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The Five Books of Moses

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The Five Books of Moses

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The Five Books of Moses
The Schocken Bible
By Everett Fox
Schocken Books, 2000, 1056 pages
ISBN-10: 0805211195
ISBN-13: 978-0805211191

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:

Fox presents the verses as follows:

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:

Fox renders it:

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.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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