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Bible – the English version

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Translating the words of God

 

The “authorized translation”

In 1604, King James I of England ordered 50 of his scholars to translate the Bible and the New Testament into English. For the king, this was a mission of major importance due to the enduring struggle between Catholics and Protestants. Therefore, he sought to create a single unified English version that would be approved by the royalty and agreed upon by the two opposing Christian denominations. Enlightened by the canonical translations into Latin, Greek, Aramaic and earlier translations into English, king’s sages worked vigorously and seven years later, in 1611, the English version was presented to the king with the golden letters of his name carved into the cover. The King’s plan has successfully passed the test of time, and even today, 400 years later, King James’ translation is considered the Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version (KJV).

How would you translate the words of God?

If you ask King James – as close as possible to the original. However, such linguistic adherence had its impact on the clarity of the text, but at the same time created quite a few idiomatic phrases that became inalienable assets in the English language. In the Book of Job, for example, the phrase “skin of my teeth” refers to Job’s body being entirely covered with boils, except for his teeth and gums. On one hand, the translation of the sentence “I am escaped with the skin of my teeth” is obviously literal, but on the other hand, the phrase is widely used in English until this day. The same literal style of translation led to such words and phrases, as “the land flowing with milk and honey”, “atonement” (in Hebrew, the Judgment Day – “Yom Kippur”, is literally translated as the “Day of Atonement”) and “my brother’s keeper” from the Cain and Able story.

The most prominent example of literal translation, however, originates from the texts of Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible from Hebrew to Latin in the 4th century. In the Book of Exodus, 34:29 it says “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” The English translation is quite close to the Hebrew version. In Latin, however, that was not the case. When Saint Jerome translated this verse, the radiant face of Moses acquired two horns on his forehead. This mistake rolled like a snowball into the Italian Renaissance, when Michelangelo sculpted Moses with two horns right in the middle of his forehead.1 Gospel of John 1:1

The Evil Bible and the Cannibal’s Bible

Several editions of the King James Version actually have been glorified for their mistakes, the most famous of which were such dubious titles, as the Adulterer’s Bible, Sinner’s Bible and Evil Bible. Upon printing the Seventh Commandment (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”), the word “not” was omitted, which turned the forbidden act of adultery into nothing short of a divine order (“Thou shalt commit adultery”). Once the error was discovered, King Charles ordered to collect and burn all copies, but a small number of books survived to date. One such damaged copy was recently sold for €44,000.

Another edition of the King James Version contained another amusing nonsense. The verse “and if the latter husband hate her” turned into “and if the latter husband ate her”, literally meaning “and the last man ate her”. Therefore, this edition was dubbed the “Cannibal’s Bible”.

A feminist view

Unlike the Hebrew source, which will most probably never change, the English translation is being constantly revised and amended by Protestant churches in the United States. Amendments are implemented in accordance with the changes in the English language, Bible studies and in some churches, they also depend on political correctness related provisions. In “The New International Version”, the translators avoided using a third-person male point of view as default and instead, offered a gender-neutral version. For example, 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, “I love God”, but hates his brother, he is a liar” was changed into “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar”, thus changing the words of John, the disciple of Jesus, as they appeared in the old translation of the New Testament. A somewhat unusual way to rewrite history.

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