I Wonder Why

UPDATE: Reader Doug Tygar has pointed out that the JPS translation that I provide below in my essay is from the 1917 edition [republished in 1955], and is different from the updated JPS (1985/1999), which reads, “For a child has been born to us, A son has been given us. And authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named “The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.”

UPDATE #2: The Jerusalem Bible (Koren Publishers Jerusalem LTD., Jerusalem, Israel ©1992) [Hebrew/English version p. 487] maintains a transliteration policy similar to the JPS (©1917, 1945, 1955) at this particular passage.

UPDATE #3: In this essay, all references to the JPS Tanakh are specifically limited to the JPS Tanakh (©1917, 1945, 1955). I have not seen the JPS Tanakh (1985/1999) and, therefore, cannot comment on its contents.

“For a child is born unto us, A son is given unto us; And the government is upon his shoulder; And his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;” (Isaiah 9:5, Jewish Publication Society)*

I recently pointed out in the comments section of a friend’s blog that the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) failed to translate a portion of Isaiah 9:6 (verse 5 in the JPS and the Hebrew)* in their English version of The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament). Rather, they chose to transliterate it. Having offered a rather minimal comment about this topic there, I thought it might be worth a slightly more detailed offering here at Pardon the Interruption.

This particular editorial decision is strange enough that it warrants the question of why it was made. Why did the editors decide to transliterate this particular verse, rather than translate it?

The words in the verse above that look strange to most of my readers are easily translated into English. For example, “Pele” is commonly translated as wonderful, while “joez” is most commonly translated as counselor. In fact, every other time “Pele” or “joez” occur in the Old Testament, the JPS chose translation over transliteration and translated the words as “wonderful” or “marvelous” (for example, Is. 25:1 and 29:14) and “counselor.” Why not translate the same words in Isaiah 9:6 (vs. 5 in JPS and in Hebrew)* rather than leave them in an undiscernible format for most English speakers? The objective, I thought, of an English translation is to put the Hebrew into understandable English. In this case, the JPS failed their readers, unless they felt obligated to confuse their readers.

What I think is even more striking is the fact that in chapter 9 the JPS chose not to translate “el-gibbor” (usually translated as “mighty God”), but did translate it in chapter 10. If you read Isaiah 10:21 in the JPS edition, you will read the following: “A remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto God the Mighty (emphasis added).” The exact same Hebrew words: transliterated in chapter 9; translated in chapter 10. Why?

Given the fact that the Hebrew of Isaiah 9:6 (vs. 5 JPS and in Hebrew)* is easily translated into English and the JPS chose to translate the same words booth in Isaiah and the rest of the Bible, I can only conclude that something deceptive is in the works? Some have asked me why I believe in such a conspiracy theory. “Surely, you don’t think the JPS would handle the Bible in a dishonest way,” they enquire. Well, actually, given the evidence cited here, I do think something dishonest is going on. And the reason is that Isaiah 9:6-7 is one of the most well-known Old Testament passages commonly suggested to reference Jesus:

And unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom
To order it and establish it with judgment
and justice
From that time forward, even forever,
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

If there is no intentional effort by the JPS to hide this wonderful messianic passage from their Jewish readers, the irony is dramatic. I’m open to be persuaded otherwise, but until a convincing argument for the editorial decision to transliterate Isaiah 9:6 (vs. 5 in JPS and in Hebrew)* is presented, I will contend that the JPS has been dishonest with their offering.

* In most English translations of the Old Testament, Isaiah 9:6 corresponds to Isaiah 9:5 in the Hebrew chapter/verse designation. However, the JPS edition of The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament) follows the Hebrew chapter/verse designation. Therefore, what is rendered as Isaiah 9:5 in the JPS is generally 9:6 in most other English versions of the Old Testament.


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  2. Mr. Tygar,

    First, thanks for your contribution to this issue. You have demonstrated one of the things that I appreciate about the Internet and blogging: multiple sources of information.

    After correctly pointing out that the source of the quote offered in both my original comment and my expanded thoughts was the 1917 edition [republished in 1945 and 1955], you wrote, “I can only wonder why the translation version was not mentioned in the original comment or a previous post.”

    Let’s see if I can unwind it for you and any others watching this discussion.

    The primary reason I didn’t make a notation that the quote was from the 1917 edition [republished in 1945 and 1955] was that I was not aware of the “New Jewish Publication Society Tanakh [1985/1999].” Obviously then, I wasn’t aware of a revision at this particular verse (Isaiah 9:5) or that a date of publication would be necessary to distinguish between “contradictory translations.” It’s really that simple. I am now aware of the “NJPS Tanakh” and will update my blog essay to reflect that fact.

    More importantly though, and what you didn’t address, is the question of why the [1917, 1945 and 1955] editors made their editorial decision to transliterate and NOT translate. That was the main point of my blog entry. Pointing out that later editors made a change indicates that my suspicions may have been correct. Do you think the original editorial decision was coincidental or calculated? Do you think my observations of how Isaiah 9:5 was translated in the [1917, 1945, 1955] JPS Tanakh were unfair or misleading? If so, how?

    While you suggest that few people currently defend the “JPS 1917 edition,” it is interesting that The Jerusalem Bible (Koren Publishers Jerusalem LTD., Jerusalem, Israel ©1992, Hebrew/English version, p. 487) maintains a similar transliteration policy at this particular passage. Why would they do that? Do you think that is a legitimate translation principle?

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  4. It seems to me that there are several reasons for transliteration as opposed to translation.

    The first reason would be because the translators think the word or phrase is a proper name (cf. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in Isa 8.1-3).

    A second reason would be if the translators think that the exact translation of the word is unclear or controversial (eg. “baptize, baptism — although see below for another reason for that).

    A third reason is if a foreign word is very commonly known in an English-speaking context. (e.g. “Christ”, “Hallelujah”).

    I suspect that the JPS translators transliterated this passage for the first and/or second reason.

  5. Isaac,

    Thanks for your suggestions, all of which, should be seriously considered.

    I think your 2b is the correct choice.

    Following the old adage, “when all else fails, read the directions,” I decided to read the preface to the JPS 1917 and believe the following paragraph may indicate the answer to my question of why.

    “The repeated efforts by Jews in the field of biblical translation show their sentiment toward translations prepared by other denominations. The dominant feature of this sentiment, apart from the thought that the christological interpretations in non-Jewish translations are out of place in a Jewish Bible, is and was that the Jew cannot afford to have his Bible translation prepared for him by others.” (Preface, The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society, © 1917, 1945, 1955, p. vii.)

  6. Lover of Hebrew says

    Dude, you are RIGHT on the money. Something is definitely wrong here, and their lack of translation is beyond a coincidence.

    Jesus is “El-Gibbor” and “Pele-Joez.”

    thanks for bringing these translator to question.

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