Plowing through History from the Aleph to the Tav
About the Ancient Hebrew Research Center (AHRC)By Jeff A. Benner
Shalom. My name is Jeff A. Benner (More about me and my family) and my wife is Denise. We would like to welcome you to the "Ancient Hebrew Research Center" and hope you enjoy your visit here.
I am often asked why my definitions of Biblical Hebrew words differ from all other resources available such as Strong's dictionary and why my translations of the Bible are unlike any other English translation. Most people believe that an English translation of the Bible is a fairly good representation of the original Hebrew text. But, have you ever heard the expression "lost in the translation?" Through my research I have found that the original meanings of Hebrew words are not only lost to us in the translations but have long been buried and hidden from our sight. I believe it is time that we read the Hebrew Bible from the perspective of its original authors rather than from our own modern perspective.
I am also frequently asked for my "credentials" to teach Hebrew. Well, I guess I don't have any unless you count the thousands of hours I have spent in research and study. I have attempted to use as many resources as I could from the fields of history, linguistics, archeology, anthropology and theology in order to uncover the original Hebrew alphabet, language, thought and culture.
In October, 2007, I did an interview with Dr Timothy Sakach of "Lift up your voice" where we discuss some of the unique aspects of the Hebrew language of the Bible, how I got started in my research into the Ancient Hebrew language and the origins of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center. Click Here to listen to the audio file. This is a 23 Mb file and runs for 33 minutes and 27 seconds.
Most Bible readers expect the translation of the Bible they are using to be accurate to the Hebrew text. So, do the "standard" translations always translate the text correctly?
Most translations have "my punishment is greater than I can bear" for the end of Genesis 4:13. The Hebrew word translated as "punishment" is "avon," which means "iniquity" (or, more correctly, crookedness from an Hebraic perspective). This same word is used hundreds of other times where it is correctly translated as "iniquity." The literal rendering of Genesis 4:13 is "great is the burden of my iniquity," the opposite of how it is generally translated.
In Exodus 34:28 we find the phrase "ten commandments" in every translation. Grammatically speaking, this is a poor translation. The Hebrew behind this translation is "aseret hadevarim." The word aseret is the construct state of the word asarah and should be translated as "ten of..." The word hadevariym means "the words" Therefore, aseret hadevariym should correctly be translated as "ten of the words."
These are only a few examples of many. Many translations should be called "interpretations" as they are the translators opinion of what the text states and not always what the text literally says.
My first word studies
When I first began studying the Bible I loved to do word studies. I would select a word and study its uses and contexts in as many verses as I could find them. One of these studies was with the word "heart" and I would look up verses such as these below.
However, I was soon to discover that there was a flaw in this type of word study. I purchased a Concordance, a book with a complete list of all the words in a particular translation, which would cross reference any word in the translation with Strong's Dictionary. This would give you the Hebrew word behind the English translation as well as a definition of that word.
With this tool I discovered that the English translation was not very consistent on how it translated Hebrew words. For instance, in the examples I gave above, the word heart is a translation of three different Hebrew words. The Hebrew word Lev, which is the Hebrew word for "heart," is translated as "heart" in verse #1, #2, #4 and #6 above. The word nephesh, which is usually translated as soul, is translated as "heart" in verse #3. Me'ah, which is literally the intestines, is translated as "heart" in verse #5. Each of these Hebrew words has a specific meaning but the translators chose to ignore this and just translate all three as "heart."
The use of the concordance also revealed that the Hebrew word lev (heart), was translated with other English words as you can see in the verses below.
All of this playing with words in the English translations did not settle well with me. How was a person to properly interpret the Bible if there was no consistency in how the Hebrew was translated? If one is given the proper translations and definitions some interesting revelations appear.
I had previously thought, based on the above verse, that the heart (in the sense of emotion) was deceitful but the mind was logical and trustworthy. After discovering that the heart to the Hebrews was the mind, I realized that Jeremiah was saying that the "mind" was deceitful. In other studies I discovered that emotion, which we consider to be the heart, is actually the kidneys to the Hebrews.
I should point out that this is not an isolated case by any means, in fact, I have seen this same scenario played out time after time with many different words and in all translations. Anyone desiring to do a serious word study can never rely on an English translation alone, at a minimum a concordance and dictionary are going to be essential.The need to learn Hebrew
There would be times when I was unable to determine what a verse was saying with the use of a concordance and Strong's dictionary. As an example, when you look up the word "savior" (a noun) in Strong's Dictionary you are told that the Hebrew word was "yasha," a verb meaning "to save." Another example is the word "shepherd" (a noun) which I was being told was the verb "ra'ah" meaning "to see." What did "seeing" have to do with a "shepherd" and why did the translators translate the word "ra'ah" meaning "to see" as shepherd? At this point I realized that a deeper understanding of Hebrew was going to be necessary if I wanted to get the real meaning behind the Hebrew text.
My next step was to learn Hebrew which I soon discovered was a fairly simple language (for at least the older books of the Bible) and within a couple of years I was able to read the Bible in Hebrew with a fair amount of accuracy especially with the help of a lexicon. One such lexicon that I found invaluable was Benjamin Davidson's Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon which alphabetically lists each word in the Hebrew Bible, as it appears in the text with all prefixes and suffixes attached, and provides the morphology (identifying the Hebrew word and the meaning of any prefixes and/or suffixes attached to the word) of each word.My introduction to the Ancient Hebrew Alphabet
One day I saw a newspaper article about an ostraca (a broken fragment from a piece pottery) which was a receipt for a donation to the "House of YHWH," the temple. What I found most interesting was that the script used on this Hebrew inscription was not the Hebrew script I had learned but something very different. This lead me on a quest to learn this more ancient Hebrew script which I was to come to find out was the script originally used to write the Hebrew Bible.
After researching the Ancient Hebrew alphabet I discovered that each letter was a picture and this picture provided a meaning to that letter. I also found that the meaning of a Hebrew word could be found within the letters of that word. A good example of this is the Hebrew word
My introduction to Ancient Hebrew Thought
While attending Bible studies through a local Messianic group I was introduced to several scholars who through their presentations showed that the Hebrews who wrote the Bible did not view their world the same as we do and proper Biblical interpretation can only come through a good knowledge of Hebrew thought. A simple example of this is the past and the future. In our modern western culture the past is behind us and the future in front. However, in the Hebrew mind it is the opposite, the past is in front because it is known or "seen" to us while the future is behind us because it is unknown and cannot be seen.
Another resource that I found invaluable was Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek by Thorleif Boman and was amazed to find that the Ancient Hebrew culture viewed such subjects as time, space, heaven, family, life and death in terms differently than we would and if I was going to read the Bible correctly I was going to have to change my perspective to more reflect the perspectives of the Ancient Hebrews who wrote the Bible.
The Ancient Hebrew Research Center
I first went "online" in 1999 and I immediately began searching the net for information on "Ancient Hebrew" and was surprised to find that there was none. Yes, there were plenty of websites on Hebrew, from a modern perspective, but not the Ancient Hebrew script or thought. At the same time I was sharing with others some of what I have been learning and I realized that there were many who would be interested in this information. I began the Ancient Hebrew Research Center in 1999 with the specific goal of teaching the Hebrew alphabet and language of the Bible from an Ancient perspective.
A New Lexicon
These three pivotal events, recognizing that the English translations are not completely reliable, the Hebrew script used today is not the same as used to write the Hebrew Bible and Hebrews think and act differently than we do, caused me to pursue a more accurate understanding of the Hebrew alphabet, language and culture.
To assist me with my Hebrew education I began creating my own dictionary. Through a careful process of word studies I began to recognize a series of patterns within the roots. The first of these was that roots which share two letters in common were closely related in meaning. An example are the roots
I also discovered that all of the words derived from one root were also closely related. This brought about a new understanding to some Hebrew words. For instance, out of the root
This began my interest in creating a lexicon that related each word and root to the culture of the Hebrews which will allow the reader to understand the Biblical text from an Ancient Hebrew perspective. The lexicon would also group all of the parent and child roots together along with all of the words derived from them. After several years of research the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible was published in August of 2005.
A New Translation
Once I learned to read the Bible in Hebrew I found many cases where the English translations had "fixed" the text by adding or subtracting words so that it read more smoothly. One example of many can be found in Genesis 4:1 which the Revised Standard Version reads "Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, 'I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.'" The word "help" in this translation is an addition to the text and is not found in the original Hebrew text. The King James Version renders the end of that verse as "I have gotten a man from the LORD" and the word "from" is also an addition and not found in the original Hebrew text. I believe the translators did this so that the reader would not have to study the text too hard in order to understand it. Unfortunately, this method distorts or even erases the original reading and in some cases the meaning of the original Hebrew. I believe that there are many people who would be willing to put the time into some study and read the text for what it says rather than what the translator wants you to think it says.
I began formulating a translation style that would eliminate, or at least minimize, personal and religious bias from the translation. I came up with what I call a "Mechanical Translation." This translation would translate each Hebrew word, prefix and suffix, using the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible as its foundation, exactly the same way each time it occurs and in the same sequence as they appear in the Hebrew text. The first advantage to such a translation is that it will assist those who are learning to read Hebrew by identifying the different parts of a word or sentence and their meanings. Because each Hebrew word is so diverse and dynamic it cannot be translated sufficiently with one or two words so a dictionary would be included in the book so that the reader can dig deeper into the meaning of each word. Because Hebrew syntax (sentence structure) is so different from our own English language it was necessary to include a second translation (what I call the "Revised Mechanical Translation") which would rearrange the words of the translation into sentences that would make sense to the average reader.
In September of 2007 A Mechanical Translation of the Book of Genesis , the first installment of this new translation, was published. Below is an excerpt from this translation (Genesis 1:27) which will demonstrate its usefulness in proper Biblical interpretation.
To get a more Hebraic understanding of this verse I have included the dictionary entry for a few of the words found in the Mechanical Translation.
With the help of the translation and dictionary we find that this verse can be interpreted as "And Elohiym filled the human with his shadow, with the shadow of Elohiym he filled him, male and female he filled them." With this interpretation we could say that Elohiym placed a representation of himself (his shadow) within the man and woman.
The Greek Influence of the Hebrew Scriptures
Throughout my research I had noticed another problem with today's Hebrew dictionaries and English translations, a prolific influence of the Greek language and culture on the Hebrew text.
This influence comes from many different angles. The Greek Septuagint (a 2,000 year old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) has greatly influenced translators in their work, often to the point of ignoring the Hebrew language and culture in preference to the Greek. Our own culture, called Greco-Roman, has greatly influenced the way we read the Bible. Christians are not alone in their Greek way of thinking but the Jews as well, who for centuries have lived in European countries, are also heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman culture.
This Greek influence can be clearly seen in names such as Moses which comes to us from the Greek Septuagint whereas in the Hebrew it is Mosheh. Another example is the name Eve, again from the Greek, where the Hebrew has Hhawa. The list is about as long as the number of names in the Bible. A little more serious is how the translations have actually used the Greek Septuagint for its translation rather than from the Hebrew text. An example is Genesis 25:27 where all the translations use the words "plain", "quiet" or "simple" to describe the character of Jacob. However, the Hebrew word is "tam" and it is properly translated in Job 1:1 as "perfect" to describe the character of Job. Why is this one Hebrew word translated as "plain" in one place but "perfect" in another? The answer is that the translators are using the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew for the translation of the Hebrew Bible.Putting it all together
Most of you are probably very familiar with the King James Version of Numbers 6:24-26 which reads as follows.
You have probably read or heard this passage countless times but have you ever asked yourself what these words 'really' mean? If you're like me you probably thought of these words as 'nice' but never really dug into their meaning. Without going into any details here about the Hebraic meanings of each of the words in this passage (for a more in-depth look at each of the words in this passage click here) let me give you my translation of it based on what I have found from the Hebrew language.
The rest is up to you
I will close with this question to you, "Are you willing to put in the extra time to research and study the Bible to find its hidden nuggets of truth and wisdom?" If you are, then I invite you to begin by using the resources available at this site, I don't think you will be disappointed. If you are ready to begin I recommend you start with the Introduction. If your desire is to learn to read the Bible in Hebrew then feel free to jump right into our free Lessons. Finally, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions please E-mail me. If you would like to be updated on new web site articles, AHRC products or upcoming events please sign up with our Mail List.
Jeff A. Benner