The Bible

Versions and translations

The original texts of the Tanakh were almost entirely written in Hebrew with about one percent in Aramaic. The earliest translation of any Bible text is the Septuagint which translated the Hebrew into Greek.[33] As the first translation of any biblical literature, the translation that became the Septuagint was an unparalleled event in the ancient world.[245] This translation was made possible by a common Mediterranean culture where Semitism had been foundational to Greek culture.[246] In the Talmud, Greek is the only language officially allowed for translation.[118] The Targum Onkelos is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible believed to have been written in the second century CE.[33] These texts attracted the work of various scholars, but a standardized text was not available before the 9th century.[33]

There were different ancient versions of the Tanakh in Hebrew. These were copied and edited in three different locations producing slightly varying results. Masoretic scholars in Tiberias in ancient Palestine copied the ancient texts in Tiberian Hebrew. A copy was recovered from the "Cave of Elijah" (the synagogue of Aleppo in the Judean desert) and is therefore referred to as the Aleppo Codex which dates to around 920. This codex, which is over a thousand years old, was originally the oldest codex of the complete Tiberian Hebrew Bible.[247] Babylonian masoretes had also copied the early texts, and the Tiberian and Babylonian were later combined, using the Aleppo Codex and additional writings, to form the Ben-Asher masoretic tradition which is the standardized Hebrew Bible of today. The Aleppo Codex is no longer the oldest complete manuscript because, during riots in 1947, the Aleppo Codex was removed from its location, and about 40% of it was subsequently lost. It must now rely on additional manuscripts, and as a result, the Aleppo Codex contains the most comprehensive collection of variant readings.[34] The oldest complete version of the Masoretic tradition is the Leningrad Codex from 1008. It is the source for all modern Jewish and Christian translations.[33][247]

Levidas writes that, "The Koine Greek New Testament is a non-translated work; most scholars agree on this—despite disagreement on the possibility that some passages may have appeared initially in Aramaic... It is written in the Koine Greek of the first century [CE]".[248] Early Christians translated the New Testament into Old Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Latin, among other languages.[48] The earliest Latin translation was the Old Latin text, or Vetus Latina, which, from internal evidence, seems to have been made by several authors over a period of time.[249][250]

Pope Damasus I (366–383) commissioned Jerome to produce a reliable and consistent text by translating the original Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin. This translation became known as the Latin Vulgate Bible, in the 4th century CE (although Jerome expressed in his prologues to most deuterocanonical books that they were non-canonical).[251][252] In 1546, at the Council of Trent, Jerome's Vulgate translation was declared by the Roman Catholic Church to be the only authentic and official Bible in the Latin Church.[253] The Greek-speaking East continued to use the Septuagint translations of the Old Testament, and they had no need to translate the Greek New Testament.[249][250] This contributed to the East-West Schism.[52]

Many ancient translations coincide with the invention of the alphabet and the beginning of vernacular literature in those languages. According to British Academy professor N. Fernández Marcos, these early translations represent "pioneer works of enormous linguistic interest, as they represent the oldest documents we have for the study of these languages and literature".[254]

Translations to English can be traced to the seventh century, Alfred the Great in the 9th century, the Toledo School of Translators in the 12th and 13th century, Roger Bacon (1220–1292), an English Franciscan monk of the 13th century, and multiple writers of the Renaissance.[255] The Wycliffite Bible, which is "one of the most significant in the development of a written standard", dates from the late Middle English period.[256] William Tyndale's translation of 1525 is seen by several scholars as having influenced the form of English Christian discourse as well as impacting the development of the English language itself.[257] Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German in 1522, and both Testaments with Apocrypha in 1534, thereby contributing to the multiple wars of the Age of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Important biblical translations of this period include the Polish Jakub Wujek Bible (Biblia Jakuba Wujka) from 1535, and the English King James/Authorized Version (1604–1611).[258] The King James Version was the most widespread English Bible of all time, but it has largely been superseded by modern translations.[53]

Nearly all modern English translations of the Old Testament are based on a single manuscript, the Leningrad Codex, copied in 1008 or 1009. It is a complete example of the Masoretic Text, and its published edition is used by the majority of scholars. The Aleppo Codex is the basis of the Hebrew University Bible Project in Jerusalem.[34]

Since the Reformation era, Bible translations have been made into the common vernacular of many languages. The Bible continues to be translated to new languages, largely by Christian organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, New Tribes Mission and Bible societies. Lammin Sanneh writes that tracing the impact on the local cultures of translating the Bible into local vernacular language shows it has produced "the movements of indigenization and cultural liberation".[259] "The translated scripture ... has become the benchmark of awakening and renewal".[200]

Bible translations, worldwide (as of September 2021)[260]
Number Statistic
7378 Approximate number of languages spoken in the world today
2217 Number of translations into new languages in progress
1196 Number of languages with some translated Bible portions
1582 Number of languages with a translation of the New Testament
717 Number of languages with a full translation of the Bible (Protestant Canon)
3495 Total number of languages with some Bible translation

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