Thursday, April 05, 2012

Clarifying the 5th

From a forum thread ~2006

Lil DevilWrote:

Really? I thought the original wording was lo tirtzach (sp?) which means "thou shalt not" (lo) and "any kind of killing whatsoever" (tirtzach) which together means "Thou shalt not kill." I don't pretend to speak Hebrew, but I remember hearing about it from the studies of Dr. Alcalay who I think is some kind of Hebrew/Old Testament expert and also from the writings of Rabbi Milgrom.

This is a much disputed issue. But the dispute exists only because of bias of beliefs (i.e. how to get the Bible to say what you mean, as opposed to mean what it says). However, the Hebrew is quite clear.

Aseret HaDibrot aka The Decalogue bka "10 Commandments" are derived from the Tanakh, more specifically in the Torah: Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. I will note that all are different, the most commonly cited is Exodus 20, and Exodus 34 are the only set of (roughly) ten actually described as "commandments", and they are completely different than what we're used to hearing (there are 613 "commandments" in the Jewish "bible").

Now, in those passages, what words are used in the original Hebrew, how are they different from the English translation, and how did it get to be this way (intrinsic in the last question is "what did the original Greek and Latin translations say?")?

In both Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, the word translated as "kill" is the Hebrew verb ratsach, which undoubtedly carries a meaning of murder, as opposed to merely kill, as in "extinguish life" (more commonly reserved for harag and, in some places, nakah or muth).

So, the original Hebrew reads, "Thou shalt not MURDER."

(If needed, I can provide verses which discuss situations of killing that isn't "murder" according to Law, and discuss which Hebrew words are used respectively.)

The Greek in the New Testament Matthew 5:21, where Jesus is quoting the Law (Torah), used the word phoneuo (murderer) from phoneus which distinctly means criminal murder (i.e. homicide), as opposed to slaying a man (which could be criminal or not), for which it used the word anthropoktonos (see 1 John 3:14-15). The word phoneuo (i.e. homicide) is also the word chosen in the translation of the "commandments" in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Therefore, the original Greek translation of the "Old Testament" (Septuagint) reads: "Thou shalt not MURDER".

So, if Hebrew—the original written language—and Greek both clearly say "MURDER", where do we get "Thou shalt not KILL" in our English-language bibles?

The answer lies in Saint Jerome, who translated the "Old Testament" into Latin in the Latin Vulgate. In all instances where the Tanakh and Septuagint used "murder"—and indeed, in incidents where those versions simply used "kill"—Jerome wrote "non occides", from the Latin root occidere, which means "die". So, the Latin renders both murder and kill simply as "to make die", which doesn’t carry the distinction found in the Hebrew and Greek.

And which language did the Church Fathers prefer, and was the official language of the Church? Latin. They used the Latin Vulgate and it's rendition of the Commandment as "kill".

As far as the translation lo tirtzach, we have to understand Hebrew. Hebrew did not make use of vowels. So, the base word in the original Hebrew was rtzch—which we add vowels to and make ratsach (discussed above). In each of the 49 times rtzch occurs, it refers to humans only (not animals) and describes murder. It has always been translated as "murder".

So, where does the translation of rtzch as "any kind of killing whatsoever" come from? A pacifistic Rabbi named Jeremy Milgrom.

At first I thought you may have been referring to the Noahide Laws, which are listed and discussed in the Talmud (Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 56a). There are seven Mitzvot (Laws) for Benei Noach (non-Jews; "sons of Noah"). Number 3 is Shefichat Damim, which is the restriction of murder. The Noahide Laws are derived from Genesis 9:5-6.

For a good paper on this subject, see here .

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