Deathmatch: Darby vs WEB

For an upcoming project I’ve been trying to find a non-copyrighted translation of the Bible. I was astonished how hard these are to come by. For some strange reason, God’s word needs to be protected by puny human copyright law.

I was only actually able to find two (2) modern translations that are non-copyrighted, public domain works. The Open English Bible, which is not finished, and the World English Bible, which is also not finished, an update of the American Standard Version. (Which is an update of an update of the KJV.)

To find more material we have to go back to books whose copyright has expired. The Darby translation seems to be the most recent book to have fallen into the public domain. (Young’s Literal Translation is another possibility, but I’m not considering it because, frankly, it reads like rubbish. Perfectly literal translations have their place, but this project is primarily literary.)

There is, of course, the original KJV, but I’m not a fool.

So my two best options seem to be the WEB and Darby. But both of these are problematic to a degree. WEB is the product of evangelical missionaries– eww- and I’m worried the translation will be theological biased. (Not that any aren’t, I guess?) As for Darby, it’s over a century old, and the Old Testament seems to be an English translation of a German translation. Not ideal.

So what I’m going to do in this post is a bit of thinking out loud as I compare these two translations to see which, if either, is suitable for my project. The verses are chosen for specific reasons but are in no particular order:

Judges 6:25

I chose this for it’s religious terminology: I’m curious how the translations deal with the term “the asherah” (האשרה), which is thought to refer to a sacred pole or tree representing the goddess Asherah. KJV unhelpfully renders this as “groves”.


And it came to pass the same night, that Jehovah said to him, Take the young bullock, which thy father hath, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the Asherah that is by it;

Ooh, a direct transliteration of the term. I likey. I do not likey the term Jehovah (it’s just a weird obfuscation of Yahweh), but a little “find and replace” can fix that.

So the language is a little archaic, but comprehensible.


It happened the same night, that Yahweh said to him, “Take your father’s bull, even the second bull seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is by it.

Well, very similar to Darby. Again Asherah is nicely transliterated. Language is much more modern.

Point: WEB.

Judges 19:22

Now let’s see how each translation deals with threats of rape.


They were making their hearts merry, when behold, the men of the city, sons of Belial, surrounded the house, beating at the door; and they spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thy house, that we may know him.


As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain base fellows, surrounded the house, beating at the door; and they spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may have sex with him!”

I like that WEB is frank and to the point. I also like that it avoids the direct translation “sons of belial”, which I think misconstrues a Hebrew idiom to personify the word belial (בליעל, wickedness or decadence). (“Satan” underwent a similar process.)

Point: WEB

Leviticus 26:30

More religious terminology.


And I will lay waste your high places, and cut down your sun-pillars, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols; and my soul shall abhor you.


I will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and cast your dead bodies upon the bodies of your idols; and my soul will abhor you.

I’ve never heard of the Israelites worshipping sun-pillars.

Point: WEB

Judges 5:2

How do these translations deal with “obscure” Hebrew? By obscure, of course, I mean “this Hebrew was written down so long ago nobody that knows what this shit actually means so lets make something up.” In this verse, the bolded term’s meaning is unknown.


For that leaders led in Israel, For that the people willingly offered themselves, Bless Jehovah!


Because the leaders took the lead in Israel,
because the people offered themselves willingly,
be blessed, Yahweh!

Well first off, nice to know WEB marks poetry as such. That will save me some time! But they both take the same tack.

For comparison’s sake, let’s bring in Young’s Literal Translation, and see how literal it can be with uncertain words:


For freeing freemen in Israel, For a people willingly offering themselves Bless ye Jehovah.

Yeah no.

Isaiah 7:14

Okay, how about one of the most famously mis-translated words in the entire Bible? I’m talking about Isaiah’s “young woman” whom Christians mistook for a “virgin”, an issue that still affects translations of the Hebrew Bible.


Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel.

Booo! Hiss!!


Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Well, crap. Isaiah isn’t even in the purview of this project (at least not for a while), but this makes clear that the WEB is theologically biased. Luckily I can fix mistakes like this- the main problem will be finding them.

Exodus 3:14

Let’s now turn to a pivotal verse that always loses a lot in translation: God’s declaration (via burning shrubbery) that he is I AM. (It’s a pun on his name. God loves puns!)


And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM. And he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.


God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM,” and he said, “You shall tell the children of Israel this: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Both very similar. And I just noticed that WEB uses quotation marks, which is handy. Gotta say I haven’t seen any advantage to Darby and no big issues with the WEB.

Yeah, that’s it. My conclusion isn’t exactly a nail-biter: the modern translation beats out the century-old one. I see no major issues with the WEB. It is a bit stilted and conservative (I’m used to the New English Bible, a peculiarly literary translation), but it’s by far my best option. In any event I am free to edit so I will swap terminology here and there or clean up other issues. The WEB is truly open source, as God’s word should be! From the WEB FAQ:

May I change or translate the World English Bible?

Yes and no. Because the World English Bible is God’s Word, you may not do anything to change the meaning of the text. That is God’s rule, not mine.


Posted in Red Pen Bible | 4 Comments

Ten Commandments Wrong Ones: Pastor

Hi, I’m busy this week reading a lot of Proverbs. As filler, here is an article my cousin in Missouri forwarded to me. Real update coming soon! -Abbie

Ten Commandments Wrong Ones: Pastor

By Paula Sandmel

Hebron, Missouri- Have you been obeying the Ten Commandments? According to a local pastor, the answer could be “no.”

The Reverend Samuel Cafferty of Hebron, MO sent shockwaves through his congregation and city when he announced that the Bible’s famous Ten Commandments “are actually a different set of laws,” not the familiar precepts known to be the foundation of western civilization and its entire system of morality.

Found in churches, synagogues, and classrooms across the world, the Ten Commandments were a concise list of precepts believed to have guided humanity since they were handed down by God to Moses in chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus. But through careful exegesis, Pastor Cafferty has proven that the Ten Commandments in question are in reality a set of legislation found fourteen chapters later.

“The law code in chapter 20 is never identified as the Ten Commandments by the holy text,” he said at a press conference last Sunday. “The words ‘The Ten Commandments’ are only used much later, quite obviously to describe a completely different set of laws.” Cafferty explained that the true Decalogue is detailed in chapter 34, verses 14-26. “When God said ‘write thou these words’, he wasn’t talking about something he said fourteen chapters ago. He was clearly talking about this batch of law.” He added, “how the [heck] did we miss this one?”

Like its false predecessor, the true Ten Commandments of Exodus 34 detail an array of moral and behavioural precepts, even sharing the familiar prohibition of false gods and recognition of the Sabbath. Most commandments, however, are novel, including two that taken together list four new mandatory festivals. “We will have to add new government holidays to our calendar” said Cafferty, referring to Exodus 34:22. “Perhaps this ‘firstfruits of the wheat harvest’ is covered by Thanksgiving, but we’ll need to celebrate something called Weeks, and then this Ingathering deal.” He added, “I hope you like unleavened bread.”

Pastor Cafferty addresses his congregation regarding the new Ten Commandments

Cafferty announced the new Commandments to his congregation.

The theological bombshell came while Cafferty was preparing “yet another” sermon on the golden calf incident from Exodus. “My KJV is a bit stiff, and I accidentally turned to one of the boring parts we don’t really read. Imagine my astonishment, there in Chapter 34, I see the words ‘The Ten Commandments’. Cafferty said it now seems “embarrassingly obvious” that the law code in chapter 20 isn’t, and never was, the actual Ten Commandments.

Initially the Pastor kept the news to himself. “Even though I had identified the commandments, I still had to figure out what they meant,” he said, acknowledging that parsing the King James Bible could be difficult. “What does ‘all that openeth the matrix’ mean? Can you guess? I had no idea,” he recalled. “Apparently, it just means firstborn!”

Eventually he approached his wife, Debbie, with the issue. “At first I was confused,” she explained. “I said to him, ‘what does it actually mean to give your firstborn to the Lord?’ But I realized the rules make a lot more sense than the old ones.” She added, “At least they don’t implicitly condone slavery.”

Debbie pushed her husband to finally take the changes public. The new Ten Commandments were delivered to Cafferty’s congregation via a lengthy powerpoint presentation last month. Most of his flock was initially sceptical.

“Apparently now our menchildren need to go three times a year and appear before the Lord,” mused Tony McEleney, an unemployed barber. “When I heard that, I said ‘[hey now]’. What’s the deal with that? Is my Kevin what they’re calling a manchild? Why’s he get to visit God and I don’t?”

However, it didn’t take long for most to accept the changes. Local arborist Kathleen Bourke has no issue with the new timeless precepts. “It’s [Cafferty’s] job to understand that stuff, so he must be right. I wasn’t really into eating blood with leaven anyway. My cousin, her boyfriend is from England, he’s got her eating this stuff called blood sausage. I think it actually has blood in it?” She asked, “Does that mean they’re going to hell?”

Meanwhile, many are applauding the nullification of the original ten laws originally considered to be the foundation of all morality. Asked to comment on the theological revelations, shopkeeper Billy Beardslee stated that he relished the loosened restrictions on coveting his neighbour’s wife. “Those [legs] she got, those are [wonderful]!” he stated.

Controversy is nothing new for Samuel Cafferty. In the 1990s he garnered national attention for his drive to erect a monument to the Ten Commandments in front of the Nabalton County courthouse. He now says his efforts were misguided. Last Sunday, a solemn ceremony saw the original monument, carved from high-quality Vermont granite, uprooted and replaced with an exact replica reflecting mankind’s true covenant with the Lord.
the real Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments

“Ladies and Gentlemen of Hebron”, Cafferty said at the dedication ceremony, “May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land. Until now, we happened to have had the completely wrong moral foundation.” Speaking for the theological community, he added, “our bad.”

When asked in a question-and-answer session if the antiquated laws of Exodus 20 should still be followed, Cafferty shrugged. “I guess so, Billy. They’re still in the Bible. But they’re not the ‘Ten Commandments’ any more. They’re kind of like all those other weird laws we don’t obey. I mean, do any of you actually follow every single law in Leviticus?” he asked, the remark eliciting laughter from the crowd.

On the following thursday, Missouri State Senator Errol Stuhlmueller called a press conference at the county courthouse to announce new legislation in response to the theological revelations. SB 233, in accordance with the new 10th Commandment, will prohibit the cooking of any mammal in the milk of its mother within state lines. Standing just feet from Cafferty’s monument, Stuhlmueller addressed an audience of nearly 70 citizens. “Just as the Ten Commandments have always been the bedrock of our legal system, so shall be these Ten Commandments, which are the real ones we should have been obeying this whole time,” he proclaimed.

Errol Flint speaking at press conference

“Depriving the Lord of his firstborns and firstfruits will be a criminal offence.” said Stuhlmueller on Thursday.

When asked by a reporter if existing laws prohibiting theft and murder would be repealed, given their new-found obsolescence, Stuhlmueller paused before answering frankly. “I discussed the matter with my colleagues. But it turns out that most of those commandments were kind of just common sense. Who knew?” He followed, “So it will probably remain illegal to kill, steal, and buy beer on Sunday.”

In response to the new Second Commandment prohibiting molten idols, the town statue honoring Hebron founder Bud “Buddy” Miskolczi will be melted down and sold for scrap, according to City Treasurer Albert Baumgarten. He further stated that the funds would be use to finance the carving of a replacement statue from biblically-approved stone.

While most of the community has been receptive to Cafferty’s discovery, Leigh Charleston, a local Mormon Bishop, has quibbled with the pastor’s parsing of the text. “While we readily agree that these Commandments are indeed the true Decalogue, he has erred when dividing them into ten laws. His 4th Commandment is redundant and could be replaced with one based on the second half of verse 25,” he said, referring to the stipulation that a sacrifice not be left out overnight. “Why waste good food when we have plenty of fridge space in the Temple? The remnants of a firstborn cattle would make a terrific Sunday barbeque.”

Asked to respond, Cafferty stated that the problem of parsing complex Biblical law into discreet lists of ten was not new. “No denomination could get the old Ten Commandments straight either. Did ‘no coveting your neighbor’s wife’ stand alone at number 9, or was it part of the 10th?” He added with a shrug, “It’s a moot point now.”

Local Rabbi David Weisberg, when approached for comment, said that the identification of the new Commandments was “so obvious, we should have thought of it first.” After pausing, he added, “Come to think of it, we probably did. I think it’s in some Midrash somewhere. Who knows?”

Closing the dedication ceremony on Sunday, Cafferty appeared optimistic that his new interpretation would prevail. “President Madison once said that our future is staked on our capacity to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God. Sure, he was talking about completely the wrong ones. But the point still stands.”

When asked to comment on chapter 5 of the book of Deuteronomy, which identifies the traditional Decalogue as the actual Ten Commandments, the pastor mumbled that he “never could make it past Leviticus anyway” and remembered he was late for a Little League game.

Posted in Religion | 7 Comments

Lying the Good Lie

I’m bending the rules here. This blog is ostensibly about the Bible from an atheist’s perspective. But this post isn’t about the Bible. Hey it’s my blog and I guess I can break my non-existent rules.

This post is about an article from this weeks The New York Times Magazine (the sunday glossy with the alienating ads for luxury apartments), an infuriating piece titled “Living the Good Lie“, from Mimi Swartz. It regards a psychotherapist named Denis Flanigan who has come up with a solution for helping devout gay people find balance when their sexual attraction conflicts with their faith.

A fair question. Who won’t admit that there is often a profound conflict between personal faith and sexual desire? What does one do, if one is a friend of both Jesus and Dorothy?

Unfortunately his answer, in so many words, is: choose Jesus.

My response, in so many Japanese emoticons: o_O

Yeah, this article pushed my buttons. Because fun fact: religion’s intransigence in regards to teh gay is one of the major reasons I am anti-theist. No, not why I’m an atheist. (I’m an atheist because I was never indoctrinated in religion.) It is why I’m an anti-theist. A Gnu Atheist. It is why religion pisses me right off. And this article epitomizes the reason I do not think it proper to hand out respect to religious beliefs. Even the nice ones! Because it’s the very concept of “respecting religious beliefs” that is causing problems here.

Oh I should probably mention at this point that I am queer. (Bi, to be semi-precise.) Luckily, I live in one of the most secular states in this godly country. And like I said, I was never religious. So no, I have no idea what it’s like to be religious and gay and surrounded by homophobes. I’m living the secular dream. Other’s aren’t so lucky. How should they cope?

Continue reading

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Through bored link-surfing I quite randomly stumbled upon this post, a blog carnival at Dr. Jim’s Thinking Shop and/or Secular Bible Blog.

Check it out. Now. There’s a wide mix of content, sceptical, scholarly, evangelical manuscript analysis, revisionists (the decalogue is post-exile? Really???), Doctor Who, etc. Also, it seems the JEPD hypothesis isn’t dead after all.

My cup runneth over. I’ve just been introduced to so many great blogs, I will not have time to actually eat lunch ever again.

Anyway, by some accident, two of my posts ended up on this list. I was quite surprised to see my Jonathan David post was cited. And I’m pleased that the Meshe Stele post was included as well (I’m prouder of that one.)

Better than Esdras began a series of posts on important finds with a well illustrated article on the Moabite Stone exploring the troubled space between biblical representation of the past and archaeological evidence

Shit, that means I have to actually make it a series of posts.

Anyway, this explains the weird traffic bump a few weeks back. I would have swept if I knew guests were coming!

So, quick Esdrasy update: still participating in the Oklahoma Atheists (even though I’ve never been to Oklahoma) bible study podcast every week. 2nd Kings just landed on iTunes (hi mom, I’m on iTunes!) Working on the Elisha/Elijah post. Just finished reading the Book of Ezra. And wow, Ezra is a douchebag.

Posted in Media | 1 Comment

Found in the Ground #1: The Mesha Stele

This is the first in a series of posts about important artefacts/archaeological sites that relate to the historicity of the Bible. I’m not out to “disprove the Bible”, but to explore the complicated relationship between the biblical texts and the archaeological reality.

Found in the Ground #1

The Mesha Stele (AKA Moabite Stone)

Now on display in the Louvre, this gorgeous victory stele was found in Dibhan, Jordan in 1868. What is it? A rock, with words carved into it. Cool! We can read the words, because it’s in a language very close to Biblical Hebrew. Turns out it was carved by/for a dude named Meshe, who was king of the Moabites. In approximately 840 BCE, to celebrate a successful revolt against the king of Israel, he set up this rock in the city of Dibon. (Yes, Dibon = Dibhan.) A millennia later (a fucking millennia!) somebody dug it up and now you have to read about it.

This stele is important for several reasons (early mentions of Yahweh and David, historical correlation with 2nd Kings) so let’s us take a look-see. Continue reading

Posted in Archaeology | 6 Comments

Pod-casting Lots

Since I have zero interest in revisiting 1st Samuel whilst there’s so much new awesome stuff coming up, I really doubt I will get back to my chapter-by-chapter exegesis anytime soon.

But not to worry!

I continue to contribute to the ongoing Oklahoma Atheists Godcast bible study series. So far I have participated in Judges, Ruth, 1st Samuel, and last night we did all of 2nd Samuel in a grueling 2 hour session.

I’m now following‘s daily reading plan, which puts us a bit ahead of Project: The King and I, which is nice because I used to scramble to read 4 chapters at once to stay caught up.

As for dis here blog: I have decided to start an occasional series on important archaeological discoveries; the first, on the Meshe stele, will be up soon. I’ve also begun a rather daunting project of cataloguing the myriad of -ites the Israelites loved to slaughter. And I will have a post up extolling my love for a certain “secular humanist” archaeologist who writes about Bible stuff.

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Jonathan David

Probably the most important issue raised by the reading of 1st Samuel is the nature of the relationship between Jonathan, son of Saul, and David, the future King. Some people speculate that there was something “gay” or “super gay” to their relationship. Sometimes people write songs that allude to this. Sometimes I get those songs stuck in my head for weeks at a time.

Anyway. How gay were David and Jonathan? Totally gay? Or just the normal gay? The vital importance of this question can *not* be overstated. If I can prove King David is gay, then all Christians will instantly stop being homophobic. True fact!

So, to figure out this crucial issue, I will be analysing the entire David slash Jonathan storyline. It has been cut up and placed at various places in 1st Samuel chapters 18-20 and 23, and ends with Jonathan’s unceremonious death in chapter 31.

Episode 1: Boy meets boy.

18:1 . And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
18:2 And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house.
18:3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
18:4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that [was] upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.

David and Jonathan’s relationship begins abruptly; it’s love at first sight. And then Jonathan strips.

Continue reading

Posted in 1st Samuel | 4 Comments