Bible translation: October 2009 Archives

I just finished an interpretive translation of the biblical book of Numbers for "The Voice," a multi-volume project to which many extraordinary Christian writers have contributed. I'm honored to be in their company. Numbers is a funny book -- one minute you can be slogging through mind-numbing details of genealogies or ritual details and the next you're suddenly smack in the middle of high drama. Remarkably economical, few biblical narratives go in for the kind of backstory, landscape, or inner thoughts that enrich modern stories. And sometimes the result is heart-breaking.
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I had the great good fortune to read a couple of new Bible translations and communicate, albeit briefly, with their creators for an article that will appear in Publishers Weekly Religion BookLine (10/28). In both cases, the translators are poets in their own right. Not only that, but both have worked for decades with these biblical texts, one with the Hebrew Hebrew Bible, the other with the Greek New Testament. The results -- beautiful, thought-provoking renderings with more poetry than English translations normally reflect.

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Anyone's who's read through the book of Genesis, from The Beginning to its portentous end in Egypt, knows that it's pretty darn graphic -- horny gods mate with human women, men try to rape angels, there's fratricide and the near murder of a boy by his father (commanded by God, no less), a daughter-in-law rights wrongs by seducing her errant father-in-law, and brothers massacre an entire town of freshly circumcised adults. And that's just some of what goes on. Well, now R. Crumb has rendered the story as a bona fide graphic novel. Here's a sample. I'd love to hear what you think!

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Work is underway on a new translation of the King James Version designed to correct what its authors call a "liberal bias" in modern translations. Conservapedia, which claims to be "the trustworthy encyclopedia," has determined to correct what it sees as "three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are, in increasing amount:

  • lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
  • lack of precision in modern language
  • translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one."

Although the first two have some real problems (e.g., re: #1 exactly what does this mean?! Most of the Bible [all, for Jews] predates Jesus and so its meaning doesn't have anything to do with Jesus except perhaps by later Christian interpretation), it's the third that this group aims to correct. Laughable as a lot of this project is ("government" is too liberal a word), they've got a point... to a point. Every translator must make choices. So, any given translation depends on a number of things besides the original text from which it's translating. By the way, as one of my astute students observed, this project claims to be working not from the Hebrew and Greek of original biblical texts, but from English -- the KJV.   


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In preparation for this weekend's James River Writers Conference, I've needed to revisit my first book project on pain and the Psalms. (I have a terrible memory -- what did I write, again?! sheesh.) Among the most memorable discoveries in doing that project was the mystical paradox of darkness. Here's the first paragraph of a little essay on the topic: 

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Bible translation category from October 2009.

Bible translation: September 2009 is the previous archive.

Bible translation: November 2009 is the next archive.

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