Most lovers of Israel are not aware that the average Israeli, including college graduates, do not read the Hebrew language Old Testament because many of the books are written in vocabulary too ancient to easily understand. Neither do they read the New Testament, because they don’t believe that it is God-inspired.
Those who do know something about Israel may well ask, “But don’t all Israeli children study the Bible in school?” And the answer is yes … but; it is taught not as truth breathed by God’s Holy Spirit, but as a beautiful literary piece like “The Odyssey” by Homer, or “The Symposium” by Plato.
Time after time, Israelis born here have told me that after many years of “studying” the Hebrew Bible in public school, they came out with nothing!
I myself read the Bible through each year, and often choose different editions for the year. My favorite English translation is the New American Standard, as it is considered closest to the original texts in accuracy. The outstanding Hebrew/English Bible produced by the Israel Bible Society uses the NASB. Without a doubt, every English translation gives its unique contribution to understanding the most important Book ever given to mankind.
Some years ago I decided to read through The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order and I found passages opening up to me like no other Bible I had ever read. Indeed, this is the fourth year I chose this Bible because it is simply exhilarating in the way it uncovers the essence, the spirit, and the background of these Holy Words.
Ari has also read through The Narrated Chronological Bible, and so we found ourselves talking about it one day in connection to Israel. Yes, it is a fact that the Old Testament which we call the “Tanach”, meaning the Torah, the Prophets and the (Historical) Writings, is not understood by most Israelis! Yes, it is a closed book to the educated and uneducated. Ask just about any Israeli (who is not an ultra-Orthodox Jew) and he or she will tell you many, if not most books of the Tanach, are unintelligible.
Why? Because it was written 2500–3500 years ago, and modern Hebrew no longer includes many words that are in the Bible. On the other hand there are some Biblical words used in modern Hebrew but have a different meaning! Only Hebrew Bible Scholars can confidently tell you they understand most of the Holy Writ, although there are extremely difficult books to understand—such as Job or Ezekiel.
I remember having a conversation with an Israeli professor in Tel Aviv years ago. We were discussing the fact that the Bible promised King David would always have a descendent on the throne. As he looked at the Hebrew text, he asked to see my English Bible in order to check out the meaning of certain words. It was then I realized that if a university professor needs an English version of the Bible to figure out the meaning of a sentence, then there was indeed a real challenge to understanding the Hebrew Bible.
Ari and I began to discuss what a Bible like The Narrated Chronological Bible could do for the Israeli people if it were in Hebrew. Of course, the original Hebrew Scripture text would remain exactly the same. There are not two versions of the Hebrew Bible; for untold centuries Jewish scribes were consumed with not changing a single “jot or tittle” as they copied the Holy Writ by hand.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Judean Desert proved to scholars that those scrolls written 2000 years ago are essentially the same as the Hebrew language Bible we have today.
But what The Narrated Chronological Bible gives is a beautifully-written introduction to each event or concept so that one already has an idea of what he or she is about to read.
Secondly, each paragraph (usually one or two verses) is labeled like FLOODWATERS BEGIN, NOAH’S FAMILY ENTERS ARK, etc.
Then, because the Biblical text has been arranged in chronological order (according to the best scholarship) you know which prophet was warning the people of Israel or Judah at the time of which king. In the New Testament, take the Book of Acts. This Bible inserts the books Paul wrote, in the order he wrote them, according to his travels described in Acts.
Furthermore, in the English Narrated Chronological Bible there are footnotes explaining a word or place when needed.
Wow! We saw that this Bible in Hebrew could be a wide-open gateway for multitudes of Israelis to be able to read and understand the Bible for the first time in their lives! There is nothing like it on the market in Israel.
We approached the head of the Israel Bible Society, Victor Kalisher, with the idea, and he felt this was exactly the type of Bible needed in Israel. His number one scholar, Dr. Ray Pritz, a former lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a Bible translation advisor and a strong believer, has committed himself for the next three years to overseeing the scholarship of producing this Hebrew Bible.
The scholars working on this new Bible will be putting footnotes to every word of the Biblical text that is not normally understood by Israelis. Moreover, when there are interesting and relevant archeological findings pertinent to the Hebrew text, they will also be published on the related page.
This is what I would call a Study Bible Lite! It is not geared primarily for scholars and professors, although I believe many of them will also be amazed when they read it. But it is first of all for the average Israeli—young people, elderly, secular, nonreligious—most of whom have never considered opening the Bible after graduating from high school.
In short, it is an introduction to a Bible they have never understood.
You might ask, “But don’t the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) know how to read the Bible?” Haredim and traditional Jews do thoroughly study the five books of Moses and the Psalms. But that is about all. Their main study books are the Talmud and other rabbinical books. They, too, would find many passages in the entire Old Testament very difficult to understand.
So we are partnering with the Israeli Bible Society, which will supply the complete text—including the Biblical text, the narration, and explanations. It will take three years to complete this Bible in Hebrew.
We are committed to raising the funds needed for the three years of work, starting this September.
The cost will be approximately $500,000. The Bible itself will have approximately 2000 pages. That means that every page of this Bible will cost about $250.
We believe this will be the most effective tool yet that we at Maoz have been privileged to bring to our Israeli people. Those perishing for lack of knowledge can drink at the fountain of Living Waters because together, we will publish a Bible so that the People of the Book can understand the Book!
This article originally appeared in Maoz Israel Report, September 2017, and reposted with permission.