Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In response to a question about Onan, @RonMaimon chose the WikiSource translation. Not being familiar with it, I tried to examine it's pedigree, but could not find one. I'd like to know a little about the scholarship of this translation.

I see that it has been in progress since 2006, but can't seem to locate much more than that.

Additionally, Bible Gateway, which has a lot of translations, does not source this one.

I like the idea behind an open source translation, but can't decide if this one is quality or not.

  1. From what base manuscripts is the text drawn? What key manuscripts are referenced (Are we talking Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, papyri, etc.. Or is this based on later translations such as the LXX or even English translations. ) Is Nestle-Aland 27 considered, etc...

  2. What are the credentials of the translators? Put another way, how do I even know if they can read Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic? Unfortunately, I couldn't locate the base manuscripts to do any investigation.

  3. What is the translation philosophy of WikiSource? Is it dynamic or formal equivalence?

For Kjv, hcsb, esv, nrsv, and lots of others, you can easily find the answers, but i had no luck on Wikisource. Even for the NET bible - a public domain bible, I can answer these questions and still retain full insight into the translation choices, but i couldn't locate such a statement for this one.

share|improve this question
I hadn't seen this project yet, but it looks very interesting. Personally, I wouldn't trust it for the next decade or so, but if it can hang around it is the nature of wiki projects to naturally become more reliable over time. – Joel Coehoorn Feb 12 '12 at 18:21
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The Wiki page for the Bible translation project is here:

I wouldn't really trust it so much because it says stuff like this:

If you know Greek or Hebrew, add your name to the list of participants and claim a chapter! Or if you don't want to make that commitment yet, check somebody else's work. If you don't know Greek or Hebrew, we can still very much use your English skills in proof-reading and tweaking the text.

And when it lists out the participants in the project, it says:

Type #~~~ at the end of the list to add you name. If you want the current date and time after your name add one more "~". If you understand Greek or Hebrew very well please add " - Translator" after the #~~~. If you don't understand Greek and Hebrew very well then you can add " - editor" after you name.

They don't seem to understand that it takes a lot more than "knowing Greek and Hebrew" to be able to translate the Bible or any ancient text for that matter. You not only need to be a master of these languages AS THEY WERE SPOKEN back then but also need to know the culture of the time like the back of your hand.

My advice, don't take WIKI anything without a grain of salt. It should raise a lot of alarms in the case of the Bible, especially because anyone thinking they can do it, will try to do it. They are probably trying to stay true to the translation (I don't know what their intentions are), but I just wouldn't trust them. I have a hard time trusting some of the translations out there already, I would steer clear of Wiki stuff.

I should make it clear though, I like open source stuff, but this stuff is something I would probably not want to take any chances with.

share|improve this answer
I don't know the about Wiki Bible, but I disagree with general admonishments against "Wiki stuff." Ironically, you're posting on a QA site, whose structure is derived from Wiki. – Emile Jan 20 '12 at 6:51
Many people are put off by Wikipedia articles that conflict with their beliefs. Too bad. Wikipedia is an enormous milestone. Despite popular opinion, Wikipedia is often shown to be as or more accurate than traditional encyclopedias. Wikipedia even discusses its own reliability on Wikipedia itself (! An institution that self-criticizes! If only we had that in religion. – Emile Jan 20 '12 at 6:56
@Emile It doesn't matter what you think of Wikipedia, the context for when I say "Wiki stuff"in my answer is related to the Wiki Bible. Again it doeesn't matter what the reliability of Wikipedia is, the Wiki Bible is a different project. Like I said, "I have a hard time trusting some of the other translations out there." I definitely wouldn't trust the Wiki Bible because there is no accountability. Anyone who thinks they can do it, will do it and then, yes, it may be corrected (or made worse) over time but it is easy for just about anyone to get published as a Bible translator or editor. – Nicolás Carlo Jan 20 '12 at 19:15
"I would steer clear of Wiki stuff." "My advice, don't take WIKI anything without a grain of salt." Those are the quotes I'm responding too. It matters what you think, but not what I think? – Emile Jan 20 '12 at 19:25
@Emile I am not trying to pick a fight here. All I am saying is, the context for my answer is the Wiki Bible which you say you don't even know about. That is why it doesn't matter what you think of Wikipedia. If someone opens a Wikipedia related question, and I said something against that and you countered my answer there, then your comment would be relevant, but really here, the OP asked specifically about the Wiki Bible. Anyway, again, I am not trying to pick a fight or to offend you. – Nicolás Carlo Jan 20 '12 at 20:10

The Wikisource bible translation project is essentially dead. There are a lot of ancient Greek speakers, so there is almost all the New Testament, but the parts I saw were spotty, because many different people contributed, with very different translation styles.

As far as the Hebrew translations, I'm pretty much the only person that did major books (the exceptions are Ruth and Song of Songs at present writing). I can tell you my motivations. I am a secular native Hebrew speaker. Modern Hebrew is about as different from ancient Hebrew as Shakespeare's English is different from modern English. Aramaic is about as different from modern Hebrew as Chaucer's English is different from modern English. This means that a modern Hebrew speaker can read the Bible about as fluently as you read Shakespeare.

That's not 100% fluent, there are obscure words and shifted meanings. But these are easy to catch, since I had access to all previous English translations for help with vocabulary.

My main goal in translation was to preserve the brevity. The Bible is very terse in Hebrew, and religious translators, out of misplaced reverence, bulk up the translation with extra words. For example, one place I saw the word "Vehaya" which means "And it was" translated as "and in due course it came to pass"! This type of nonsense makes the English unreadable in any fluent way, and the following guideline make it simple to keep the readability

  • Preserve the approximate syllable count

This means that "Vehaya" can be "And it was", but not "And as it turned out to be". You can violate this rule, of course, but not too much, so that the flow of the narrative is preserved more or less. All other translations violate this in a gross way, leading people to think that Hebrew is a magic language with terse terms for very specific English meanings. It's not.

The second principle I adhered to is

  • Preserve Aramaic endings

This one means that if "they walked" is rendered "Hithalchun" with the distinctive Aramaic ending, I wrote it as "they did walketh", in faux-archaic English. This lets the English reader date the text by themselves as well as a Hebrew speaker, since Aramic tinged Hebrew is later stuff.

The third principle, important for poetry

  • Preserve meter (when important)

many of the Psalms show a blank verse poetry. Translating the Psalms is challenging (especially compared to the straightforward Genesis or Exodus), and the meter is ignored by many translations, leading to clunky poetry.

The word choices are informed by previous translations, but I only read these after writing a sketch, so as to fix my screw-ups (which I had plenty of, but I think I fixed most of them, and footnoted the rest).

There is absolutely no scholarship used in these translations, beyond the implicit scholarship which kept the Hebrew language alive, and the scholarship that went into previous translations. Everything there is original text, with minor one-word corrections from previous versions (or a reworded sentence when I totally misread something).

I believe the translation I did of Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/Lamentations/Psalms1-60/Eccelesiastes blows every other translation out of the water. When I read my translation, I get the same feeling as when I read the Hebrew, with the same pacing, and the same style, even distinguishing the different authors. When I read other translations, no, no, no. I will let readers judge for themselves.

For the specific question of philosophy: a good translation preserves both dynamic and formal meaning, so that it is correct in form, and in imagery and meaning. The tradeoff between the two is not as large seeming for someone fluent in both languages. The major impediments to translation is that people have crazy religious interpretations of every sentence, so that they do not translate the simple meaning (the "Pshat" in Jewish terminology) accurately, but translate to preserve all the cockamamie wrongheaded crufty interpretations over the millenia. I didn't do that, I stuck to the Pshat.

I must also mention that Douglas Hofstadter wrote a book "Le Ton Beau de Marot" about translation, especially translation of poetry, which emphasizes the degree to which form and meaning can both be preserved with assiduous effort and constant faith that there must be an answer. I read this book, and tried to take the lessons to heart.

share|improve this answer
I say this not to disparage your work - clearly there's a lot of effort that goes into this. For literature, this may be a good translation (although, I'll admit, I'll probably stick with NLT). When supporting a Christian doctrine, however, I would still suggest that you defer to scholars who are comparing translations not with Modern Hebrew (as you are) but rather with corpora from the same time period. There are cultural and semantic nuances that change - for an example in English, charity meant something completely different to Shakespaeare and Chaucer. – Affable Geek Jan 17 '12 at 14:26
FYI, the KJV falls into that "literary" category as well. It was based on the best manuscripts available at the time, but a LOT of discoveries have been made since then - NRSV / ESV / NASB / NJB even the NKJV simply have a lot more data to work from, and would probably help in the credibility department. – Affable Geek Jan 17 '12 at 15:21
@nickecarlo: In Exodus 1:19, the midwives tell pharoah that the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian woman "ci chayoth hen" (but they are animals), which is mistranslated everywhere to "because they are lively", reinterpreting "chayoth" in an excruciatingly strained meaning as "full of life", as opposed to "animals". This interpretation misses the boat, the midwives are telling an obvious lie to pharoah, that the Jews drop their babies like animals, not needing a midwife, playing into his Egyptian supremacy ideas. Genesis 15:1 is often misinterpreted as making Yahweh Abraham's reward. – Ron Maimon Jan 20 '12 at 5:58
@RonMaimon please be mindful of FAQ and this. Promoting your stuff with out properly owning it is a problem. I would ask the same thing of anyone who worked on any other translation of scripture (if I guy who worked on say the NIV shows up, I'll ask him to make his affiliation known whenever he quotes it as well). – wax eagle Apr 2 '12 at 13:07
@RonMaimon It's nothing personal here, I'm here to enforce policy, you don't follow it, we have a problem. Please expect some mail from a moderator rather soon. – wax eagle Apr 2 '12 at 13:12

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.