2.1. Textual Accuracy
The Hebrew Masoretic text of the Psalms (MT) preserves an old and accurate text, but it does contain copying errors and other damage, which we can often correct with the help of other ancient manuscripts. Apart from the Dead Sea scrolls, which Simmons does not cite even when their evidence is important (e.g., Pss ; ; 144:2; ), these manuscripts are translations of the Hebrew, and so must be used with double care. First, we must decide if a phrase was translated literally enough to be able to tell what the underlying Hebrew was; then, we must decide whether that underlying Hebrew text is any more accurate than our text. The goal is always to recover the original reading that gave rise to the variety of readings reflected in the textual evidence.
Unfortunately The Passion Translation (TPT) shows little understanding, either of the process of textual criticism, or of the textual sources themselves. When it says ‘Aramaic’ it generally means Syriac – a confusion that some Syriac versions themselves perpetuate – but from a text-critical point of view the difference is important. The Syriac Peshitta is a generally conservative translation of a Hebrew text almost identical to ours, made a few centuries after Christ. Only rarely is it a witness to an earlier or more original text. The Aramaic Targums are based on the same Hebrew text, but often insert interpretations into the text, so that Jews did not consider them to be Scripture.2 Our oldest copy of the Aramaic Psalms is from after 800 AD. The Greek Septuagint is by far the oldest and most important non-Hebrew witness to the original. It has a complex history and varied character, and must be used with care.
None of these considerations seem to weigh with Simmons, because his aim does not appear to be the reconstruction of the original text. In many places where the Syriac is actually an important witness to the original Hebrew text, Simmons makes no reference to it at all (e.g., Pss 2:9; 24:6; 42:4; ; 73:7; ). He seems instead to be looking around in ancient sources for changes and additions that he can use as he himself changes and adds to the text.3 As a general rule, when ancient versions disagree over the original Hebrew, Simmons either ignores the problem or uses all of them. The famous Reise-Dating-Webseite line in Psalm , ‘they pierced my hands and feet’ (Dead Sea scrolls, Syriac, Septuagint), reads ‘like a lion my hands and feet’ in the MT; Simmons uses both ‘lion’ and ‘pierce’, the latter twice over for good measure.
To give one more example, in Ps 74:3a the Syriac has ‘servants’ (‘bd’) instead of the Hebrew ‘steps’ ( ??? ), possibly because the Syriac translator read the word ??? in his Hebrew source-text (p‘l means ‘to labour’ in Syriac). The Septuagint, ignored by Simmons, has yet another reading (‘hands’), which suggests an ancient interpretive struggle here, possibly due to a textual uncertainty. Simmons’s response is to mistranslate the ‘Aramaic’ (Syriac) in a footnote, and use it as an apparent licence to provide a double translation that bears no resemblance to the Syriac or any other ancient version!4
2.2. Linguistic Accuracy
Linguistically TPT is just as questionable. One of its most frequent techniques is to find words with more than one meaning, and create a double translation containing both of them. This is sometimes legitimate, since poetry in particular can play on the double meaning of words. But context must determine case by case whether word-play is intended, and Simmons clearly does not feel himself bound by this.