Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
His introduction makes his purpose clear. He wants to protect
his fellow-Jews against misinterpretations which have been uti­
lized “to assail Israel’s hope and faith.” But his aim is not only
the negative one of correcting the tendentious renderings of
Christian translators. He wants also to make available both to
Jewish and non-Jewish readers the rich fruits of Jewish biblical
scholarship, past and present. Here he names the great medieval
Hebrew exegetes, as well as the German scholars from Mendelssohn
to Herxheimer, on whom he has drawn.
Leeser never made pretensions to great scholarship, and some
of his contemporaries liked to dwell, with far from innocent delight,
on the limitations of his Hebrew knowledge. In any case, he was
a diligent and thorough student, who made excellent use of the
available resources, and chose among them with discretion. His
Bible translation is generally accurate and sound. In many pas­
sages it marks an advance in clarity and precision over the Author­
ized Version (hereafter AV) — and not only in those places where
Christian presuppositions influenced the earlier translators.
In the very first chapter of Genesis, Leeser discards the tradi­
tional “firmament” and tells of God creating an “expansion.”
The word is perhaps not quite precise, but at least it conveys
some meaning to the reader, whereas “firmament” means nothing
at all. Again, in Exodus 15.21, where Miriam leads the Israelite
women in song, the older versions read, “And Miriam answered
them.” Leeser, however, translates, “And Miriam began her song to
them,” recognizing that the verb
lanah
often means to start an
utterance rather than to answer. (Cf. II Kings, 1.11, I Chronicles
12.18).
Externally, Leeser’s translation differs from the Christian ver­
sions by following the order of books in the Hebrew Bible, not
that of the Septuagint. The weekly readings from the Torah and
prophets are likewise indicated. The English style, Leeser himself
states, is modeled on that of King James’ translators; but despite
its many merits, his translation lacks the majesty and melody
of AV. A few lines are sufficient proof:
“In pastures of tender grass he causeth me to lie down: beside
still waters he leadeth me. My soul he refresheth: he guideth me
in the tracks of righteousness for the sake of his name . . . Surely,
only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my
life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord to the utmost
length of days.”