King James Bible
And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.
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JERUSALEM — A dull-looking chart projected on the wall of a university office in Jerusalem displayed a revelation that would startle many readers of the Old Testament: The sacred text that people revered in the past was not the same one we study today.
An ancient version of one book has an extra phrase. Another appears to have been revised to retroactively insert a prophecy after the events happened.
Scholars in this out-of-the-way corner of the Hebrew University campus have been quietly at work for 53 years on one of the most ambitious projects attempted in biblical studies — publishing the authoritative edition of the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, and tracking every single evolution of the text over centuries and millennia.
And it has evolved, despite deeply held beliefs to the contrary.
For many Jews and Christians, religion dictates that the words of the Bible in the original Hebrew are divine, unaltered and unalterable.
For Orthodox Jews, the accuracy is considered so inviolable that if a synagogue's Torah scroll is found to have a minute error in a single letter, the entire scroll is unusable.
But the ongoing work of the academic detectives of the Bible Project, as their undertaking is known, shows that this text at the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was somewhat fluid for long periods of its history, and that its transmission through the ages was messier and more human than most of us imagine.
'Must be of interest'
The project's scholars have been at work on their critical edition of the Hebrew Bible, a version intended mainly for the use of other scholars, since 1958.
"What we're doing here must be of interest for anyone interested in the Bible," said Michael Segal, the scholar who heads the project.
The sheer volume of information makes the Bible Project's version "the most comprehensive critical edition of the Hebrew Bible in existence at the present time," said David Marcus, a Bible scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who is not involved with the project.
But Segal and his colleagues toil in relative anonymity. Their undertaking is nearly unknown outside a circle of Bible experts numbering several hundred people at most, and a visitor asking directions to the Bible Project's office on the university campus will find that many members of the university's own staff have never heard of it.
Sebastian Scheiner / AP
Dr. Rafael Zer, editorial coordinator for the Hebrew University Bible Project, uses a magnifying glass to read a biblical script at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
This is an endeavor so meticulous, its pace so disconnected from that of the world outside, that in more than five decades of work the scholars have published a grand total of three of the Hebrew Bible's 24 books. (Christians count the same books differently, for a total of 39.) A fourth is due out during the upcoming academic year.
If the pace is maintained, the final product will be complete a little over 200 years from now. This is both a point of pride and a matter of some mild self-deprecation around the office.
Bible Project scholars have spent years combing through manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Greek translations on papyrus from Egypt, a printed Bible from 1525 Venice, parchment books in handwritten Hebrew, the Samaritan Torah, and scrolls in Aramaic and Latin. The last member of the original team died last year at age 90.
Inevitable hiccups, scribal errors
The scholars note where the text we have now differs from older versions — differences that are evidence of the inevitable textual hiccups, scribal errors and other human fingerprints that became part of the Bible as it was passed on, orally and in writing.
A Microsoft Excel chart projected on one wall on a recent Sunday showed variations in a single phrase from the Book of Malachi, a prophet.
The verse in question, from the text we know today, makes reference to "those who swear falsely." The scholars have found that in quotes from rabbinic writings around the 5th century A.D., the phrase was longer: "those who swear falsely in my name."
In another example, this one from the Book of Deuteronomy, a passage referring to commandments given by God "to you" once read "to us," a significant change in meaning.
Other differences are more striking.
The Book of Jeremiah is now one-seventh longer than the one that appears in some of the 2,000-year-old manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Some verses, including ones containing a prophecy about the seizure and return of Temple implements by Babylonian soldiers, appear to have been added after the events happened.
Cheese merchant turned smuggler
The year the Bible Project began, 1958, was the year a priceless Hebrew Bible manuscript arrived in Jerusalem after it was smuggled out of Aleppo, Syria, by a Jewish cheese merchant who hid it in his washing machine.
This was the 1,100-year-old Aleppo Codex, considered the oldest and most accurate version of the complete biblical text in Hebrew.
The Bible Project's version of the core text — the one to which the others are compared — is based on this manuscript.
Other critical editions of the Bible, such as one currently being prepared in Stuttgart, Germany, are based on a slightly newer manuscript held in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Considering that the nature of their work would be considered controversial, if not offensive, by many religious people, it is perhaps surprising that most of the project's scholars are themselves Orthodox Jews.
"A believing Jew claims that the source of the Bible is prophecy," said the project's bearded academic secretary, Rafael Zer. "But as soon as the words are given to human beings — with God's agreement, and at his initiative — the holiness of the biblical text remains, even if mistakes are made when the text is passed on."
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Some high Biblical Commentaries maintain that the gall and vinegar or myrrhed wine... Was a preparation, in all probability, of hemp... Which was occastionally given to criminals before punishment or execution...It is spoken of by the Prophet Amos as the "Wine of the Condemned"
James Young Simpson et al
The Obstetric Memoirs and Contributions
of James Y Simpson (1856)
6 Who is this sweeping in from the wilderness
like a cloud of smoke?
Who is it, fragrant with myrrh and frankincense
and every kind of spice?
7 Look, it is Solomon’s carriage,
surrounded by sixty heroic men,
the best of Israel’s soldiers.
24 Thou hast brought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.
20 To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.
The references here are to both Incense and also Sweet Cane, Both of these would be references to Cannabis. The Incense would have cannabis in it but the reference to Sweet Cane is a reference to Cannabis itself.
ara Benetowa discovered that the Kaneh-Bosm or Cannabis is mentioned 5 times in the Old Testament. The first occurrence appears in the Holy Anointing Oil as Calamus, (Exodus 30:23). "Sara argued that the translation of Calamus was a mistranslation which occurred in the oldest Bible the “Septuagint” and the mistranslation was copied in later versions.”
he Exodus 30:23 reference refers to sweet Calamus. If you look at this in the Strong’s concordance where they spell this as qaneh rather than kaneh, they pronounce this as Kaw-Naw, a reed, calamus, and cane are listed as possible translations. The term sweet used in Exodus 30:23 in Hebrew is Bosem. According to the Webster’s New World Hebrew Dictionary, Bosem is perfume; scent. The Concordance: the Hebrew is Bosem #1314, fragrance, by impl. spicery; also the balsam plant:—-smell, spice, sweet (odour).
- If you actually buy the Calamus translation for the Holy Oil, then you assume that God specified in Exodus 30:23 a drug commonly known as herbal Ecstasy. Calamus contains an ingredient called asarone. This is a hallucinogen which is metabolized in the liver as trimethoxyamphetamine which is known as herbal ecstasy. The Middle Eastern version of this plant is far more toxic than its North American Cousin. This is deadly to flies and other insects.
n some Bibles sweet calamus is translated as aromatic or fragrant Cane. It is where the bosem is fused to the word kaneh or qaneh that the cannabis translation becomes apparent. So then to pronounce this we have kaw-naw-bosem, and is spelled in English qaneh-bosem or kaneh-bosem.
n 1936, Sara Benetowa, later Known as Sula Benet, an etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences, in Warsaw wrote a treatise, “Tracing One Word Through Different Languages”. This was a study on the word Cannabis, based on a study of the oldest Hebrew texts. Although the word cannabis was thought to be of Scythian origin, Benet’s research showed it had an earlier root in the Semitic Languages such as Hebrew. Benet demonstrated that the ancient Hebrew word for Cannabis is Kaneh-Bosem.
he also did another study called Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp. On page 44, she states, “The sacred character of hemp in biblical times is evident from Exodus 30:23, where Moses was instructed by God to anoint the meeting tent and all of its furnishings with specially prepared oil, containing hemp.”
n page 41 Sula Benet writes, “In the course of time, the two words kaneh and bosem were fused into one, kanabos or kannabus known to us from the Mishna”. According to the Webster’s New World Hebrew Dictionary, page 607 the Hebrew word for hemp is kanabos.