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March 29, 2021

Julia E. Smith

“And God will say there shall be light, and there shall be light.” This may sound a bit strange to anyone used to a more common translation such as: “And God said, let there be light, and there was light.” The first phrase comes from Julia E. Smith’s translation of the Bible. Produced in the mid-1800s, it was the first complete Bible translated by a woman. Julia Smith’s parents were determined to give her and her four sisters an education normally reserved for sons. Among other subjects, Smith studied Greek and Latin. In her 50s, Smith taught herself Hebrew so she could read the Hebrew Bible. She then spent seven years translating the entire Bible not once, but five times. Smith was quite confident about the quality of her work. She wrote, “I do not see how anybody can know more about it than I do.” Yet her translations are now considered lacking. One problem was that she was unaware of a special grammatical rule in Hebrew. A word that looks like future tense in certain cases is actually past tense. That is why she wrote “and there shall be light.” Another feature making her translation poor was her consistent use of the same English word for each Hebrew and Greek word. Despite the translation’s shortcomings, it can’t be denied that Smith demonstrated remarkable persistence and dedication in translating the Bible on her own. Copyright © 2021 Museum of the Bible. All rights reserved.



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