The Torch

The Torch (Danish: is a Danish web-magazine devoted to cultural trends and social comment in a humanist worldview. Edited by Rune Engelbreth Larsen and Carsten Agger.



Peter Tudvad
SAK - An Unscholarly Biography of Kierkegaard

Rune Engelbreth Larsen
The Cartoon Crisis and the Danish Prime Minister

Jens-André P. Herbener
New Scholarly Translation of the Hebrew Bible

Rune Engelbreth Larsen
Matrix and the Metaphysical Film Revolution

Carsten Agger
Assault Against the Freedom of Speech

Totalitarian and Fascist Tendencies in Denmark

eXTReMe Tracker

Jens-André P. Herbener | THE TORCH

New Translation of the Hebrew Bible – on a Secular Scholarly Foundation

 Since 1814, the Danish Bible Society Bible has produced translations of the Bible for use by the Danish Church. In 1992, the Danish Bible Society, under the auspices of the Danish Church, published a new translation of the Bible (DT92) replacing the previous translations of the Old Testament (1931) and the New Testament (1948).

In 1910 Fr. Buhl published a scholarly annotated and strictly secular translation of the Hebrew Bible, traditionally titled the Old Testament. It has long been a scholarly desideratum to replace Buhl’s outdated edition. For this reason, in 1998, a group of Semitic philologists initiated a pilot project to produce a new secular scholarly translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Our intention in the pilot project has been to produce both a detailed introduction to the new translation and a sample translation. We achieved this aim in 2000 resulting in the following two books:

  1. New Bible Translation - on a Secular Scholarly Foundation. Introduction

  2. New Bible Translation - on a Secular Scholarly Foundation. Sample translations: When God Began 1-12 and Yeshayahu 1-12.

 The publishers C.A. Reitzel and the Royal Library of Denmark will publish both books August 1, 2001. Our intended target audience for the translation is students at every level from primary school to university. Additionally, the translation is for anyone who wishes to read a scholarly secular translation close to the Hebrew text.

We intend to publish the in two editions: a multivolume annotated Library Edition published successively in the years to come, and a Standard Edition published after completing the translation of the entire Hebrew Bible. The only difference between the two editions is that the Standard Edition will not be annotated.

The overall guidelines of the Library Edition are briefly presented below:

1)      The retranslation will reflect the Hebrew Bible text exclusively in its “own” religious and cultural context. In this, it will deviate from DT92, in which special considerations alien to the Hebrew text have been taken; these include considerations related to Christian tradition and dogmatics as well as to the hymnal and liturgical tradition of the Danish National Church.

2)      The textual source of the translation is the Hebrew Codex Aleppo (CA) from 925, which these years is being published in the so-called Hebrew University Bible from Jerusalem. Since this manuscript, however, is incomplete, the oldest – and practically identical – complete biblical manuscript Codex Leningrad (CL) from 1009 will be used as a supplement.

3)      The translation will consistently follow CA/CL – as regards both the consonant text and the vowels – as far as these codices make any sense according to the translators. In the case of untranslatable readings, other textual witnesses and/or closely related expressions from other Semitic languages will serve as the foundation of the translation. Conjectures from CA/CL will only be used as a final resort. Reconstruction of older readings than CA/CL will occasionally be attempted, but these reconstructions will be relegated to the apparatus because of the fundamentally hypothetical character of this kind of work. Regular textual lacunae will be limited to an absolute minimum since the target audience of the translation will not, as has been explained, be university research but the educational sector as a whole

4)      With a view to clarifying apparently corrupt words (scribal errors), hapax legomena and obscure grammatical constructions, all Semitic as well as all relevant non-Semitic languages and dialects will be consulted. In the linguistic analysis, a greater emphasis will however be placed on a synchronic, contextual approach than on a diachronic. Comparative philology may at best be used to indicate the spectrum of meanings within which an obscure Hebrew locution may be interpreted.

5)      The translation will partly contain notes regarding philology and textual criticism, partly factual comments with historical, cultural and religious information. The former will give an account of the radically untranslatable passages and real ambiguities present in the Hebrew text and will also draw the attention to various dispositions regarding textual criticism and significant variants in the text; this implies, e.g., that if a locution only appears 1-3 times in the Hebrew Bible, the most important ancient translations (Septuagint, Vulgata, the Targums and Peshitta) and relevant comparative word material will be presented. The factual comments will, among other things, refer briefly to inscriptions, various sources as well as cultural circumstances in the ancient Near Orient, which are relevant for (the comprehension of) the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, the large number of textual references to the New Testament, which accompany many Hebrew bible texts in confessional translations and which communicate a christological interpretation of the pre-Christian Hebrew texts, will be omitted.

6)      The translation will, as close to the source text as will be possible, in a comprehensible and contemporary Danish, reproduce the content and form of the text of the Hebrew Bible. The fact, that emphasis will be placed not only on the transmission of the content, but also on the form of the original language is, among other things, bound up with the fact that the Hebrew Bible is, from a cultural and religious as well as a linguistic consideration, very alien to a modern secularised Western way of thinking. If an impression of the 2-3000 years old Near Oriental Biblical text as a whole is to be communicated with the highest degree of confidence as well as lack of prejudice, priority must be given to its semantic content as well as its formal structure. Hebraicisms in the Danish translation will, in other words, not be avoided at all costs. The form of the Hebrew text will, however, only be retained to the extent that it is possible within the Danish language, semantically secure and tenable as communication.

7)      In numerous occasions, the translation will contain a representation of proper names (including names of gods) in the Hebrew text that differs from the absolute majority of traditional, clerical translations. As opposed to these, which to a larger or smaller extent follow the transcription of the ancient Greek and Latin translations, the Hebrew proper names will persistently be reproduced as close to the original sound as is possible within the Danish alphabet. Diacritical signs, which are applied extensively in scholarly transcription, will not be used in the translation itself.

8)      The title of the translation will not be “The Old Testament” since this is a Christian designation, which can only be understood within a Christian tradition. Instead, the academically more neutral designation the Hebrew Bible, as used in the present note, will be used.

9)      As headlines for the individual books in the Hebrew Bible, the retranslation will persistently use the names of the Jewish-Masoretic tradition. As regards the Pentateuch, this represents the continuation of a widespread practise in the Near Orient, according to which books often took their name from the first word/the first sentence in their text.

10)  A further reason for the title of the book is that it will follow the size and order of the Biblical books in the Jewish canon Biblia Hebraica, where the so-called scriptures are placed at last. This implies a change in comparison to official Danish Bible translations, whose disposition of the Biblical texts goes back to Luther. By placing the prophetic writings last, which was innovative in the history of transmission of the biblical texts, Luther wished to build a bridge to the New Testament.

This new publication will, for the first time, result in a Danish Bible translation not translated by theologians and clergy, but by trained Semitic philologists. This will also be the first Danish Bible translation developed on a completely non-confessional basis primarily for educational use. To publishers’ knowledge this is also internationally the first publication of a completely secular and scholarly bible translation.

Current project staff include:

Editorial board:

Ulf Haxen, M.A., Ph.D. (Semitic philology), senior researcher.

Jens-André P. Herbener, M.A. (history of religion and Semitic languages), project coordinator and manager.

Ebbe E. Knudsen, Emeritus professor of Semitic philology.

Karen Martens, M.A. (Judaism and Hebrew).

Philippe Provençal, M.A., Ph.D. (Semitic philology).

Stig. T. Rasmussen, M.A., Ph.D. (Semitic philology), head librarian.

Advisory Board:

Søren Holst, M.A. (theology), doctoral student.

Christian Høgel, M.A., Ph.D. (classical philology).

Heidi Laura, M.A. Ph.D. (Judaism).

Henrik H. Laursen, M.A. (theology), research librarian.

Georg Metz, journalist, author, and editor.

Flemming A.J. Nielsen, M.A., Ph.D. (theology).

Jørgen Sonne, M.A., author.


By Jens-André P. Herbener
Published in The Journal of Biblical Studies, Vol.1 No.3, Jul-Sep 2001