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Series of Letters to Robert E. Bratcher:

October 16, 1994

Robert G. Bratcher
2 Spring Dell Lane
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
Dear Robert:

A friend of mine living in Bellingham, Washington referred me to a book that you co-authored that carries the title A HISTORY OF BIBLE TRANSLATION AND THE NORTH AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION. Your comments on the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES especially interest me.

For your consideration, I have copied you on my letters to Jack P. Lewis, whom you referenced several times in your critique of the NWT. In my next letter to you, with your permission, I would like to comment on your consideration of the NWT.

Let me bring up a side issue. The footnote regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses on page 208 came as a surprise to me. I have never known Witnesses to behave the way they are described there. Although I can not deny someone’s stated experience, I know that most people who know Jehovah’s Witnesses would find this accusation difficult to believe. In our community people behaving this way are counseled about such behavior and if they persisted they could be excommunicated. Also, Witnesses do not believe that "curses" these days have any significance. Therefore, the scenario about a Witness invoking curses on someone is analogous to a Muslim worshipping Vishnu.

I was at the 1992 AAR/SBL meeting in San Francisco. Did not you present a paper there in honor of Harry M. Orlinsky?

Hal Flemings

October 22, 1994

Robert G. Bratcher
2 Spring Dell Lane
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
Dear Robert:

This second letter follows my first to you dated October 16th.

In A HISTORY OF BIBLE TRANSLATION AND THE NORTH AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION page 209, you remarked: "A pity that all too often the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION did not permit the Hebrew text to speak for itself when the meaning was clear and where nothing even theological was involved, or that it did not submit the manuscript before publication to someone who would have helped avoid a frequently unnecessary ‘woodenly awkward English style’ (Lewis, 233). Thus, e.g. in Gen 18:1 the simple phrase be-elone mamre becomes ‘(Jehovah appeared to him) among the big trees of Mamre’ is that how ‘big trees’ would be expressed in Biblical Hebrew?". Before I comment on this critique, let me place before us a number of renderings of this text:

"And the Lord appeared unto him in the GROVE of Mamre. . ."(LEESER)

"The LORD appeared to him at the TEREBINTH of Mamre..."(THE AMERICAN TRANSLATION)

"L’Eternel lui apparut parmi les CHENES ("oaks"/ my comment) de Mamre..." (SEGOND)

"And the LORD appeared to him by the OAKS of Mamre..." (REVISED STANDARD VERSION)

"The LORD appeared to him by the TEREBINTHS of of Mamre. . ." (TANAKH)

"The LORD appeared to Abraham by the TEREBINTHS of Mamre. . ."(NEW ENGLISH BIBLE)

"Afterward Jehovah appeared to him among the BIG TREES of Mamre..."(NEW WORLD TRANSLATION)

Now, let us view the Hebrew text:

"...וירא אליו יהוה באלני ממרא"

What do the standard reference works say about the word that the NWT translated "big trees"?:

LEXICON IN VETERIS TESTAMENTI LIBROS, p.52 under "אלני" "אלון . . . grosser Baum, big tree... Gn 12,6".

OLD TESTAMENT WORD STUDIES, p.453, under "Tree", "אילים m.pl. strong, stout, mighty trees".

STRONGS CONCORDANCE, Hebrew section, number 436, "אלון . . .an oak or other strong tree".

Now,I have to be straightforward with you, Robert, What is so terribly wrong with the NWT translation of Genesis 18:1 that would merit publication in a book? Were you thinking that in order for the committee to render the text "big trees" the underlying Hebrew text HAD to be?:

טעי הנרלים

Is not your criticism an exaggeration?

Thanks for your time.

Hal Flemings

October 26, 1994

Robert G. Bratcher
2 Spring Dell Lane
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514
Dear Robert:

Thanks for your letter dated October 21, 1994. I suppose the matter about the harassment of the RSV committee will have to rest since there is no way to examine it now. My only reason for bringing it up centered on the fact that that behavior is uncharacteristic of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This third letter will consider another criticism that you made concerning the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.

In your book you related: "And ke-hom ha-yom is rendered ‘(While he was sitting at the entrance of the tent) about the heat of the day.’ leaving it to the reader innocent of Hebrew idiom to figure out what ‘about the heat of the day means here.’  The Hebrew text says:

והוא ישב בתח־האהל כחם היום

Some translations of this follow:

"and he sat in the tent door in the heat of day."--KING JAMES VERSION

"...as he was sitting in the tent—door when the day was hot."--REVISED BERKELEY VERSION

"he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot."--TANAKH

"while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day."--NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION

"while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent about the heat of the day."--NEW WORLD TRANSLATION

It is not difficult to find parallel renderings to the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION in other "accepted" Bibles. Observe these examples:

"Rechab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon of Beeroth, came to the house of Ishbosheth IN THE HEAT OF DAY and went in... "--2Samuel 4:5 NEW ENGLISH BIBLE

"...of his tent in the HEAT OF THE DAY." ——Gen.18:1 REVISED STANDARD VERSION

Parallel renderings using the word "about" are also easy to locate. A sampling follows:

"Behold, tomorrow ABOUT THIS TIME I will cause very heavy hail to fall... "--Exodus 9:18 RSV

"and did not hasten to go down for ABOUT A WHOLE DAY"--Joshua 10:13 RSV

"And ABOUT THE TIME OF HER DEATH the women attending her said to her..."--lSamuel 5:20 RSV

After reviewing this, could you tell me what was so faulty about the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION of the passage in question?

Robert, I am not trying to be controversial in these letters to you. What I see is a pattern of unnecessary and unscholarly attacks on the Witness community and Witness productions like the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION. Legitimate criticism has its place and no one should be exempt from it including Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is, what I believe to be, frivolous attacks that spoils intelligent and constructive inquiry and investigation.

With all sincerity,

Hal Fleminqs

November 1, 1994

Robert G. Bratcher
United Bible Societies
2 Spring Dell Lane
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514

Dear Robert:


On page 209, you made this comment about the NWT of Genesis 18:2 : "Verse 2 continues with ‘When he raised his eyes, then he looked and there three men were standing some distance from him,’ and one rightly wonders what the construction 'when...then' denotes here, and how (we-hinneh sheloshah anashim nissabim) alaw gets to mean 'some distance from him'".

Looking at the Hebrew text we find:

וישא טיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים טליו

Very likely the NWT committee felt that the translation "when...then" made more sense after looking at the context which describes sequential acts, i.e. raising his eyes and subsequent to that looking at three men. I feel that the translation is justified.

Moving on to the next issue, let us look at THE NEW BROWN - DRIVER - BRIGGS - GESENIUS HEBREW-ENGLISH LEXICON, page 753 under "טל" where we find, among other things, this:

"טל. II. As prep. upon, and hence on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, BEYOND, above, over, by, on, to, towards, against."

I would argue that the context determines which preposition is appropriate in the subject text. Now, were the three men "on or ‘‘ beside’’ Abraham or were they "beyond", that is, "some distance from" him? The following portion of the verse gives us the answer: "When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them..." (RSV).

When we look at other renderings we see:

"And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood NEAR him.. ."--(LEESER)

"He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood IN FRONT of him.--(REVISED STANDARD VERSION)

"and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood OVER AGAINST him.--(AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION)

"Looking up, he saw three men standing NEAR him"-- (TANAKH)

"Abraham looked up and saw three men standing NEARBY"-- (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION)

My honest opinion after reviewing these other renderings is that the NWT has a contextually better translation since it takes into account the fact that Abraham went from the tent door out to meet the visitors. Abraham was here and the visitors were there. The visitors clearly were not "over against him". I should mention that I do like the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION translation of this passage.


Hal Flemings

P.S. I trust that you have received a copy of my recent letter to Jack P. Lewis regarding Luke 23:43.

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