Books: Different Angles of the Lord ; at Christmas, Millions Who Shun Scripture Will Hear the Words of the Bible. Now Which Bible Would That Be, Exactly? Translators May No Longer Be Burnt at the Stake, Says Andy Martin, but the Good Book Can Still Mean Bad Trouble
Martin, Andy, The Independent (London, England)
The author is a beast, discharging a filthy foam of blasphemies out of his brutish beastly mouth; a shameful, shameless, unreasonable, railing ribald; a hellhound fit for the hogs of hell to feed upon; and the son of the devil himself." This is the kind of review you might have read in 1532. Thomas (Utopia) More's Confutation of Tyndale was a muscular demolition-job of one of the formative English translations of the Bible. Tyndale took off for the continent and - Christ-like - was betrayed, put on trial, and executed (and posthumously elevated).
Having dabbled in translation myself, and heard an obvious howler of mine broadcast to a billion or so people in a King's College carol concert, I have long thought it a thankless and dangerous business. But back in Tyndale's day, More would have had me roasting for that heinous deviation from the Truth. The idea that the translator was a traitor (traduttore traditore) was taken quite literally, and you can add on blasphemer and heretic for good measure.
The first index of prohibited books was stuffed, paradoxically, with Bibles. Whether you were writing or reading them, the Inquisition would make room on the rack just for you. The unfortunate printer of the "Wicked Bible", containing the commandment, "Thou Shalt Commit Adultery", was merely fined pounds 300 and died in debtors' prison.
Rather like four Gospels, these four books, each in their different way, reveal the epic, sublime, sometimes gruesome and often hilarious story behind the Greatest Story Ever Told. "In the beginning was the Word," announces John. But what word was that, precisely? Loosely translating from Jesus's own Aramaic into demotic Greek, John used logos. Jerome's Vulgate renders this as In principio erat verbum. But Erasmus argues that verbum (with its implication of a grammatical category) was wrong, and should be replaced by sermo (the word in action).
In a polyglot Bible that appears among the thousand and one spectacular texts to take a bow in Christopher de Hamel's unashamedly bibliophile The Book, Latin occupies the middle column, with Greek and Hebrew to the left and right. This is an allegory, de Hamel suggests, of Christ on the cross (Latin, the language of the Church), with a thief on either side (Hebrew being tainted by Judaism and Greek by Greek Orthodoxy). Vernacular languages (even though Latin had once been vernacular) like English are way off the page. How much sweat, blood, and tears went into getting them on to the page is the irresistible substance of both Alister McGrath's In the Beginning and Benson Bobrick's The Making of the English Bible.
McGrath (from Oxford University) has more caustic humour and wit, Bobrick (from Columbia) more spiritual uplift. So one of the 50-odd team of translators who collectively assembled the King James Bible, Robert Bois, is depicted in McGrath as a gifted but lazy tosser who skived off his job as a vicar to lounge around High Table in Cambridge. Bobrick has him as a virtuous prodigy, fluent in a dozen languages, who commuted in a spirit of pure dedication between parish and university.
Only Bobrick would allow that Chaderton was so excellent a preacher that when he stopped a sermon after two solid hours, the congregation, as a man, cried out, "For God's sake, go on! Go on! We beg you!" And only McGrath would cite the view that translation is like a wife: when beautiful, unfaithful, and when faithful, not beautiful. John Riches's more postage- stamp-sized The Bible offers a balanced, scholarly overview.
King James (himself a gifted linguist) was keen to keep his distance from Rome. On the other hand, he didn't much like the recurring reference to "tyrants" in the Geneva Bible. The Bible he commissioned (published in 1611), contemporary with Shakespeare, steered an Anglican path between the competing claims of Catholicism and Puritanism, and …
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Publication information: Article title: Books: Different Angles of the Lord ; at Christmas, Millions Who Shun Scripture Will Hear the Words of the Bible. Now Which Bible Would That Be, Exactly? Translators May No Longer Be Burnt at the Stake, Says Andy Martin, but the Good Book Can Still Mean Bad Trouble. Contributors: Martin, Andy - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 22, 2001. Page number: 11. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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