Stephen Hawking touches on a surprising topic in his autobiography My Brief History: Biblical Hebrew’s waw-consecutive. The blog Parchment and Pen sets up, tells and reflects on the excerpted episode:
Hawking only mentions his “run in” with Christianity a few times. A prominent memory of the Bible was having a tutor use the Bible in English class. He writes:
To keep us occupied, he therefore set us to read a chapter of the Bible each day and write a piece on it. The idea was to teach us the beauty of the English language. We got through all of Genesis and part of Exodus before I left. One of the main things I learned from this exercise was not to begin a sentence with “And.” When I pointed out that most sentences in the Bible began with “And,” I was told that English had changed since the time of King James. In that case, I argued, why make us read the Bible?”
I believe, sadly, Stephen Hawking received bad biblical information. I wish I could get in a time machine to provide an alternative response to the inquisitive young Hawking. One of those frustrating moments in history where his English teacher doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
I would have let Hawking (and his English teacher) know about the importance of the conjunction in the Hebrew language. Every first year Hebrew student recognizes the conjunction used all over the place. Since all our modern Bibles are a translation there are always decisions made by the translators between being extremely literal to the text versus sounding like good English. In Greek, for instance, the verb can frequently be the first word in the sentence (Kick, the you, the ball). Only Yoda speaks that way in English.
The King James translators, to honor the importance of the Hebrew text, would bend the laws of English to be faithful to the originals. This can actually help support how vitally important everyone involved views the message of the Bible. Instead of Hawking feeling like the Bible is a book of bad English, I hope he will one day see it as an eternally important collection of Hebrew and Greek writings.
Check out the rest of the post, Stephen Hawking Detained in Russia for Bible Smuggling.