Unto the Nations: The making of a Bible

In 1933, Eliyahu Koren, a typographer and graphic designer immigrated to Palestine from Germany. In the mid-1950s, he set out publishing a Hebrew Bible designed, edited, printed and bound by Jews.

A woman looks at a Bible during a preview of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2017 (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
A woman looks at a Bible during a preview of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2017
President Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s thriller, The President is Missing, is so far 2018’s No. 1 best-selling work of fiction, at 150,000 copies. It sounds impressive, but when compared to this year’s – and every year’s – actual No. 1 best-seller, that number is rather small.
What is the top-selling book? The Bible, with more than 25 million Bibles sold annually in the United States.
Jews are traditional when it comes to the Tanach. However, Christians have numerous versions and editions of the Bible. Zondervan, a leading Christian Bible publisher, has more than 350 different Bible versions in print.
The first time I encountered such a diverse variety of what are referred to as “niche Bibles” was at a Barnes & Nobles in Ohio, where I lived before making aliyah. I stood amazed in front of row after row of colorful titles such as the Woman’s Bible, the Golfer’s Bible (leather edition), and The American Patriot’s Bible.
I asked a sales associate if they had a Bible about Israel. After checking the stacks and her computer, she replied that such a Bible did not exist. I was surprised, because Israel is among the most prominent themes in the Bible. I became more and more passionate about the need for a Bible all about Israel. If Christian support for Israel is a direct outcome of their reading of the Bible, why was there no Bible focused on Israel? That visit to the bookstore a few years ago set me on a path to publish the world’s first Bible dedicated exclusively to the land and the people of Israel. As I have written on these pages before, The Israel Bible was published recently by Israel365 and Menorah Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.
I knew nothing about book publishing and certainly not about the nuances of Bible printing, but over the past five years I’ve entered a fascinating world that goes back to when the first book that rolled off the Gutenberg Printing Press in 1455.
Johannes Gutenberg changed the world by making books available to the common person when he used movable type to print a Bible in Mainz, Germany. While the Church felt threatened by the mass production of Bibles, Jews at the time were thrilled at the technological breakthrough that brought books into every home.
The Soncino family were among the first Jewish printers. They started by publishing the Talmud tractate Brachot in 1484 followed by Sefer Ha’Ikkarim in 1485. Proudly aware of their contribution to Jewish scholarship, the book’s colophon played off Isaiah’s famous verse, “Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Soncino.”
They came out with their version of the Hebrew Bible in 1488.
Once Bibles became affordable, they had to be made accessible. The next milestone in the history of Bible publishing was the translation revolution.
The first translated Bibles that were printed were in Latin and Greek.
Quickly, people wanted the Bible in their own languages, which set off a firestorm in Europe. Martin Luther was excommunicated for translating the Bible into German, and William Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 for translating Holy Scripture into English.
Eventually, the acceptability of translations caught on. The most famous and successful example is the King James Version of 1611. The British king appointed 54 scholars from Oxford, Cambridge and London who spent over a decade on the literary masterpiece.
The King James Bible had a major impact not only on religion, but on the English language.
Jews also found inspiration in a beautifully crafted translation, however, they could not embrace a translation done by Christians. In the words of the original editors of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation, “The Jew cannot afford to have his Bible translation prepared for him by others.
He cannot have it as a gift, even as he cannot borrow his soul from others.”
When the JPS translation was published in 1917, it represented a monumental achievement as the first Jewish Bible prepared by a learned group of scholars and was used in Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues.
With the “Baal Teshuva” movement and embrace of greater observance by Orthodox Jews in the 1960s and 1970s, a new translation was needed. The Brooklyn-based Artscroll publishing house came out with a new translation in 1996, which became the standard for American Orthodox Jews over the past generation.
A simultaneous literary revolution was taking place in Israel with the revitalization of the Hebrew language, culture and scholarship in the 20th century.
In 1933, Eliyahu Koren, a typographer and graphic designer immigrated to Palestine from Germany. In the mid-1950s, he set out publishing a Hebrew Bible designed, edited, printed and bound by Jews – something that had not been accomplished since Soncino.
The Koren Publishing company has been producing beautiful religious books from Jerusalem in recent years, with embossed on their iconic covers the actual verse from Isaiah, “From Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
Koren was therefore the natural partner for the publication of The Israel Bible.
In 2012, I started Israel365 and began collecting all the Bible’s verses about Israel and then gathered scholars to write a unique Israel focused commentary on each of the 929 chapters of Tanach. After years of research, writing, editing and design, The Israel Bible was released in time for Israel’s 70th anniversary and has soared to the top of Amazon’s new releases and is now the No. 1 Bible in several categories.
For many of our Christian readers, The Israel Bible is their first Bible that opens like a Hebrew book, from right to left. We have received much encouraging feedback from our crowd funders, and some humorous ones. One woman complained that while the Bible was beautiful, there was a mistake: the book opened backwards.
The Israel Bible is the first new Hebrew-English Bible published in more than 20 years, and it has rightfully assumed its position as top on Amazon, and on the shelves of Jews and Christians alike. The Israel Bible specifically fills a major void for non-Jewish readers who might be on the fence about support of Israel as a Jewish state by proving the biblical, historical and eternal connection of the Jews to this land.
The Bible will likely always be the No. 1 best-selling book in America.
Now, these Americans will bring God’s message about Israel into their homes, as well. That can only be good for the Jewish state.
The author is the general editor of The Israel Bible, published in April by Israel365 and Menorah Books, an imprint of Koren Jerusalem Publishers. It is available on Amazon and www.TheIsraelBible.