The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels
I attended seminary the way Sebastian Flyte attended Oxford, which is to say, I dabbled. Since systematics interested me, that's what I signed up for. No Greek or Hebrew for this lad. Earlier in life, I'd considered doing my doctorate in history, right up until my advisor suggested learning Latin over the summer to catch up. If Latin seemed a hurdle, you can imagine what a roadblock the biblical languages seemed. Thanks to a semester of Russian endured at the tailend of the Cold War, I could at least make out the Greek letters. Hebrew I found about as intimidating as Chinese.
All this to say, I'm the last person to render an opinion on Franz Delitzsch's nineteenth century translation of the Gospels into Hebrew, or even on the English translation of Delitzsch's work which appears in parallel in this impressive set of editions from Vine of David. All I can say is, the attention to detail throughout the design and production process shows in the end result, which is very fine.
I corresponded with the design team during the production phase and came away impressed. Before going any farther, let me recommend that you follow this link and check out the photo gallery, the videos, and the FAQ. This is what a publisher's website ought to look like. This is the kind of information that ought to be readily available. The listings for each edition include specs on the covers, the binding, the paper, even the packaging. Both the translation and the design are carefully explained. A lot of work went into making this information available, which speaks to the importance Vine of David places on this project.
This is something every publisher in the field could learn from. This is how it ought to be done.
Distilled into layman's terms, the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels is a parallel edition of the Gospels, with the Hebrew translation on the right and English on the left. (The book is read from right to left.) The designers settled on an attractive single column, paragraphed text setting with chapter numbers and section headings located in the generous outer margin. In the front of the book, a chart explains the layout, but you won't need the instructions — the placement makes sense visually and simply works.
A friend who reads Hebrew assured me that, compared so some of the texts he'd worked with, this one reads easily. You'll have to enlarge the photo above and see for yourself.
On the English side, I found the text setting very usable. Line spacing is generous. The only quibble I would make is with the inner margin, which is pretty tight, resulting in the nearby text being sucked into the gutter. A bit more space there, and I'd be happy.
Reading an English translation of a Hebrew translation of the Greek mansucripts proved an interesting experience. One of the reasons I think using a variety of English translations can be helpful is defamiliarization. When we're too familiar with a form or words, we stop hearing what they say. The change reminds us that translation involves looking through one set of (intelligible) words to make sense of another set of (unintelligible) ones.
Here, the effect is even more pronounced. As the note on translation philosophy at the front of the book suggests: "Perhaps when reading the words of Yeshua, the reader should feel like he or she is reading words spoken from an ancient Jewish context, not from a modern Western context." Without veering into translation issues too much, I think the otherness (for lack of a better term) of Scripture is something we've tended to lose touch with. Reading this translation, you see the familiar stories and characters through a slightly different lens. The stories and characters are the same, but you see them anew. For that reason, even if you do not read Hebrew, this is a helpful volume to have.
The feature I found most interesting was the guide to Hebrew idioms and key terms (above). One example: When Mary approaches Jesus at the wedding in Cana (John 2), the first words out of his mouth are, "What do I have to do with you, woman?" It seems like a harsh response. Over the years, I've heard many a pastoral tap-dance attempting to explain away the apparent disrespect. Consult the idiom list and you find that this expression has a different flavor in its original context. A synonymous expression would be, "What do you have against me?" In other words, Jesus isn't lashing out; he is responding to an implication in Mary's request — perhaps that he ought to have done something already about the wine situation.
Another helpful feature is an index of terms transliterated from the Hebrew, some more familiar than others. An index of proper names includes transliterations, Hebrew equivalents, pronunciation guides and Anglicized versions of the name. There's even a chart explaining how first century people accounted for time. Longtime readers of Bible Design Blog will know that I tend to be skeptical of the value of a lot of the extras found in Bibles these days. In this case, I find them well thought out and appropriate.
Even the maps are worthwhile, focusing specifically on locations significant to the Gospels.
The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels is available in four editions. The book blocks are all Smyth-sewn, printed by R. R. Donnelly in China on nice, thick paper. For readers averse to showthrough or "ghosting," you won't find that a problem here at all. The ornately decorated covers are available in both hard- and softcover versions. The softcover is an attractive tan leather-like polyurethane, but I preferred the deluxe hardcover myself. All but the standard hardback edition come with slipcases, an added touch of class that is sorely missed in Bible publishing today.
To be honest, if every publisher followed Vine of David's example, I'd be out of a job. (Out of a blog, anyway.) They've approached this project as if every detail mattered. I admire that level of commitment. For that reason alone — though there are plenty of others –I would encourage you to check out the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels.