The Five Books of Moses
The Schocken Bible
By Everett Fox
Schocken Books, 2000, 1056 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 15, 2010
Everett Fox is an expert on both the Bible and literature. He offers his English readers a unique translation, with each idea on a separate line, in a poetic fashion, and captures the rhythms of the original Hebrew, its word-plays and alliterations. He renders the name of God, which ever since the first Bible translation, which was done in Greek, was rendered "Lord" out of respect for God so as not to mention His name, as YHWH. He inserts introductory explanations frequently and adds brief commentaries on the bottom of the pages.
Fox's methodology can be seen in how he handles Genesis 1, verses 1 though 3. The Jewish Publication Society translates these verses as follows:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said 'Let there be light.' And there was light.
Fox presents the verses as follows:
At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth,
When the earth was wild and waste,
Darkness over the face of Ocean,
Rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters-
God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
This is beautiful; however readers might ask why Dr. Fox translated the Hebrew shamayim as "heavens" when it is clear that there is only a single "heaven." Granted the Hebrew is a plural form, but there are many Hebrew words in the plural form that refer to a single item, such as mayim, which means "water" not "waters." Second, why place an exclamation point after God's statement, as if God said these words with some emotion. Third, why not place the statement in quotes. These are minor points.
Perhaps a more serious question in the minds of some readers is his translation of mayim here as "Ocean," with a capital O. As stated earlier, mayim means "water." Fox opted for "Ocean," he explains in his commentary, because he feels that Scripture is referring to the "primeval waters, a common (and usually divine) image in ancient Near Eastern mythology."
Fox's translations are not always clear. The well-known Sabbath command is an example. The Jewish Publication Society translation of Exodus 20: 8 and 9 is:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God….
Fox renders it:
the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
For six days, you are to serve, and make all your work,
but the seventh day
is Sabbath for YHWH your God….
The words "serve" and "make" in the Fox translation are unclear.
These two examples from the Fox translation and commentary show the style and apparent problems with the translation, but, as previously stated, they are minor. In fact, the translation and commentary cause readers to consider how they feel that Scripture should be understood.
I wrote a review of Robert Alter's and David Rosenberg's Bible translations today and readers may want to read them to see the differences between the three approaches to Scripture.