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David Christian Ginsburg (1821-1914)

In 1886 a unique edition of the New Testament came into being: a Hebrew New Testament.

The uniqueness of this edition was not only that it came about by Jewish believers, but also that it was quite identical to the Hebrew language of the Old Testament.

If someone, who understands the Hebrew Tanakh, reads this translation of the New Testament, he is so to say on familiar ground. Since 1942 this translation became available for Jewish people by means of the issue of a bilingual New Testament by the S.D.H.S in England1. It contains on the one page the English King James translation2 and on the opposite page the Hebrew text. This Hebrew translation has been the wonderful work of Isaac Edward Salkinson and David Christian Ginsburg. Therefore it is called the Salkinson-Ginsburg edition.

Who was David Christian Ginsburg, the man who is described in the famous Dictionary of National Biography as someone, whose knowledge of the Hebrew language was unsurpassed in his time?

A new name

David Ginsburg was born in Warsaw, Poland, on 25 December 1821. At the age of 25 years, as a Jewish boy, he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Contrary to many Jewish believers, who don’t want to be identified with the name ‘Christian’, David Ginsburg just added the name ‘Christian’ to the name his parents gave him. In this way he wanted to make known his position as a believer in Christ to his own people.

His ardent desire to testify of the love of Christ brought him in contact with a London missionary society3, which dedicated itself to the distribution of the Gospel among the Jewish people. For several years he was working for this missionary society among the Jewish community in Liverpool. Besides this intensive work he published a commentary on the books The Song of Solomon (1857) and Ecclesiastes (1861), and a book about the Karaites and the Essenes and a dissertation about the teaching, development and literature of the Kabbalah.

In course of time it was clear that his study and writing were making great demands on him, so at the age of 42 years, he decided to give himself fulltime to this work. Among other things this decision has resulted in his great life-work: The Masoretic Studies.

Masoretic researcher.

The Massorah (tradition) refers to the tradition, which the Jewish Scholars (Masoretes) had, in order to keep the text of the Old Testament in its origin. It consists of a collection of critical notes about the text of the Old Testament, which was written for the greater part in Tiberias, from the sixth- until the ninth century A.D. The great importance of this work is that it was a very accurate transmission of the Holy Scriptures in a period when printing still had to be invented. Because the Old Testament books were handwritten, little mistakes developed sometimes, in spite of the great carefulness of the writers. If expert readers discovered these mistakes, a notice of it was made in the marginal line.

These annotations were compiled, and then once again looked at critically by a Hebraist, who fixed the correct spelling finally. To prevent further mistakes in the copying, the Masoretes counted the chapters, the words and the characters of each book and discussed with each other about the grammatical rules and accents.

An invaluable reference book

Because of his enormous knowledge of the Massorah, Dr. Ginsburg had been chosen as a member of the commission of revisers of the Old Testament. With the utmost carefulness Dr. Ginsburg has compiled a tremendous quantity of text-analyses, he worked it through and published it as a single volume. As a result of this work it is now possible to examine how far the Old Testament agrees with the different variations, additions and lacks. Dr. Ginsburg has provided with it in an invaluable book of reference for the Bible-researchers, teachers and students all over the world. How much value was attached to his manuscript also appeared among others from the fact that, when his manuscript had to be sent to Vienna for publication, the British Foreign Minister, Lord Salisbury, had placed the shipment with an official courier of the Queen.

Reasons for gratitude

In the period 1880-1886 Dr. Ginsburg had published three more volumes of these collections. With these volumes as starting material he wrote a new text of the Old Testament for the Trinitarian Bible Society, of which Dr. E.W. Bullinger was general secretary. This text was published in 1894 with the title: ‘Masoretico-Critical Text of the Hebrew Bible’. This publication of the Old Testament is still used by the S.D.H.S. for the Old Testaments which are distributed among the Jewish communities all over the world.

Besides he composed four different concordances regarding the Massorah. In 1871 he wrote a detailed and scientific report of the ‘Moabitic Stone’ and he also revealed with it some falsifications.

In 1859, when he still worked as a missionary in Liverpool, Dr. Ginsburg kept a report about his work. A quotation from his diary shows his modesty and the fact that he was not saved from physical inconveniences.

“Looking back to my work of the past years, I have many reasons for gratitude and encouragement. Notwithstanding the serious disease, which kept me from the work for a considerable period, I had the privilege to see encouraging results of my work”.

Eternity will reveal how many Jewish people get to know the Messiah of Israel by means of this particular Hebrew text of the Old- and New Testament, together with David Christian Ginsburg.

Footnotes: 1. The Society for Distributing the Holy Scriptures to the Jews. 2. Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Hungarian, Russian, Arabic and Yiddish. 3. ‘The London Society for the promotion of Christianity among the Jews’.