Danish Bible that removed Israel 'not antisemitic' argues columnist

The Danish Bible society took too many liberties with the translation but, Mosaic Magazine's Philologos argued, was not antisemitic in its motives.

A 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible,was unveiled at the Museum of the Bible on November 8, 2019. (photo credit: JAMES STELLUTO/MUSEUM OF THE BIBLE)
A 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible,was unveiled at the Museum of the Bible on November 8, 2019.
(photo credit: JAMES STELLUTO/MUSEUM OF THE BIBLE)
Far from being antisemitic, a new Christian Bible translation which omits or replaces the word "Israel" in many places within the text affirms the link between Israel and the Jewish people, a columnist for Mosaic Magazine has argued.
The translation, titled Bible 2020, released earlier this year by the Danish Bible Society, came under scrutiny toward the end of April when readers noted that numerous references to "Israel" had been replaced or removed. In some places the word had been replaced with "the Jews," "the Jewish people," or even "the people," whereas in others the translation was made more universal, such as the re-rendering of Psalm 121:4 from “He who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,” to “He who takes care of us will not fall asleep, no he is not sleeping.”
According to analysis by the Bible Society in Israel, the word "Israel" appears only twice in the Bible 2020 version of New Testament rather than the more than 60 times it appears in the Greek from which it was originally translated. The Old Testament has been less altered, but while the word appears 2,521 times in the Greek, it has been rendered as such 2,316 times in the Danish translation, a reduction of around 9%.
Defending their translation, the Danish Bible society said in a statement: "In The New Testament the word 'Israel' has been translated into 'the Jewish people,' 'the Jews,' or 'the people' because when the Greek text uses the word 'Israel' it is referring to a people with whom God has a special relationship – Jacob’s descendants. However, for the secular reader, who does not know the Bible well, 'Israel' could be referring only to a country. Therefore the word 'Israel' in the Greek text has been translated in other ways, so that the reader understands it is referring to the Jewish people."
However, many were unconvinced.
The Jerusalem Post columnist Liat Collins wrote of the translation: "Instead of making sure that readers understand the connection between Israel, the Jews and the Land of Israel of the Bible, they preferred to make an artificial separation.
"Taking a charitable approach, it’s possible to say that the Danish Bible translators did not see their changes as a political act, more an act of political correctness – trying to include all. But clearly something was lost in translation, as is evident to someone who reads the Bible in the original Hebrew. As B’nai Brith International tweeted: “... this surreal revision causes confusion and worse: whitewashing of history, identity, and sacred scripture.”"
But Mosaic Magazine's Philologos column, which focuses on Jewish language, has a different take on the matter.
"Its aim was disambiguation, not the delegitimization of the Jewish state," the column stated. "I find this explanation perfectly credible."
Philologos points out that ambiguities around the varying uses of the word "Israel" within scripture can trip up Jewish as well as non-Jewish writers, given that there are at least five separate meanings:
- The people descended from the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, "with whose history and relationship with God the biblical narrative deals."
- The land also geographically known as Palestine.
- The Kingdom of Israel which ruled northern Palestine from the death of Solomon to its destruction by the Assyrians, and which was often at odds with the Kingdom of Judea to its south.
- The post-biblical descendants of Judah, who became the Jewish people.
- The modern State of Israel, as established in 1948. 
"Even Jews who see in the overlapping of these meanings an affirmation of the oneness of Jewish peoplehood and history often feel a need to distinguish among them," the column argues.
"Jewish historians writing in English, for example, generally use the word Jews rather than Israel when speaking of post- or even late biblical times, as in “the Jews of the period of the Second Temple.” Conversely, they would rarely apply the word to earlier times. It would strike us as anachronistic to read of “the Jews in the age of the Patriarchs” or “Joshua’s Jewish conquests,” just as it would be to be told about “the people of Israel in the time of the Crusades.”"
Indeed, it is precisely these ambiguities that has led Christians over the years to adopt the mantle of "Israel," by drawing a clear distinction between the Biblical people chosen by God to be the agents of his redemption for humanity, and the Jews who rejected this mission when they rejected Jesus as Messiah, an interpretation known as "replacement theology."
"Even when not aimed against the Jews, this 'replacement theology,' as it has been called — the Christian belief that 'we are Israel' — has been a powerful factor in many strains of Christianity," Philologos writes. "And it is here, I think, that the accusations of antisemitism against the new Danish Bible are most unjustified, since it is precisely at this point that the new translation breaks most sharply with Christian tradition."
He points to verse 13:23 in the New Testament Book of Acts. The King James Version, which derives from the Greek "kat epangellian egagen to Israel," renders the verse: “Of this man’s [David’s] seed hath God according to His promise raised unto Israel a savior, Jesus.” The Bible 2020 version, however, reads: “God promised that he would choose a man from David’s offspring to save the Jewish people, and He has done this now in the person of Jesus.”
Philologos argues: "Yes, it is true, 'Israel' has been replaced here by 'the Jewish people' – but what is the significance of this replacement? Is it not to imply that even after the crucifixion of Jesus and the Jewish rejection of him, “Israel” is still the Jewish people, which alone can lay claim to the title as no Christians can? What else can translating Israel as 'the Jewish people' mean in this context?
"Rather than severing the tie between 'Israel' and the Jews, as its critics have charged it with doing, the new DBS Bible strikes me as having made a special point of affirming it. And it makes this point, so far as I can judge from what I have read about it, in many other places in the biblical text as well."
The translation in places – particularly Psalm 121 – oversteps the bounds, he argues, but the error is one of taking too many liberties with the translation in a bid to make the text accessible to a modern audience, not one of antisemitism. His conclusion? "As Jews rather than translation critics, however, we have nothing to complain about."