The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict and the Quest for Meaning

By Smith, Elizabeth J. | Anglican and Episcopal History, December 2018 | Go to article overview

The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict and the Quest for Meaning


Smith, Elizabeth J., Anglican and Episcopal History


The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict and the Quest for Meaning. By Harry Freedman. (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2016, Pp. 248. $25.00.)

A few years back, on the four hundredth anniversary of its publication, a flood of books chronicled and celebrated the "King James" or Authorized Version of the English Bible. The Murderous History of Bible Translations gives the K)V a chapter, but situates it in a far broader landscape of Bible translation. Harry Freedman, a Jewish author and Aramaic scholar, starts with the legend and the facts of the Septuagint. Through many languages, alphabets and violent controversies, he escorts us to inclusive-language and Queer twenty-first century versions. Behind and around the familiar-to-English-speakers stories of Wycliffe and Tyndale's pioneering work, Freedman includes fascinating examples of translation into many other languages. The Hebrew Bible gave rise to Aramaic and Old Syriac versions. The New Testament sparked the invention of a new alphabet for the Goths and an alphabet and an education system for the Armenians. Someone wrote in AngloSaxon between the Latin lines of the Lindisfarne Bible.

The coming of Islam led to translations into Arabic. Under Jan Hus, the Czechs in the early fifteenth century got their bible, and in the sixteenth century Luther gave the Germans theirs. Humanists restored the capacity for Hebrew language study to Christians across Europe, so that Jerome's Vulgate was no longer the starting point for new translations. The reformers, arm in arm with the burgeoning printing industry, produced Bible translations that were approved or incinerated in various European languages. Although Jewish communities read and taught Hebrew for the study of Israel's scriptures, Jews played important continuing roles in Bible translation. Spain had Moses Arragel and the Alba Bible. Would-be missionaries to the Jews translated the Bible into Yiddish. In the 1770s, Moses Mendelssohn helped his fellow Yiddishspeaking Jews to learn German by giving them a sophisticated and elegant German translation of the Hebrew scriptures. …

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