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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

Italicizing Transliterated Words


Continuing on with our exploration of the TLV Translation guidelines, we come to an especially unique feature of the Tree of Life: Italicizing transliterated words. Adding italics, on a very limited basis, for lesser known Hebrew terms allows us to introduce concepts that are too large for English to truly explain while indicating that they are in some way different from the rest of the text. We do this in order to help the reader better understand some of the culture and lost intent of the original manuscripts.

We opted to transliterate rather than translate, sometimes. Translation speaks of rendering a word’s meaning into another language. Transliteration, by contrast, is not a translation: one who transliterates takes the Hebrew word and gives it characters from another alphabet. “Shalom” for example is a well-known Hebrew word–one spelled in English. Most know the transliterated “shalom” as a greeting and/or as a word that translates as “peace.”  However, it infers a much larger concept at it’s core, a sense of unbrokenness with nothing missing – a peace that passes all understanding. Explaining this in English would have been too involved and would inevitably detract from the translation as it became unwieldy in its reading.

Another example of this comes in the form of the Hebrew word “chesed”. Often translated as “lovingkindness,” “chesed” has a much expansive meaning that includes mercy, kindness, and covenant loyalty.  Instead of picking and choosing which definition fit in each context, our team left it transliterated to allow for ongoing revelation and exploration.

We do more of that in the text than most other translations–but not too much of it. Sometimes we leave the Hebrew, or impose it on the Greek, in our reckoning, a decision that comes down to the reader in the form of an italicized, transliterated word. This decision realigns the Hebraic lens of the Jewish authors of the New Testament, hopefully teaching the reader to recognize the Jewish thought and theology behind the Greek words.  Ben-Elohim for the title name “Son of God” is an example; rendering Shabbat for “Sabbath” is another one.

In both cases, and in all cases, our executives are looking to make point. We do it because we want to gently lead the reader forward in their thinking by leading the readers back to Jewish thinking. Readers will of course find the glossary helpful at the first, till they get used to it. Upon digesting and internalizing these words, the reader will find a brand new vista of revelation before them.

Exodus 25:34, Joshua 6, Daniel 10:18, and Matthew 1:1

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