Biblical Archaeology Review 18:2, March/April 1992

How Bible Translations Differ

By Harvey Minkoff

To the uninitiated, the Bible is the Bible. To get one, you go to a bookstore and ask for a Bible.

Readers of BAR know better. The English-speaking student of the Bible is blessed with dozens of translations in hundreds of editions. What distinguishes them one from another?


While we regularly speak of the Bible, in reality there are several different, but related, Bibles. The Jewish Bible consists of the 24 books of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Tanakh, an acronym for its three divisions—Torah (the Law, also called the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch), Nevi’im (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). These books and several others—among them Judith, 1–4 Maccabees and Wisdom of Ben Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus)—were collected in a third-century B.C. Greek translation known as the Septuagint (Seventy), after its legendary 72 translators.a The text, names and order of the books in the Septuagint differ from the Hebrew version. For example, the Hebrew books of Samuel and of Kings correspond to 1–4 Kings in the Septuagint.

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