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I have found a vast difference in translations of 1 Samuel 15:32. Can a learned Bible scholar explain?
I was studying my Bible recently and came across 1 Samuel chapter 15 verse 32. When I study I use an NIV version, a Hebrew-English Tanakh published by JPS and The Complete Jewish Bible (a Messianic translation). The NIV says that King Agag approached Samuel with confidence, but the Jewish translations say that Agag approached Samuel with impending doom. I further researched several versions online and The Message and the Dhouy-Rheims follow the Jewish versions but the other tranlations say Agag approached Samuel with cheer, or in general good spirits – rather cocky. I usually do not nit-pick because the message is general the same but this one really confused me. PLEASE for those agnostics, atheist and non-believers please don’t answer, I know what you think. I’m looking for a Believers answer. Thanks.
The translation of Hebrew is quite a complex matter and I’m not a Hebrew scholar, so can’t comment in any detail on what has happened in these differing translations. However, my observation is this: the NIV is translated by a large group of people, NONE of whom is Jewish. Thus, although there is, I am sure, a literal validity in what they write, they don’t know all the complexity of biblical Hebrew, of how it has been understood in the tradition which goes all the way back and therefore may make the wrong assumptions. Biblical Hebrew is written without vowels, and the scrolls pretty much run the words together, so one has to know one’s Hebrew extremely well in order to get to grips with what is being said. The lack of vowel markings (mostly) means that many words can be read in different ways, and whatever choice one makes needs to be justifiable. This is where the depth of Jewish Hebrew scholarship comes in – being able to refer forward and back through the Tanakh to other places where these combinations of words occur, for example.
My JPS (1985) gives “Agag approached him with faltering steps”, and a footnote says “from the root ma’ad, to falter, cf Septuagint”. I’d go with the Jewish version not because the Christian translators aren’t well-versed in Hebrew, but because they aren’t well-versed in Torah study.
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