The majority of bible translators today know better than the first authors and initial translators of the texts of the bible. Or they think they do.
Most bible translators today don’t follow the Hebrew authors and translators of the Jewish scriptures. Instead, bible translators now tend to follow the philosopher Greeks: they follow Plato in idealizing and Aristotle in rationalizing. It’s a Western culture coup d'état.
In general, English translators today idealize not only (A) the texts (as The “Holy” Bible) but also (B) their own logical methods of translation (which they see as their obedient “faithfulness” to the “original” texts and authors, whom they idealize as “the Author”). They have been disciples of the semi-platonic Jerome or Martin Luther who tries to protest not only the Pope but also Aristotle. They have been much more recent followers of the platonic, neo-Aristotelian Noam Chomsky or Eugene Nida or Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson or Wayne Grudem or John Piper or the various theo-logical committees of the big bible publishing houses.
Specifically, they can both (A) silence a woman (Rahab) who speaks in the Hebrew and (B) sacrifice the richness of Jewish history (in Joshua) for Christianized disambiguity.
(Oh, and the vast majority of bible translators today are men. They are not women. Women tend to be more open to different translation methods and necessarily alternative ways of looking at the texts. One woman even looks for evidence that the unnamed authoress of the book of Hebrews is a woman. But perhaps I digress; perhaps.)
Let’s look at two textual examples: Joshua 2:14 and Hebrews 4:8.
Joshua 2:14 goes like this:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ לָהּ הָאֲנָשִׁים נַפְשֵׁנוּ תַחְתֵּיכֶם לָמוּת אִם לֹא תַגִּידוּ אֶת־דְּבָרֵנוּ זֶה וְהָיָה בְּתֵת־יְהוָה לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וְעָשִׂינוּ עִמָּךְ חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת׃
The very first bible translators were Jews, true insiders to their own texts (unlike bible translators today). And yet, they were “commissioned” to translate by a goyish Egyptian king who was the lackey of a goyish Greek world conqueror. (I’m talking about the legend of king Ptolemy Philadelphus II and Alexander the Great and the translators of what has become known as the Septuagint, or the LXX). So they were more faithful to the Hebrew than to the Greek. And they still translated Joshua 2:14 this way:
καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῇ οἱ ἄνδρες Ἡ ψυχὴ ἡμῶν ἀνθ' ὑμῶν εἰς θάνατον. καὶ αὐτὴ εἶπεν Ὡς ἂν παραδῷ κύριος ὑμῖν τὴν πόλιν, ποιήσετε εἰς ἐμὲ ἔλεος καὶ ἀλήθειαν.
It appears that these original translators “changed” the text. But isn’t that what translators do? Let me step aside that rhetorical question just to explain. In English, the Hebrew was translated the following way by the “commissioning” of British emperor James I, whose translators also had access to the LXX and to Jermone's Vulgate and to Luther's Bibel:
“And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.”
But in English, the Greek LXX alone was translated this way by Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton by himself:
“And the men said to her, Our life for yours [even] to death: and she said, When the Lord shall have delivered the city to you, ye shall deal mercifully and truly with me.”
Do you see the difference? The original Jewish translation of the Hebrew into Greek (or the LXX which Brenton turns to English) is different from the James I English translation. The Jews have “καὶ αὐτὴ εἶπεν” (for which Brenton has “and she said”) for the original, ambiguous Hebrew phrase “אמֶר.”
Now, to be fair to the King James Commission on The Translation of The Holy Bible, they may just be following Saint Jerome or the rogue Martin Luther, who fail to give the prostitute Rahab her say. Who do you think your favorite Bible’s commission is faithful to, which platonic idealist who silences the woman, that is? (Of course, the LXX Commission, and Sir Brenton, let Rahab speak in Joshua 2:14 in the original Hebrew text and in the Greek and in the English translations).
So let’s quickly run back to the New Testament and to the book of Hebrews and to Hebrews 4:8.
To be sure, all the writers of the New Testament (all men, except perhaps for that unnamed authoress of the book of Hebrews)—all of them really like the translators and the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. The New Testament writers without fail also write in Greek, and when they quote the Old Testament they quote the Greek translation. That’s not to say they don’t like the original Hebrew text; they do. It’s just to say, every single writer of the New Testament chooses to write in Greek, and chooses to read also the Greek translation when quoting from the ancient Hebrew scripture.
Not surprisingly, when recording what first century Jews said in Hebrew or Aramaic, the New Testament writers—every single one of them—translated the Hebrew speech into Greek. And when the speech was ambiguous, which Hebrew and most any language is from time to time, the New Testament writer-translators were good enough to let us readers sort things out.
So here’s what the writer of the book of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:8:
εἰ γὰρ αὐτοὺς Ἰησοῦς κατέπαυσεν οὐκ ἂν περὶ ἄλλης ἐλάλει μετὰ ταῦτα ἡμέρας
Now, notice bible translators today have tended to split over the ambiguity here. But it seems that Saint Jerome and the protesting Martin Luther parted ways here too. And since, many bible translators follow either the one or the other, we get the split.
Here’s Jerome and then Luther (but go on to check how your favorite Bible translation gives way to the one or the other):
nam si eis Iesus requiem praestitisset numquam de alio loqueretur posthac die
Denn so Josua hätte sie zur Ruhe gebracht, würde er nicht hernach von einem andern Tage gesagt haben.
The quick thing to note is that Jerome makes Ἰησοῦς Iesus but Luther makes him Josua.
Now, of course Jerome can tell the difference between “Jesus” and “Joshua” and so can the writer of the book of Hebrews. But the unnamed, anonymous writer of the book of Hebrews wants to keep the language in Greek as ambiguous as it is in Hebrew. She gives the reader of her Greek and the earlier Hebrew quite a bit of credit. (Okay, I’ll give you that—there’s no rigid evidence that the writer of Hebrews is “she”; and yet “he” sure writes and translates as openly as a “she” might).
But Jerome and Luther have to disambiguate, which is what bible translators today do. They want the ideal text to say one thing and one thing only. And if there’s a choice left to the reader, well the translator gets to decide for her. (In this way, Jerome and Luther are not only Platonists, they are also Aristotelians. They want the ideal Text, and they want it to say One thing and NOT another thing).
So to be clear, Jerome turns Joshua into Jesus, and Luther turns Joshua into Joshua. Most bible translators today follow either the one or the other.
But the writer of the book of Hebrews lets Jesus be Joshua also. She trusts the early translators, you know, the ones who let Rahab speak in Joshua 2:14. She trusts us the readers to see the ambiguity, to interpret for ourselves, and to hear the various voices in the text, not just Jerome’s voice or Luther’s voice.
(Now I do know of two English translation teams who have decided to translate both Joshuas in the Greek text Hebrews as "Joshua." They are Jewish groups, and I'll not name them here because they do have bias that they confess, which may just distract from the point of this post. Their bias is not platonism or neo-aristotelianism, however. And, as mentioned before, the translator and translation theorist Willis Barnstone, who is a Jew, not a Christian, translates the Greek Ἰησοῦς as Yeshua).