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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Even the maps are worthwhile, focusing specifically on locations significant to the Gospels.

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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.

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26 Comments on “The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels

  1. Thank you for your kind review. I cannot thank you enough for your blog. We scoured your website throughout our process and gleaned a great deal from all of your previous reviews. It really helped shape our work.
    For us, this project was intended to heighten a Jewish reading of the Gospels. Our goal was to restore a Semitic voice back to the Gospels and give readers fresh insights to the text by revealing the idiomatic structure and voice of the Gospels. We feel that in order to know Jesus better we need to understand his words from a Jewish context, and I pray that this work is a step in that direction.
    From a design perspective our small staff worked very hard to create something beautiful. One tradition in Judaism is to preserve and present the words of your rabbi in the most significant manner. This is a small way of showing honor to one’s teacher. We feel that Jesus is the greatest of all Jewish teachers and his words are the very words of life. I hope our publication of the four Gospels in this manner will bring him honor and make his teachings known.
    Thank you again for your work and your kind review.

  2. Another world class review — and the Hebrew Gospels look very interesting. Thanks Mark.

  3. Mark,
    While they spend a great deal of time getting the text perfectly, their website is impossible (at least for dopes like me). I spent about 20 minutes trying to order one –or even to leave them a message. I give up. You would think that entering a phone number would be a simple process. Apparently, not for me!!

  4. Thanks, this will make a great gift for our Jewish friends in Israel, not to mention a great addition to personal library. Really enjoy your blog. From a fellow bibliophile.

  5. Hi Mark,
    I am often times skeptical of the “pro-Israel” Messianist movement in Evangelical Christianity (cf. Douglas John Hall in his newest book – “waiting for Gospel”) – because of the implicit agenda found therein. However, after having taken a course in the Gospel of Mark (while in Seminary) from an Orthodox Jewish professor (and having heard Amy Jill Levine numerous times) – I have longed for a way to “hear” the Jewishness of Jesus. There are numerous puns, proverbs, aphorisms and figures of speech that are literally lost in translation (from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English…). I am not saying this “translation” will be any more accurate – but it is a step closer than, say, the Message (Which I love, by the way). Thank you for this review. I purchased one right away from the website!!!! And I will read with an open mind and with one yearning to be shaken by the Hebraisms of the Context of the Messiah.

  6. Lindsey,
    The link is not the problem. The problem came in the checkout process AFTER I entered all my paypal info. You have to register for the site and I was rejected 10 times on the phone number information. I tried it with parens. Without parens. With dashes. Without dashes. With spaces. Without spaces. I even tried all those weird formats shown as examples on the website: 555-555-55-55 etc. Nothing worked and I could never get past that page. That is why I gave up. If someone knows the phone number mystery — let me know (clearly, others have had no problem — so it is obviously my problem). Thanks.

  7. I was using my Motorola Xoom last night in trying to make the purchase. Did it again this morning on my mac and everything went fine. Made the purchase. I am very excited. Again, thanks for a great review Mark.

  8. Very nice to see a review of the DHE Gospels! I picked up the deluxe hardcover not too long ago and agree with you about all the intricate details that just make this such an amazing volume to look upon and read out of. In fact, the translation style and presentation make this my current favorite translation of the gospels to read out of. I’m very surprised at how much I’m enjoying it to be honest!

  9. Being an all day every day Hebrew speaker(and reader and writer)for the last 25+ years I find these editions fascinating. I have often translated for myself to try to make more sense of what is in the 2nd Testament. And used my knowledge and experiences of Jews, Judaism and Holy Land geography, botany, etc to understand more fully what is written. What a brilliant idea!

  10. I’m thankful my church body took the time, effort, and expense to educate me in Hebrew. Reading lots of Hebrew is an excellent way to get more of the Jewish flavor of the gospels. Well is it said that the “Hebrew student drinks from the source, the Greek student from the streams, and the Latin student from the brackish swamps.”
    For those whose Hebrew is rusty or on life support, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Reader’s Hebrew Bible…it’s a lifesaver. It helps you get up to speed quickly when used with an English version alongside. Worth its weight in gold to me.

  11. Got mine in today and I could not be more pleased with the design, quality, and craftsmanship. The last hardback I was this excited about was the Kurt Aland “Synopsis of the Four Gospels.” I am most excited to use the “helps” in this Bible. The listing of Hebrew idioms is what sold me on this work of the Gospels.

  12. Very nice!
    I’ve seen similar layouts in various Hebrew/English editions by the likes of Artscroll and Koren, and the decorative covers are reminiscent of Artscroll’s publications. Very nice, indeed.

  13. I saw this review, ordered the book and I think it is wonderful. Thank you so much for posting it.

  14. Ahahaha, I was just reading the parable of the workers in the vineyard (in KJV) and that made me think “hmm, haven’t read bible design blog in a while” and what is the first page I see there? Fun times

  15. Mark – been reading large chunks of your blog over the past couple of weeks, and ordered myself a couple of very nice Bibles based on your reviews.
    Are you ever going to review any Catholic and/or Orthodox bibles? Saint Benedict Press, Baronius Press, and Ignatius Press have some decent examples. Not exactly in the same league as Cambridge or Allan, but worth a look.

  16. It is great to see that the word is getting out about this translation of the Gospels. As I understand it, they are working on the entire NT now. I can hardly wait to read Paul. This is going to be good for The Body of the Christ.

  17. This commentator’s Hebrew would be lucky if it was on life support; even if it had ceased to be, as in “this parrot is no more”. But it not only has not ceased to be, it never was. Four million volts wouldn’t make that bird go “voom”. (I do read Greek and Latin.)

  18. Actually, I take that back – I can pick out the name “Jehovah” (the Tetragrammaton) from blocks of Hebrew. But that’s it.

  19. Great review. Whichever Bible you purchase, I implore you to READ IT. STUDY your Bible. And finally, MARK your Bible. Too many people love to show off their shiny new, high-end, unread/unmarked/unthumbed Bibles (you’ll find several notable examples at the BDB FB site). Bibles are meant to be read and studied. If you don’t have a Bible that’s well-marked up, you haven’t wrestled with Scripture. Simple plain fact. Save your pennies, buy a Bible whose binding and paper will survive a thorough study, and dig into the Word! You’ll never regret it.

  20. In my opinion this is a great resource, I really like the layout and this is from someone who is attempting to learn Hebrew from an introductory course that I also purchased from Vine of David. The glossary on Key Idioms and Terms I found very interesting and in my opinion this is something which should be made available in every bible. Certain scriptures I’ve always had a difficult time understanding as the result of the different Hebraisms and idioms not being translated fully. Take for instance the English idioms “Eat your heart out” or “Break a leg”, if translated literally into another language and not explained, how could someone be expected to understand the meaning? Nonetheless, these Hebraisms and idioms were preserved in many of our popular literal English translations of the bible; although, with no explanation of what these idioms mean we’re left seeking other resources. In reference to the Deluxe Edition, this is one of the most attractive books I own and many thanks to Vine of David and also for compiling the Glossary on Idioms and Key Terms; although I would like to see a more extensive volume on the different Hebraisms and Idioms throughout the bible. Maybe someday Vine of David or someone else will compile many more of these Hebrew phrases and Idioms in a single volume; I know I would be a buyer. Overall, this is an excellent edition of the Gospels and a great reminder of the Jewish roots of the Gospel.
    Mark, I appreciate the thorough and accurate review.

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