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Edited from various sources by W. R. Meyer
Isaac Edward Salkinson, later ordained a Presbyterian minister in Glasgow, Scotland, was born in 1820 into a strict orthodox family in Wilna, Lithuania. He was taught to read the Hebrew Bible by the age of four. However his father, Solomon Salkind, passed away while he was still a child and then seven years later his mother also died. He then planned to move to the United States of America to study under a prominent rabbi. On his way he passed through London where he met some of the agents of the London Missionary Society, who presented him with a New Testament and gave him some Christian instruction. He mentioned in a brief autobiography in, The Memoirs of Gospel Triumphs among the Jews, published in 1894 for the Jubilee of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews, that it was a Hebrew translation. By this means he was led to Christ, and then to confess his faith in Him by baptism. According to a letter of his to Rev. John Dunlop, he was married to a certain lady whom Professor Delitzsch, in the Expositor, names as, Mrs. Henrietta Salkinson.
He became a student in 1849 of the British Society’s College for four years. And they, due to some doctrinal views of his, did not employ him at first. Only after about eight months were these differences satisfactorily settled, and he became a Jewish Missionary for the Jewish Society in Scotland, called “The Friend of Israel,” which was soon incorporated into the United Presbyterian Church. Subsequently he became their missionary while also studying at the Divinity Hall in Edinburgh, till 1859, when he was ordained a Presbyterian minister in Glasgow. A short hiatus in his ministry followed between 1862 and 1864 “in consequence of family affliction.”
His missionary work required of him to write treatises to his fellow Jews and ever since he read that first New Testament, he felt the need for a version in idiomatic Hebrew. Therefore he translated the Epistle to the Romans as soon as he was able to read the Greek of the New Testament. This was published in 1853 according to his autobiographical sketch in the Memoirs of Gospel triumphs among the Jews. Professor Franz Delitzsch remarked that “in April, 1855, an attempt had already been made by Salkinson to produce a new translation of the New Testament. A specimen of such a rendering was published under the title, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans translated into Hebrew. I gave expression to my opinion of it in my monograph of 1870, entitled, Paulus des Apostels Brief an die Römer in das Hebräische uebersetzt und aus Talmud un Midrasch erläutert.” Salkinson also translated classical pieces into Hebrew as practice and as missionary material. According to an account by Prof. Delitzsch they became acquainted with one another in 1870, when they met at a conference of missionaries and friends of the Jewish Mission.
At the beginning of 1876, Mr. Salkinson removed from Pressburg, (modern day Bratislava in Slovakia) to Vienna in Austria, there he preached the Gospel to the Jews who first settled there in the year of our Lord 1156, and in 1877, he “undertook the work with delight” of translating the New Testament into Hebrew at the behest of the British Society’s Committee. (They at first desired him to write a Talmudic Christology, but he answered that he would prefer, first to make a new Hebrew version of the New Testament.) He wrote that “when the work is accomplished and published, it will be seen that my labours as a Jewish missionary have not been in vain in the Lord. This was the year in which also the first complete edition of Delitzsch’s Hebrew New Testament was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society, consisting of 2,500 copies. Writing from 35, Reivner [Reisner?] St., Landstrasse, Vienna, on June 11th, 1877, he addressed Prof. Delitzsch and requested his opinion on the work done in a specimen of what was evidently at least the first chapter of the book of Romans.
It was finally published posthumously under the title הברית החדשה (Ha-Be-rit ha-Chada-shah, that is being interpreted, The New Testament). He was unable to complete the translational work, and in a letter to Mr. Dunlop of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews, dated December 10th, 1881, he mentions that the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles were still unaccomplished. However he does write in April of 1882 that “My Hebrew Version of the New Testament is now ready for publication.” (More on the completion of this Testament later.)
In another letter, dated November 3rd, 1882, he writes to Mr. Dunlop the following. “As to the Hebrew New Testament, the translation was a hard task, but a labour of love. Properly speaking, it is the work of the Society, since it was a part of my Mission for which I was sustained by them. It would be well to have it published and make use of it.” And we learn from his letter on the 27th of January 1883 to the same man, that he had some problem with his eyes at that point and that “a Jew who professes to love me on the one side and hate me on the other, said to me the other day, your suffering in the eyes is a due punishment for your work (nightly reading and writing) on the New Testament, with which you are going to dim the light of Israel. I replied, if my present dimness has been caused by that work, I am comforted with the hope that that work will enlighten many an eye in Israel.”
In the same letter he also writes of Mr. Ethelbert William Bullinger, the Secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society [TBS], approaching him about the possibility of them publishing his Hebrew version of the New Testament. Furthermore in February, 1883 he responded to Mr. Dunlop that “I do not intend to sell my MS. [manuscript] and copyright, but to give it away freely. The British Society maintains me; and it was for them I accomplished the work, and this the more so in loving obedience to my covenant Lord and Master who helped me to execute it; for a testimony to, and for the good of, the Jewish people. My work is the Lord’s and I would not like to sell it for money. If the Trinitarian Bible Society take it up of their own free will, and make me some present, I shall gratefully accept it, but not as a price.
Salkinson wrote on 15th of March, 1883 that his sight was better and that Professor Delitzsch was strongly in favour of the publication of Mr. Salkinson’s New Testament. He was informed by Bullinger that the TBS would publish the New Testament on his terms. Dr. Bullinger, now having obtained the doctorate for his Greek into English lexicon, also suggested four passages where he should render the text differently. Mr. Salkinson was reluctant though to accept this advice which he deemed differing from his sources and therefore requested that inquiries be made from reliable quarters into Dr. Bullinger’s Greek knowledge. He then states “it is right here to express myself, that the principal object of my version is not to make improvements in the rendering of the sense, but to render the sense as understood by the best authorities, in a more intelligible, more idiomatic way than the other Hebrew versions. Now if Dr. B. be a scholar and an authority, I shall be delighted in some doubtful passages to follow him.”
According to some unverified sources and also Prof. Delitzsch from page 139 in The Expositor, 3rd Series, Vol. IX, 1889, Mr. Salkinson died before completing the work. He had prepared the first draught of it and only the Acts of the Apostles had not been completed. He passed away on the 5th of June, 1883, at Vienna. After Prof. Delitzsch wrote to offer assistance to his widow, she replied on the June 14th, 1883, amongst other things that her husbands desire for his version of the New Testament was not for it to be a rival of Delitzsch’s but complimentary to it. Delitzsch wrote also that he “shall be greatly delighted if Salkinson’s translation should obtain numerous Jewish readers, and should be the means of leading many to the conviction that Jesus Christ is Israel’s noblest son, the holiest and divinest Man and the Servant of the Lord, who has offered Himself up for His people and for the whole world of sinners; and I consider it a providential circumstance, a gracious dispensation of my God, that the new translation has appeared before my departure.” He mentioned that he had received from it a new impulse in the revision of his own work, and then went on to speak of his 9th edition with corrections in 32mo size [tricesimo-secondo, that is 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches] which recently appeared. This was also to be followed by his 10th edition as a brand new translation, not merely a revision.
Doctor Christian David Ginsburg [more about him in the article, The History of The Ginsburg Hebrew Tanakh] then completed and published the work in Vienna in 1886. A later edition of the Salkinson-Ginsburg New Testament text was digitalised at some point and a BibleWorks edition copyrighted to 1999 is currently available, although the initial 2012 revision can also be found as an unofficial module for other software such as theWord and E-Sword. At the time of this publication, the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures [SDHS] publishes the 2012/2013 edition as a bilingual text in hardback form, of which the aim is to give to every Jewish household completely free of any charge along with a Ginsburg edition of the Tanakh.
Editorial note: It must be said that I cannot find what or who these sources and authorities are which Mr. Salkinson used, although I suspect something along the lines of the sources of the Westcott and Hort critical edition. The Westcott and Hort text was only published in 1881, by which time the Salkinson version might have been almost complete. The text of an edition printed by “Hofbuchdruckerei Carl Fromme in Wien” in the year 1891 does deviate from the traditional Textus Receptus [Received Text] in certain places following the critical manuscripts. Some notable instances found while perusing the text are these:
We do not know what type of editing Dr. Ginsburg made, but since it’s understood from various sources that he translated at least the final part of Acts; and since, typical of critical edition New Testaments, the 1891 edition omits Acts 28:29, it may lead us to assume that he at least followed the critical sources in his own work. He might therefore during the mid-1880’s have taken some influence from the recently published Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament before publishing the Salkinson-Ginsburg edition.
It is also not clear what the extent or direction of Dr. Bullinger’s influence was although it can be seen that his own notes in the Companion Bible was definitely influenced by the critical editions and manuscripts. Even so he retained the Textus Receptus through means of his own edition of the Authorised Version in the text. Thus as far as Mr. Salkinson’s sources go, the works by Johann Jakob Griesbach and Karl Lachmann were available as well as the Greek New Testament of Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, published 1857. Then there was also the work of Constantine Tischendorf, such as parts of his Greek Testament’s 8th edition. These might be fair educated guesses as to have formed part of his sources. On page 263 of The Expositor, edited by William Robertson Nicoll, Third Series Volume III, 1886, Professor Samuel Rolles Driver starts to offer some sharp criticism up to page 275, even though according to him, “ability, skill, delicacy of touch, must be frankly and gratefully acknowledged”. Prof. Driver is known to many of us from A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, more commonly known as the Brown-Driver-Briggs or BDB lexicon.
Some revision work was done in the past by some men on the request of the SDHS to bring it closer to the Textus Receptus, yet endeavouring to keep the classical Hebrew it was translated in. I have not studied earlier editions, but in general the versions from 1999 onwards agrees with the Textus Receptus, with the latest revision done in 2012 with a handful of final changes in 2013.
It needs to be said though in these comparisons that there are Delitzsch revisions available which are closer to the Textus Receptus than the one used in BibleWorks 9, but that this very edition might actually bear closer to the Professor’s original translation of the text. For instance the TBS has, from what I could tell by looking at their 1998 edition of Delitzsch, corrected these problem passages.
We are very much like the Pharisees mentioned in Matthew 23, where because of our position of teachers/preachers we are able to speak from the seat of Moses, so that men believe our teaching to be from God. Thus we need to take heed that unlike the Pharisees we do not estrange people from God but rather bring them closer unto the Lord Jesus Christ.