These methods of trying to determine the correct reading do not always provide enough evidence, or it may be that none of the existing manuscripts seems to have preserved the exact wording of the original author. Another source of information that scholars turn to is very early translations of the Bible. These early translations are called versions, and they were in use among Jews or Christians whose primary languages were other than the ones used in the original writings. They include translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (for instance, the Septuagint), Syriac (the Peshitta), Aramaic (translations and paraphrases called Targums), and Latin (the Vulgate), and translations of part or all of the Christian scriptures into Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.
These versions are useful to translators because the early stage at which they were made provides insight into forms of the biblical text that may be closer to the original writings. They can therefore be consulted for help in determining what is more likely to be an original reading, or when the best manuscripts of the original language texts have gaps or obvious errors. In many translations, including the NRSV, these ancient versions are cited in the footnotes of the Hebrew Bible to explain where and why the translators have chosen an alternative reading or translated something other than the Hebrew text that has come down to us. For readers unfamiliar with the nomenclature of these ancient documents, however, such notes may not convey very much information. The versions are discussed in more detail in the section below on “The Hebrew Bible: Texts and Versions.”