Dr. Robert Cargill provides a summary of the second episode of the new History Channel series
The History Channel’s new series Bible Secrets Revealed tackles the mysteries of the Bible over the course of six weeks. Bible Secrets Revealed airs on Wednesdays at 10 pm EST on the History Channel. Live tweet the show at #BibleSecretsRevealed.
Consulting producer Dr. Robert Cargill, who is an archaeologist and assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, has responded to Bible Secrets Revealed viewers’ questions throughout the series. Read the questions and answers here.
Episode 1, “Lost in Translation,” aired on November 13, 2013.
Click here to learn more about the show and to see a list of other episode summaries.
At its core, History’s new series Bible Secrets Revealed could easily be titled “How Scholars Read the Bible.” This is because the secrets revealed in the series are not secrets to most Bible scholars, professional archaeologists working in Israel and the West Bank, or to those students enrolled in credible graduate seminary programs. The show examines issues pertaining to the Bible that might not be as well known to those who have not attended a seminary or majored in religious studies at a university.
Act 1 of the first installment in the series, “Lost in Translation,” begins at Qumran, the site associated with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The discovery of the scrolls fundamentally transformed the way in which we read the Bible because it offered us copies of the Hebrew Bible (aka Christian Old Testament) that were 1,000 years older than the previously oldest copies of the Bible. Why is this important? Because the text of the Biblical books discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls (which represent every canonical book in the Hebrew Bible with the exception of Esther) do not always match the text of the “official” Hebrew Bible we have today. In fact, different copies of the same Biblical books from the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t often match, demonstrating that at the time of Jesus, the Hebrew Biblical texts existed in different versions and traditions that were still being sorted out.
What this means is that it is very difficult to argue that the Bible is the verbatim “Word of God,” especially when all of the ancient manuscripts contain different words. So, people of faith throughout the years have relied on any number of known and unknown scholars and authorities to judge and translate the texts and decide which textual variants would be preserved and which would be discarded. And it is this very messy, often contentious process—evident simply by laying the ancient manuscripts of both Old and New Testament side-by-side and comparing them—that gives us the Bible we have today. But the overarching point should not be missed: for over two millennia, whether they know it or not, people of faith have relied upon scholars to translate and make judgments upon Biblical texts and to interpret them so that those who do not read ancient languages can get an idea of what the ancient scriptures say.
And it is for this reason that we have a classic saying in Biblical studies: “There is no such thing as translation without interpretation.” Every act of translating requires a judgment to be made regarding what the author of the original text meant to say, and this evaluation is often a theological judgment of the scribe or scholar making the translation. This is how we get such different English translations today.
Act 1 reveals what scholars have known for centuries: Despite claims that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible were actually composed by several authors and a number of literary sources. And with regard to the New Testament, the Gospels are all anonymous, with the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John not being attributed to their respective Gospels until the 2nd century C.E. And so not only do we not always know who wrote the Bible, but many of the meanings of the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic words often get lost in translation.
One specific example offered in Act 1 is the translation of the simple Hebrew word םדא, “man.” Of course, this word can be transliterated as “Adam,” but the word can also mean “humankind.” The translator must make a judgment regarding when to translate םדא as “Adam,” as “man” and as “humankind.”
Read Bible Secrets Revealed consulting producer Robert Cargill’s responses to viewers’ insightful questions by clicking here.
Another translational issue arises in the story of Goliath. Put simply, there appear to be multiple traditions of the story of the death of Goliath, and some of these were included in the Bible. In 1 Sam. 17:50, the text reads:
The text makes very clear that Goliath was killed by David’s sling, and that no sword was used in Goliath’s death. However, in the very next verse, we find that it reads:
In 1 Sam. 17:51, we read that David killed Goliath with Goliath’s own sword—an ironic literary twist that rivals the story of the boy underdog killing the great warrior with a simple sling. Thus, those that collected the ancient stories of David and Goliath and committed them to writing appear to have simply joined the two stories into one. Thus, Goliath is reported as having been “killed” in both verse 50 and 51. (The Hebrew literally says “and he killed him” in both verses, except that verse 50 says it is the result of the sling, while verse 51 says it was the result of the Goliath’s own sword.)
But this is only one of the problems with the story of the death of Goliath. There is another question about who actually killed Goliath, which was solved (at least in the King James Version) with some clever interpretive liberty taken by the translators.
In 1 Sam. 17, David is reported as having killed Goliath. But in 2 Sam. 21:19, it is one of David’s men, Elhanan, who is reported as having killed Goliath:
So in the Bible itself, there is a question about who actually killed the giant Goliath. The authors of the Books of Chronicles (which was written long after the Books of Samuel and Kings) attempt to clean this problem up as best they can. Remember that the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Chronicles rewrite the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. They retell the same stories, but often with slight differences—differences that are usually designed to explain away potential problems in the books of Samuel and Kings (like who actually killed Goliath).
So, when 1 Chron. 20:5 retells the story of Elhanan, it reads like this:
Notice that the book of 1 Chronicles adds “Lahmi, the brother of” to the account, thereby resolving the issue of who actually killed Goliath:
David killed Goliath, and Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, Lahmi. But we must remember that this is merely how the Book of 1 Chronicles retells the story in order to fix the problem. The death of Goliath’s brother is not how it originally appears in 2 Sam. 21:19. But (!), that didn’t stop the translators of the King James Version from using a sneaky little scribal trick to resolve the problem back in 2 Sam. 21:19. If we read the KJV’s translation of 2 Sam. 21:19, we read:
Do you see what the KJV did there? The KJV translators supplied the words “the brother of” when the words for “brother of” absolutely do not appear in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew 2 Sam. 21:19 reads:
The underlined Hebrew text above states that it was, in fact, Goliath who was killed by Elhanan, and not his brother. The words “brother of” (יחא) nowhere appear in the text. The KJV translators simply supplied the words “brother of” into the text. But why? They did it because they knew of the problem regarding who killed Goliath, and they knew that 1 Chron. 20:5 solved the problem by adding the words “the brother of” to the text. So, the KJV translators simply copied the word for “brother of” from 1 Chron. 20:5 back into 2 Sam. 21:19, even though the Hebrew text of 2 Sam. 21:19 nowhere possesses the word for “brother.” Thus, the KJV authors fix via translation a known problem in the text by supplying words into their translation that do not exist in the original text. They took words from one text (1 Chron. 20:5) and copied them from there into the translation of another text (2 Sam. 21:19).
We call this scribal activity “conflation,” or the merging of a claim in one version of a story into another version of the story in an attempt to resolve problems with one of the versions. This is theologically motivated translation technique, and it attempts to fix or “lose” in translation problems present within the original text.
Act 1 ends with a return to the anonymous authors of the New Testament and introduces the concept of “Pseudepigrapha,” which are anonymously written books attributed to influential authors to increase their credibility among a community of believers. The act ends with the adoption of Christianity by the Romans.
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Act 2 examines some issues with the text of the New Testament. For instance, the episode addresses the conflation of the two different birth stories of Jesus. While the Gospel of Luke has Jesus being born in a manger and visited by shepherds, the Gospel of Matthew depicts Jesus as being born at home and visited by Magi. But when we see nativity scenes in the mall, we see three shepherds and three wise men, along with a bunch of animals and a manger. It’s another example of a conflation of different stories.
Act 2 also addresses the notion of the virgin birth of Jesus. The story is rooted in a prophecy from Isaiah 7. At issue is the word for virgin, almah (עלמה), used in Isa. 7:14. In the Septuagint (or LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that became the normative version of the Hebrew Bible among Jews in the late Second Temple period), almah gets translated as parthenos (Greek: παρθένος), which means “young woman,” or “maiden,” or “virgin.” However, in other instances of the word almah in the LXX, the word gets translated as a synonym of “young woman,” like neanis (νεανις) in Exodus 2:8, or neoteti (νεοτητι) in Proverbs 30:19, both from the feminine of the root neos (νεος), or “young woman.”
Interestingly, in Genesis 24:43, almah gets translated as “whomever of the θυγατερες των ανθρωπων,” or “daughters of men.” (Note my explanation with Bart Ehrman of the Aramaic phrase bar enosh (בר אנש) as a simple way to say “man.” In Gen. 24:43, the Hebrew word almah gets translated again as “young woman” (“daughter of man”) in the LXX. So in Isaiah 7:14, the LXX uses the word parthenos (παρθένος), which is simply another synonym for “young woman” of marriageable age. However, since parthenos can also mean “virgin” in the sense of not having had sex, the New Testament translators interpreted the text in that fashion, understanding and implying a miracle.
Thus, in Matthew and Luke, the authors used the verse from Isaiah 7 to describe Mary, who they believed was giving birth to Emmanuel, or “God with us.” Interestingly, there is some debate over (especially) Luke 1:35, where the Holy Spirit was said to be “coming upon” and “overshadowing” Mary. Some suggest that rather than seeing this as an example of “sexless” conception (i.e., the “virgin birth”), but rather divine conception, with the Holy Spirit representing the power of God, that has come upon Mary and caused her to become pregnant. The same root, episkiazo (ἐπισκιάζω), is used in Acts 5:15 regarding Peter’s shadow, which the text says possesses the power of God to heal. But as for the text of Isa. 7:14, the choice of the word parthenos allowed the New Testament writers to interpret the passage as a virginal conception (and not just the conception of a young, marriageable woman), and the result is the virgin birth.
Act 2 also addresses the mystery surrounding the claim in Mark 2:27–28 that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The episode demonstrates that the Aramaic simply stated that “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In Aramaic, the phrase “son of man” is the common way one says “man” (or “a dude”). In any number of Aramaic documents that do not mention Christianity, Jesus or a Jewish Messiah, the Aramaic phrase bar enosh (בר אנש), or “son of man,” is simply used to represent “a person.” That is, there is nothing inherently Messianic about this very common Aramaic phrase. However, because Mark 2:27–28 uses the common phrase “son of man” in a simple aphorism encouraging readers to enjoy the Sabbath and not to let it dictate one’s activities, and because “Son of Man” also came to be Jesus’ self-designation of choice, the moral of the story—that humans have priority over the Sabbath as it is written, “man is lord of the Sabbath”—suddenly came to be interpreted as, “the Son of Man [i.e., Jesus] is Lord of the Sabbath,” and the verse came to be interpreted as Jesus doing away with Sabbath regulations.
The show also examines the transition from the literary format of a scroll to a codex, or book. It may have been a way to distinguish between Judaism and Christianity in later texts.
Act 2 ends by examining the ending of the Gospel of Mark and reveals how the Gospel of Mark originally ended at Mark 16:8 with the women followers of Jesus coming to the empty tomb and being afraid. Later redactors, likely unsatisfied with the sudden ending of Mark, composed a new ending that was more in line with the endings of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
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Act 3 open by examining John Wycliffe’s translation of the Latin Vulgate into English. Wycliffe was judged a heretic after his death and was subsequently exhumed from his grave and what was left of him was burned at the stake. The show suggests that the church didn’t like unapproved, vernacular translations of the Bible and punished those who did so.
The episode also examines Henry VIII and how the schism between the new Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church was made more credible, in part, by the commissioning of a new version of the Bible. William Tyndale is discussed as someone who made an unauthorized English version of the Bible in 1529 and was executed for doing so in 1536. And despite Tyndale’s execution for his English translation, Henry VIII would authorize his own English version of the Bible three years later in an effort to exert more control over his new church.
Another English language version of the Bible, the King James Version, was commissioned in 1604. This version has become the de facto English version of the Bible for many religious conservatives for centuries.
One interesting note during the KJV segment came during a discussion of the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 7–8, the so-called “Pericope Adulterae.” While the KJV version includes the story at John 7:53–8:11, scholars note that this story never appears in any of the earliest copies of the Gospel of John. It is not found in the two third-century C.E. papyri of John (P66 and P75), nor is it found in Codex Sinaiticus or Codex Vaticanus, both dating to the fourth century C.E. It is not until Codex Bezae, dating to the late fourth/early fifth century C.E. that we find this story in a copy of the Gospel of John. Thus, scholars conclude that it was included in the text because it was such a beautiful story and was consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Most modern Bibles use brackets or footnotes to note that this story was, in fact, not included in the earliest copies of the Gospel of John.
Act 4 opens with the pervasive influence of the King James Bible on English idioms that derive from the KJV. The episode also notes the irony of people fleeing England for America, but taking with them the Bible of the Church of England. The show then goes on to highlight some Americans who made their own translations and redactions of the Bible, including Thomas Jefferson, who removed the miracles and turned Jesus into a moral philosopher, and Joseph Smith, who composed the Book of Mormon, which would give rise to the Church of Latter Day Saints, commonly called Mormonism.
Act 4 then looks at how the Bible was used to condone many American social practices, including slavery. The “Curse of Ham” in Genesis 9 was commonly cited to argue that “God’s will” cursed those races of darker skin, therefore making the enslavement of Africans in America somehow “God-ordained.” The show warns against attempts to pick and choose certain verses from the Bible to support modern day civil legislation.
Act 5 concludes the episode by noting the oral tradition and transmission of the stories that ultimately made up the Bible. Because the Bible is constantly being updated to new formats using new technologies, people are always curious about the original versions of these Biblical stories. The episode concludes with a return to the Dead Sea Scrolls, asking whether there are additional manuscripts that might shed more light on the earliest versions of the Biblical stories. The possibility of the discovery of more ancient copies of these Biblical documents underscores the importance of translation of the Biblical texts, as the discovery of new texts will not likely change the beliefs held by billions of people overnight.
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Goliaths: From some where, I don’t remember where, I remember the most believable take on the Goliaths. It came from an expert on genetic disorders (who?), To him it seemed like a description of a family with a progressively deteriorating geonome (a very rare but real disorder) [each generation worse]. The first Goliath apparently had Easter Island Statue disorder, which means he looked like a formidable giant, but was actually a very big klutz, in bad health. Of course the Hebrews would not know that. The later Goliath family were described as having 6 fingers and toes on each hand and foot in addition to the giantism. This would be caused by problems with the genes controlling growth and the timing of growth (a further deterioration of the family geonome).
If you read 2 Sam 22:18-22, you will realize this is not saying someone else other than David killed Goliath, but that in another confrontation with the Philistines, it is Goliath’s sons which are killed now by David and his brother and servants. First rule of translation and/or interpretation: Context. Don’t pull one brick out and decide what the whole house looks like when you haven’t seen the house. “Cut the word of God straight.”(2 Tim 2:15)
I am a simple young girl from a conservative, thirld-world, Catholic country and I believe in the power of knowledge and the importance of research. I randomly came upon this page while thinking of the possibility of the Bible being lost in translation. I was watching a video about fashion and how men wear trousers and women skirts and one of the reasons given was because of the bible (Deut 22:5). In the video, she said that the original text only meant that men were not allowed to avoid going to war by wearing women’s clothing. Upon further research, I came to the conclusion that we have to take into context what the chapter/book the verse appears in to further deepen our understanding the meaning of the verse: which is people who follow the Bible shouldn’t practice idolatry. One of my sources is this: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1010-99192013000100001 . A very interesting read I have to say. That got me into thinking: what if these long-held beliefs of the followers of the Bible were actually just a product of taking things too literally or misinterpreting without regard to the historical context of the scripture? I know. Not a very original idea. Whatever.
Anyhow, this article summarizing the contents of the show Lost in Translation got me more interested in what the Bible is actually trying to convey in a more scholarly perspective. I feel that this is just the start of my journey into digging deeper into THE number one bestselling book of all time. I know that I have some pre-conceived notions about what the Bible says, so I am very interested in seeing these notions challenged. I don’t know what will become of me or my faith at the end of this journey. All I know is that I’m very excited!
• Shepherds visited Jesus when Jesus was lying in a manger,
•wise men visited Jesus way later when Jesus was in the house already,
Wise men could not see Jesus on the same night when Jesus was born because, wise men did not have super fast flying jets at that time,
PLEASE READ BIBLE CAREFUL,
LUKE 2 and MATTHEW 2
Please don’t turn people from bible, GOD IS REAL POWERFUL LIVING GOD
Dear MS, I do believe that the Jesus that you met at church in your simple prayer is real. Point is: where was this Jesus, so real today in yor life, 2’000 years ago at the time the Bible was written? Maybe this real entity was even in another planet, other shape, other appearance at the time and has nothing to do with the man who was crucified at the time. Maybe the one who was crucified and the one who had another shape at the time, merged later. Cause, Divine Persons are also to merge sometimes, you know.
It hurts me to see someone hold on to the bible and call it a lie. If you say the bible is a lie then you are saying that Jesus never existed and weren’t crucified. I am sure there is enough evidence to support Jesus existence and crucifixion. I can testify of the power of Jesus in my life. I know the power in Jesus name and His blood. This show may very well sake the belief of the people who never had an experience with Jesus. People who don’t know the real Jesus and experienced a relationship with him. However, this show could never shake my believe because I have enough experiences with Jesus and I can testify of the power of His name. I consider myself an intelligent young lady. I have a bachelors, speak three languages, just starting my MBA and have a great career. Even though I have schooling there is nothing in my life compared to Jesus. He is the greatest and most amazing joy that I have. I am now 29 years old. I was not a follower of Jesus until age of 26. Before I met Jesus my life was obscure. I had visions and dreams with demons, my soul was dark and I didn’t want to live anymore. I wanted to kill myself so bad. I was very troubled by things I didn’t see and didn’t understand. Until one day I went to church invited by my now current husband and I prayed. I said, “Jesus, I know you are God, I pray now that you come to my rescue and release me from this dark world that surrounds me, because if you don’t I am probably going to die, in the name of Jesus I pray”. My prayer was a very simple and yet to the point. From that moment on, after I left the church, my life completely changed. Jesus cleansed me from the visions and horrible dreams of demons. I no longer wanted to kill myself and I just felt complete peace. I felt like never before, as if I was floating and nothing else in my life mattered except to follow Jesus. Then I started reading the bible and met the Holy Spirit. My life then was touched by the Holy Spirit. I felt peace, joy, happiness and abundant love that is unexplainable. This is just one of the experiences I had with Jesus. He has done so much for me and I don’t even deserve anything. But the bible says it doesn’t matter what you had done, or who you are Jesus loves you the same and unconditionally. If you think I sound so fetch, I dare you to pray and just say ” Jesus, I may not believe the bible, I studied it my entire life and read it over and over again. But today I pray that you Jesus show me what is in your heart. Independently of these studies I had done, independently than what I may believe. Show me God your heart and your intent for my life, in the name of Jesus.” I dare you to pray that God will show you His ways, His words, His truth, because He will in the name of Jesus. I know He will because the bible says “ask and you show receive” – Amem
Nothing on this article is concluding Jesus is a lie. That’s the problem with people. It’s also a very good example of how easy it is to take things out of context. It’s not hard to understand how things can be misinterpreted. I don’t doubt we’ve got it wrong the whole time.
The power of God, and a higher power is felt by many. We are here, and our existence is obviously real. But many of these baby Jesus story’s, Virgin Mary, or living in a whale, etc…
Eventually we need to come to terms with reality. It’s not about not believing in the higher power, or God! But the Bible as it stands does have many contractions in, and of itself. Reading it beginning to end it repeats itself many times and describes some very ungodly things. But, many contradictions that one must think: Why haven’t we got to the bottom of this?
If we are taught to “just have faith” in something that makes little sense, to reality. Story’s consist of instances which nobody in our lifetime has ever know to take place, except in a magic show, witch craft, or some movie in reference to the same.
Many people deserve clarity. When we go to church; the pastor reads scriptures in a back and forth, round about way. We are all over the place in that book. The entire process is exhausting. But by the time we’re done, everything repeats itself and then the music plays. We sing we pray. We go about our day. The week goes by and we do it all over again.
We can be gullible and passive in all things Christ. Because all we know is.., We just need to have faith. God is many things. God is within us, and everywhere around us. It does not matter what religion you claim to fill those shoes, it doesn’t matter how many times you go to church. It doesn’t matter what name you chose to call your god. What matters is how you live your life. Righteously, humble, good to yourself and others. Wholeheartedly and worship god no matter where you are or what day of the week it is. God is everything we are and everything natural on earth. Gods creation is not materialistic things or political ideology, or hate, race, or religion. We as humans created these ideals.
The only race, is the human race. The only religion is to worship God religiously. Give thanks and show gratitude. Appreciate what we are and the gift we’ve been given. There is one God. One created. One savior. One! But it’s formality is everywhere. The story’s of the Bible are exactly that, stories. Interpretations can always be misguided. This is one thing we do know. Everybody’s version of events have always concluded differently. That’s human nature.
God can not be understood by other people’s interpretation of events. There are many versions of the Bible. But if you really look closely, many of which are saying the same thing, but in their understandings of it. It’s like the telephone game. By the time it passes by hundreds or thousands of people. The final outcome is entirely different than what was first said.
All the scriptures in any Bible are all put together by regular human beings. Rather by those in Jesus days, or it’s authors who gathered information through words carved in stone. But the interpretations can shift as years go on. Nobody is perfect. We all see life differently. We can’t possibly have any exact understanding of what really happened thousands of years ago.
But we must have not only faith, but a righteous heart. Pray to god. Live graciously. Because that’s what God truly expected of our existence. If it’s one thing we can conclude from any format, Bible, or religion… We must be good honest and humble beings. PERIOD!
[…] following links for Dr. Cargill’s summaries of Bible secrets and techniques revealed episodes: Ep. 1, “lost in Translation”; Ep. 2, “The Promised Land”; Ep. three, “The Forbidden Scriptures”; Ep. 4, “the real […]
I commented on another link to this show, but for other readers I’ll leave it here too as it’s relevant. A conservative rebuttal to claims made by Bible Secrets Revealed and Dr. Robert Cargill’s weak assertions.
Is it at all possible to find out the true date of Jesus’ birth, since it is clear that HE was not born in December. This is the time of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and the church incorporated the celebration of Jesus birth at the same time to join in with the pagan Romans???
Where in the bible is Easter mentioned? Also another pagan festival…Ishtar.And the common celebration meal at easter time is a HAM??? WOW
May I correct myself: Papias in fact mentions Matthew and Mark and possibly alludes to John but the surviving fragments do not mention Luke. This however is found in the works of Eusebius and may have come from Papias’ writings which was one of Eusebius’ sources. It would be interesting to find out what else Papias could tell us.
Irenaeus of Lyons quotes John’s Gospel often and as he was a disciple of Polycarp (another hearer of the Apostle John) it is certainly strong evidence for the Apostle’s authorship of the fourth Gospel
It would be really interesting to find the lost Books of Bishop Papias of Hieropolis. He attempted to reconcile the so-called inconsistencies in Matthew and Luke and other inconsistencies (such as the two versions of the death / suicide of Judas Iscariot). Unfortunately most of his writings have disappeared although fragments survive in the form of quotes (especially in the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea). Papias claimed to be a hearer of John the Apostle himself and he indeed confirms that the Gospels were indeed written by (or certainly in their original forms written by) Matthew (‘written in Hebrew / Aramaic – perhaps the hypothetical ‘Q’ / ‘sayings source’ that was later merged with an edited form of Mark), Mark (Disciple of Peter), Luke (follower of Paul) and John the Apostle (Who wrote a ‘spiritual gospel’).
As we learn more and more the origins of the gospels continue to be fascinating. It would be amazing if Papias’ works reemerged.
I can’t find where the text in Matthew ever says that Jesus was born at home.
The “discrepancy” in Acts 9:7 vs 22:9 isn’t a discrepancy at all.