Monday, May 02, 2005

Happy Birthday to Thee, KJV

The OALC uses only the King James version of the Bible, which was first published on this day in 1611. I did not learn there were other versions until my high school librarian showed me one: an enormous, beautifully illuminated Catholic bible that included strange texts like Tobit, Maccabees, Sirach and Baruch. (Did you know the original King James version included these books?) Not long after that, I thumbed through a friend's heavily-inscribed Living Bible, a version whose plain language astonished and repelled me. I preferred the lyrical beauty of King James. But my curiosity was piqued. If it was okay for King James to put scripture in the language of his day, why not others?

(Interestingly, it turns out that even for King James, that "thee and thou" language was old-fashioned. His committee of 54 translators wanted their new version to sound old, like long ago and far away. They succeeded.)

Of course, readability isn't the only good reason for fresh translations. The discovery of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” in 1947, in caves at Qumran near the Dead Sea, gave us copies of texts 1000 years older than the earliest Hebrew manuscripts previously known, and archaeologists have continued to find fragments and even extended sections of text going back to the very early centuries of the common era.

This site has a interesting history of bible translation: http://www.biblesociety.com.au/BS/Bible/history_othertrans.html
For a timeline go to http://www.literatureclassics.com/ancientpaths/bibhist.html

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