An 1888 Review of Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament

"Delitzsch’s translation is like a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden." —Theophilus Lucky

A view of one of the pages from The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, a Hebrew/English translation by Vine of David that incorporates Delitzsch's Hebrew translation of the gospels. (Image: © First Fruits of Zion)

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It is my pleasure to have been tasked to help assemble the writings of messianic luminary Theophilus Lucky for a future publication.

I have been poring excitedly over issue after issue of his beautiful magazine Edut L’Yisrael, which was the Messiah Journal of the late nineteenth century. Like the Journal, HaEdut included letters, articles, poetry, and book reviews. Not all of these will find a place in the Vine of David collection of Lucky’s writings, but they should be read nonetheless. In the first issue of HaEdut, which was printed in Tishrei of 1888, we find a book review of Franz Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament, published eleven years earlier. We have previously released this review in a different translation in Messiah Journal, but thought it worth posting on this blog in a fresh translation. In future posts you can expect to find more from the forerunners of Messianic Judaism.

The Review by Yedidiah Theophilus Lucky

The books of the “New Testament” have been translated from the Greek language into Hebrew by the sage Professor Franz Delitzsch in a seventh, revised and corrected, edition in the year “Masos” (Isa. 65:18).

The name of this sage, this great teacher, and his deeds are known to all the readers of books and journals published in Hebrew, because he has done wonderful things on behalf of Israel, more than any other lover of God’s people who has arisen for us amongst the nations from the days of Luther until today. Delitzsch’s love for the people of Israel, even though not born one of them, is like Saul’s love for the people who were his own. This love for Israel awoke in his heart as early as the age of eighteen or nineteen, and since then and up until now he has not ceased to labor to do good and mercy to the people of Judah. For Zion’s sake he has not kept silent during the days and for Jerusalem’s sake has not kept quiet during the nights. His heart will not remain silent until he has labored to see the salvation of Israel like a torch that is burning [Isa. 62:1].

To the joy of my heart and of all those who love us, I can say that Delitzsch’s fate is not like the fate of all the other lovers of Israel, because with us he has restored love to his bosom and we shall honor and lift up his name and bless it. The editor of “HaMelitz,” which is printed in St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia, also recognizes Delitzsch’s qualities, and everywhere his name is mentioned it is with honor and respect and the recognition that he is a “righteous man” and a “saint” - despite the paper’s custom of blaspheming against the followers of Yeshua the Messiah, the Angel who redeems humanity from the yoke of sin when these followers would endeavor to disseminate the gospel of redemption amongst the camp of the Hebrews.

I have seen copies of Delitzsch’s books in many homes in Israel during my journeys through Romania and Galicia, as well as in the German lands. His translation of the New Testament has found favor with many people, with numbers jumping to buy it. The number of copies sold from the day of its first publication is recognizable by readers even today as a faithful witness. Almost 30,000 copies have been sold, and now the seventh edition is in our hands, which does indeed rejoice our hearts.

Delitzsch’s translation is like a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden. It gives clear light to the hearts of those who read it. How pleasant I find those moments of reading in the New Testament in Delitzsch’s translation. The minutes fly by and the hours pass as seconds, and I am not exhausted because I drink living water from the valley of blessing, and my soul is satisfied and overflows with pleasure. Many have attempted to translate the New Testament books into Hebrew, but none compare with Delitzsch, including Isaac Zalkinson.

Although Zalkinson was among the great Hebrew writers, he reflects the spirit of our times. While he wrote according to the spirit of the language of Mapu, Lebensohn, and others, he did not write according to the spirit of the period in which Yeshua’s apostles lived. The scribes and Pharisees arise and stand before the reader of Delitzsch’s translation as though alive, and he hears their voice and sees their acts, including their hostility to Yeshua. He sees the Holy Sha’ul as he was then, a Talmudic scholar who sat the feet of Gamli’el, that loyal Pharisee, to whom the Greek language was also not foreign—a man of action, full of the fire of God’s zeal and a pure love.

Not such is Zalkinson’s translation. Therein, the Pharisees are painted as strangers, St. Paul teaches as one of the philosophers of his age, and all the events possess a different hue from that of the times of Yeshua and the apostles. Thus, everyone who seeks to understand the ways of Yeshua and his Torah and the history of the early community of Yeshua’s followers should read Delitzsch’s translation, and continue reading a hundred times, so that his eyes will see the clear light and his heart will rejoice with great joy. L.

An article taken from Edut L’Yisra’el, first published in 1888

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About the Author: Sheldon Wilson is a Creative Team Assistant for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David, specializing in editing books and Messiah Journal articles. Research projects include the Messianic Luminaries series and the forthcoming Didache translation and commentary. More articles by Sheldon Wilson

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