Beyond King James
The old cliché that to translate is to betray is sometimes unfair; but not in the case of modern English versions of the Hebrew Bible. On the face of it, this is a puzzling state of affairs. In purely quantitative terms, we live in a great age of Bible translation. Several complete English versions have appeared since mid-century, as have many individual books.1 In the same period, moreover, our understanding of ancient Hebrew has been considerably enhanced by a great deal of philological, archeological, and linguistic work. It would be natural to expect all this energetic scholarship to have helped produce a vivid and precise English translation as close to the spirit of the original as to its letter.
But this is not so. Modern English versions repeatedly put readers at a grotesque distance from the Hebrew Bible. To this day, the Authorized Version of 1611 (the “King James Bible”), for all its inaccuracies, archaisms, and insistently Jacobean rhythm and tone, remains the closest we have yet come to the distinctive experience of the original.
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