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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THE GLORY OF THE KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE

I spent some time this morning comparing different English translations of the beautiful passage in Luke that recounts Satan's temptation of Jesus after the Son of God returns from wandering for forty days in the wilderness [I know, I know. Don't start with me. If you cannot feel a tingle of divinity when reading the Bible, you are dead to language]. Here is a portion of that passage, from Luke 4:5-8 [pardon the orthographic irregularities]:

5And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. 7If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. 8And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Here is the same passage from something called The Contemporary English Version:

5Then the devil led Jesus up to a high place and quickly showed him all the nations on earth. 6The devil said, "I will give all this power and glory to you. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7Just worship me, and you can have it all."

8Jesus answered, "The Scriptures say: `Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!' "

The first passage is sublime, especially the phrase "get thee behind me, Satan." The second passage is pedestrian, tone deaf. "I can give it to anyone I want to" sounds like a kid in a playground handing out M&Ms.

I have long thought that of all the miracles associated with the Bible -- the multiplying of loaves and fishes, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the stopping of the sun in the heavens -- far and away the greatest is the writing of the King James version by a committee. I have seen the dead resuscitated on ER, and Adam Smith long ago explained how a cornucopia of commodities could issue from the dark recesses of a factory, but no one, to my satisfaction, has explained the sublime beauty of the King James Bible.

What I wouldn't give to have written one of those passages!

2 comments:

Ann said...

This is in contrast to repeated new translations of the Old Testament, by Robert Alter, for example, or re-editing the committee's work, such as Harold Bloom's The Book of J.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Would anyone try to edit a Rembrandt? I think critics have too much time on their hands. They need to get a day job.