and there is no linguistic justification for inserting the word just. The whole thing is a lie–evangelical airbrushed history not unlike the way people used to disappear from official photos in the days of Stalin.