In a private email critique of my article Dr. Michael Brown wrote:
You wrote: "Dr. Stern is not only admitting to never have
looked up the primary source, but that either he cannot or refuses to look it
up!!" Thus, your failure to acknowledge that he actually translated it in full
in, along with his apology in the next edition, makes your statement here false.
You see, I was involved in this whole dialog with David; I was one of the people who brought this error to his attention. I remember when he was traveling in the USA and we discussed it. At that time, he asked me to check on it for him, and I read Rashi yet again (just as he requested), checking to see if there was any evidence of textual variants (I found none) and gave him the information.
You make a big point about this (with double exclamation points!!), but you don't know all the facts, which were actually contradicted by what you left out (quite conveniently, it seems). He did not refuse to look up Rashi directly, and he was fully able to do so -- as proved in the 4th edition of the commentary. He simply did that at a later time. But to acknowledge that would have been to blunt a major point of your article.
This critique would appear to have some validity; however there are errors in it. By making the comment he does he shows that he misunderstands the purpose of my article. I think that his defense of Dr. Stern’s later actions fails to address the real problems that I have pointed out.
What is the purpose of this article? Obviously it is not hard to take any work on this subject, either by a proponent of the Jewish point of view or of the Christian one, and find errors in their writings due to unintentional sloppiness in editing or other understandable reasons. Honesty in scholarship does not exclude the possibility of minor errors. While it is fair game to point out these errors, it would not be, in my opinion, sufficient to make them worthy of inclusion in an article of this type. In it we are looking at errors that would influence our accepting the author’s statements in other areas in their books. This requires we focus on only those errors that are not ascribable to sloppiness or common errors.
For that reason, these issues were chosen based on three criteria:
After looking at the original sources the claim must be without doubt in error. If it were only a questionable call, or the person used wording that seemed to overstate their case that would not qualify them for such an article. These errors have to be such that what is claimed is objectively false.
The person whose work is being exposed must be one who is either recognized as an ‘authority’ or ‘scholar’ or by his past actions has shown that he claims to be a scholar/authority.
The nature of the error and how it is used is important. There were two conditions for inclusion: 1) it cannot be an unintentional error. It must be clear that the author did it with intent, or was grossly negligent in the basic requirements of scholarly honesty. 2) It cannot be a point having little importance to an argument being made. For example, while I have written an article exposing Moshe Ibn Crispin as not being qualified to be quoted as a Rabbinic authority, I did not include sources using this, because while it can be considered a significant argument, the material was not available until recently. Before I wrote my article on the subject, no one knew who he really was. Those using it, while wrong, were relying on sources that have proven to be incorrect. Such an error would be considered unintentional.
All four of these people, and the examples cited fit what I was looking for:
Rachmiel Frydland is considered an important scholar by Messianic Jews and other missionaries. The Ralbag does not say about Deuteronomy 18 what Frydland claims he does. The type of error, twisting two different passages out of their meaning is clearly not unintentional. Finally, it is being used as a significant support of a view of Deuteronomy 18, which is an important Christian proof text, quoted in the New Testament.
Risto Santala claims to be a scholar and seems to be accepted as such. His claims are wrong, and the texts he uses to support his view are distorted by him. Psalms 110 is also an important proof text used in the New Testament.
Dr. Stern is considered a scholar. The error appears in his commentary on the New Testament, in the very important text dealing with the virgin birth – Isaiah 7.
Dr. Brown is a recognized scholar. He plays loose with the numbers, and his educational and knowledge background makes it, at best a grossly negligent error. The argument there, dealing with the time prophecy would require the appearance of the Messiah, and proving that the Rabbis would be in agreement with his view, is significant if true, since the purpose of his work is to bring Rabbinic support of his views or at the least show they are not inconsistent with Rabbinic views..
Let’s now explore my comments on Dr. Stern with an eye on the parameters I have set and the critique that has been give. Our three criteria are: 1. It is an error 2. The author is an ‘authority’ 3. The error was important and either intentional or grossly negligent. In this case, I believe that would I have taken the view of Dr. Brown, that Dr. Stern was fully qualified as a translator, I would have been forced to be even stronger in my criticism of Dr. Stern then I was.
As to its being an error that was not in question. Dr. Brown admits to this. Let’s just review what the error was and how blatant it is. On page 6 of Dr. Stern’s New Testament Commentary he states:
The most famous medieval Jewish Bible commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki ("Rashi," 1040-1105), who determinedly opposed Christological interpretation of the Tanakh, nevertheless wrote on Isaiah 7:14:
"Behold, the 'almah shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanu'el.' This means that our creator will be with us. And this is the sign: the one who will conceive is a girl (na'arah) who never in her life has had intercourse with any man. Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power." (Mikra'ot G'dolot, ad loc.) (Bold added by me.)
I must reiterate the seriousness of this error. Rashi is THE commentator for Judaism. While many commentators will at times disagree with him, his view is one that cannot be ignored. It is the closest to an ‘official’ position in Judaism. A distortion of his view is a very serious error.
The true wording, of the words in bold, should have been: “never prophesied.” In English it may seem a strange error to make. However, in Hebrew the word for ‘prophesied’ and ‘had intercourse’ are similar. However, anyone with a basic knowledge of Hebrew can tell the difference between the two. We are actually dealing with a mistranslation of a single word. Had Rashi actually said the words Dr. Stern claimed, then that would clearly be an authoritative Jewish commentary for the Christian view of this important text. However what Rashi really says is useless for the Christian argument.
As to Stern’s status as a scholar and authority, I did not deny this, and the critique of my article seems to assume that he is an authority, although I did voice doubt as to his abilities with the Hebrew language. We need only look at the last issue, intention. Was it intentional, or grossly negligent?
When looking at a scholarly work, citations of sources are important. For example to quote verbatim from another source and not to cite it is a serious error, which reflects on the ethical character of the author. Scholarly careers have been ruined for such actions. In this case, Stern is NOT quoting from the Hebrew source, but admittedly from another source. While I have not raised this issue in the original article it is a point that needs to be kept in mind, when dealing with the character of a scholarly author. In this case it is quite serious in that he is providing a translation (which is factually in error) which is from a secondary source, without citation, making it appear as if he was the translator. This is a simple case of scholarly plagiarism. Furthermore, he never verified that such a statement actually existed.
As to the claim by Dr. Brown that “your failure to acknowledge that he actually translated it in full in, along with his apology in the next edition, makes your statement here false.” This is interesting since the only difference between the original plagiarized translation and the new one appears to be the word in question. I do not see how changing one word can be called ‘translated in full’, or proof that he is able to translate it. In fact, I am not sure that he did more then change this word based on what he was told by other sources, including Dr. Brown. Dr Brown’s view that his ability to translate was “proved in the 4th edition of the commentary” is exaggerated, and unproven. However, this is all irrelevant as my point was that either he was unable translate it and relied on the secondary source, or refused to confirm the sources translation.
Using such a translation indicates one of three possibilities: either he was unable to read the original source and had to rely on the translation of another or that for some reason the original source was unavailable to him and he needed to use this secondary source, or being able to translate it himself, he accepted the secondary source and neglected to check him out. As to which is the correct answer, here is what he wrote to Mr. Parrish (A Christian who wrote to him about this error):
'The problem with my citation of Rashi in my note to Matthew 1:23. ... was pointed out to me by another reader some months ago. I explained to him that I had not looked up Mikra'ot G'dolot myself but had quoted the commentary on the book of Isaiah written by Victor Buksbazen (Spearhead Press, Collingswood, NJ, 1971) In his comment on Isaiah 7:14 Buksbazen cites Rashi as I did on his page 150 and gives the footnote reference to Mikra'ot G'dolot on page 156.
It is possible that Dr. Brown is the one who pointed this out to him, but the bottom line of this is that Dr. Stern had NEVER looked up the original when he included it in his book. This is VERY important. This is a significant polemical argument which we do not find in other sources. (Which would make sense since it is bogus.) Unique arguments like that would require confirmation of the secondary sources translation. Any honest scholar would do that. The issue is only which of the three possibilities that I mentioned above fits the facts.
According to Dr. Brown, Dr. Stern was able to look up the original source. Then why was it that, as Dr. Brown admits, ‘he asked me to check on it for him”? A claim that the source was unavailable would not be valid since the Mikrot Gadolot is commonly available in Israel and the United States. This would not be a reasonable possibility. Dr. Brown himself seemed to have no problem in finding it, as I would expect. Anyone writing on this subject would need to own one, and they are quite easy to purchase in any religious Jewish bookstore, or on the Internet. (A Google search using “Hebrew Bookstores” yielded the following source: http://www.milechai.com/product2/books/bible_torah.html where one can get a Mikroat Gadolot. Using “Rashi Hebrew Tenach” I found a number of CD Roms with the full Hebrew text. I also found a full translation of every Rashi into English at: http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=63255 .) In less then 15 minutes this information could have been available to him.
Therefore we must conclude that, following Dr. Brown’s view, Dr. Stern was able to check this out for himself but he actually refused to take the time check to see if his source was correct about this ‘rare’ citation. This occurred even after Dr. Brown brought the issue up to him, since he asked Dr. Brown to look it up for him. In what probably could be the most significant Rabbinic source he quotes he used another (uncited and erroneous) source, and made it seem he had actually looked it up himself when he did not look it up.
However, if my doubt was correct that he was unable to read it, possibly because Rashi is written in different letters then the standard Hebrew texts, his error was just plagiarizing another text without citing it, making it appear that he was the one who ‘found’ this text. A serious fault, but certainly much less condemnable then what Dr. Brown is claiming, which is both negligence and plagiarism. Being an ignorant plagiarizer is better then a knowledgeable and negligent one.
In either case, plagiarism is a serious act for a scholar. What he did afterwards is really of little relevance (although I will deal with that here.) The point is, based on his actions, we have a question as to how many other citations are missing? How many of them should he have double checked for accuracy? How much can we rely on his scholarship? Had this not been a Rashi on Isaiah 7, but some obscure commentator, it might be a different story. As I have stated, next to the Biblical text alone, there is no commentator who is more quoted then Rashi. If on such an obvious and easily verifiable text, he has made such a serious error, what other errors can he be making? I have always seen this as the #1 error of them all. It is one small step below fabricating a Biblical verse.
Being caught in such a serious error (which his letter indicates he realized) what choices did he have? He could have ignored it and be exposed as a fraud. This does not seem a likely approach. Or he could print a new version with an acknowledgment of error. This is obviously the most likely and best solution. What he did is only an indication of his limitation of choices. But how sure of his error was he? Dr. Brown makes it appear that he unequivocally acknowledged his error. In the critique we get the impression that he was ‘owning up’ to his error, and trying to do the best he could. But the letter he sent to Mr. Parrish would indicate otherwise:
Meanwhile, the 4th printing of the Jewish New Testament Commentary has come out; in it I removed the reference to Mikra'ot G'dolot but let the citation itself and its attribution to Rashi stand. I am as aware as you of the potential here for lowering the credibility of my work, but I am moving slowly. If Rashi did say somewhere that the almah of Isaiah 7:14 is a virgin, there is no point in rushing in with mea culpas. On the other hand, the matter can't wait forever.
'If nothing leads me to a genuine Rashi with the ideas I cited on page 7, I will certainly apologize both in a preface and in the text itself. ..
Here he is still uncertain if it really is an error, and is only willing to admit that ascribing it to the source he did was wrong. Explicitly he is stating that there is no ‘mea culpa’ here. Again, what he did afterwards is of little relevance to my argument, a full, heart-felt, apology would not have minimized the problem, nor eliminated the suspicions it raises. However, I believe that this letter to Mr. Parrish indicates that it is more of a serious problem then Dr. Brown makes it out to be.
I have seen his 6th edition where he has an extensive explanation of his mistake, along the lines of what Dr. Brown has stated. I did not notice the plagiarism issue mentioned, nor was an explanation of why he wouldn’t check out such an important quote as that. In any case as I have said before, he had little choice in this issue and his failings that I have pointed out remain.
To summarize, what I wrote was correct, he either could not or did not look up an erroneous source which he plagiarized. The implications to his reliability are obvious to all, including to Dr. Stern, who mentions them in the paragraph above in his email to Mr. Parrish. I see no reason to remove Dr. Stern’s error from that article, nor to revise my view of him stated in it.