The Bible: Updates and Current Events
In Lent of 2009 I decided I’d start reading the Bible from beginning to end for a third time. I’d tried that a couple of times in the past, never having got past Genesis, or once the very beginning of Exodus. This time, I vowed, I’d do it. I began reading it. Two and a half years later, I’m still at it. At least I’ve finished through the end of Joshua, and I am confident that I will indeed finish the whole Good Book again eventually.
Alas, it is now almost seven years since I wrote that post, and over nine years since I began re-reading the Bible, and I just ran out of steam. I have, however, started back, in a bit of a roundabout way.
This past Easter (2018) my wife, after eighteen years of marriage and twenty-one years together, entered the Catholic Church. This was a cause of celebration in our family. During Lent, she began using a Catholic app on her phone to read the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible. For Easter I bought her a hardcopy, as well as getting the Kindle version for her Kindle Fire. Since we use a common Amazon account, I put the Kindle version on my Fire, too. I have no idea why she decided to read that particular translation. However, since I now had it on my Fire also, I decided that I’d just jump in and start reading it, too. It wouldn’t be bad to be rereading the Bible (again); and by reading the specific version my wife was reading, I’d be better equipped to answer any questions she had.
I explained back here why I wasn’t particularly interested in the Douay-Rheims Bible. In fact, despite having been Catholic since 1990, I had never (at that point) even owned a copy of it, nor had I ever expected actually to read it. Obviously, that is no longer the case. It is certainly interesting to read the Douay-Rheims for the first time.
I mentioned in passing here that the transliteration of names in the Douay-Rheims version (henceforth the DRV) is different from that of the King James version, and thus, from that of almost all other English Bible translations, most of which (including modern Catholic versions) follow the KJV. Thus, the DRV has “Isaias”, “Jeremias”, “Zephanias” and suchlike for “Isaiah”, “Jeremiah”, and “Zephaniah”. Other names are more different–“Noe” for “Noah” and “Josue” for “Joshua”–but still recognizable. Others are very weird to the first timer, such as “Bersabee” for “Beersheba” or “Mambre” for “Mamre”.
Also odd is the outright translation of some names. An example of the latter is Genesis 31:47-49, which in the KJV is as follows:
And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed. And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed. And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
“Jegarsahadutha” and “Galeed” are the Aramaic and Hebrew, respectively, for “Heap of Witness”, and are left untranslated, with the meaning explained immediately following. The DRV has this passage as follows:
And Laban called it The witness heap: and Jacob, The hillock of testimony: each of them according to the propriety of his language. And Laban said: This heap shall be a witness between me and thee this day, and therefore the name thereof was called Galaad, that is, The witness heap. The Lord behold and judge between us when we shall be gone one from the other.
With the inexplicable exception of “Galaad”, all the Hebrew and Aramaic terms are translated, rather than transliterated. This goes back to the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible originally rendered by St. Jerome, and the official Bible of the Catholic Church. Until the Papal encyclical Divino afflante spiritu was released in 1943, all translations of the Bible approved by the Church were required to be from the Vulgate. The DRV was no exception. I just checked the Vulgate, and sure enough, it translates all the names, except for “Galaad”, into Latin. Hence their rendering into English in the DRV, instead of transliteration, as in the KJV and most other English versions. Another interesting example of this, by the way, is the consistent rendering of “Garden of Eden” as “paradise of pleasure”. “Paradise”, etymologically, does indeed mean “walled garden”, and “Eden” is Hebrew for “pleasure” or “delight”, so this is strictly correct; but it does sound odd when one is reading it!
More generally, I have found the reading to be for the most part smooth and unproblematic. In places, the DRV doesn’t even sound quite as archaic as the KJV (the latter had a mandate to stay as close to earlier versions as possible, and was thus already somewhat archaic at the time it was published). There are places where the DRV seems to have syntax that is somewhat more tangled than that of the KJV (a good example would be in the Book of Leviticus, which I’ve currently reached. It’s a little on the opaque side in all translations, but definitely harder to follow in the DRV). This is not surprising, since the DRV is in effect a translation of a translation–a translation from the Latin, which was in turn translated from the Hebrew and the Greek. There are also places where the choice of word to use for the translation is very odd to one who has never encountered the DRV before. “Passover” in Exodus and elsewhere, is translated “Phase”. Even more strangely, the “breastplate” of the High Priest (in Exodus 28:30 and elsewhere) is referred to as the “Rational”. “Urim” and “Thummim”, the oracle stones placed within the breastplate, are translated (somewhat dubiously, I’d argue) as “doctrine” and “truth”.
In any case, I’d make the following observations about the DRV:
- I was aware that in revising it in the 18th Century, Bishop Challoner had brought the original DRV closer to the KJV. That said, it’s not as close to the KJV as I had thought. Of course, for full reference, I’d have to read a pre-Challoner edition of the DRV, which I’m not inclined to do. Still, the differences between the DRV and the KJV are quite noticeable.
- One can definitely tell that it’s translated from Latin–even after Challoner’s revision, there is still a marked preference for Latinate words over Anglo-Saxon words in many places.
- Probably in part because of 2, the DRV doesn’t flow quite as smoothly as the KJV. Despite the archaic language, the KJV is actually surprisingly easy to read, and it has a definite cadence and flow that works well for private reading or reading aloud. The DRV doesn’t quite measure up to this.
- That said, the DRV is not at all a bad translation, and I will read through to the end. I doubt I’ll re-read it in full (whereas by contrast I may well re-read the KJV in the future).
The best way I could describe reading the DRV would be to compare it to returning to a place one used to frequent in one’s younger days after an absence of many years. You’d see all the familiar things, but then you’d be brought up short here and there by the unexpected changes that had been made over the years. With no disrespect at all intended, the Douay-Rheims Bible is sort of like a Bizarro World take on the King James Bible.
Having begun to re-read the Bible in the Douay-Rheims translation, I felt a bit guilty for having abandoned my read-through of the Revised Standard Version. Thus, I have also begun to read it again, picking up where I left off. I’m in 1 Samuel now, so that means I’m reading two Bible versions simultaneously, but at a spacing of six books apart. It should certainly be an interesting summer!
Finally, as I’ve already noted some time back, I read David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament last winter. Also on my to-get list of books is Richmond Lattimore’s translation of the New Testament. I have his translation of the Gospels and Revelation, which I’ve read, but I have yet to purchase his translation of the full New Testament. The the New Testament of the Revised New Jerusalem Bible–the revision of the revision of the original Jerusalem Bible, and thus its most recent iteration–is just out this year, too. I own the Catholic Truth Society Bible, which contains the original Jerusalem Bible with the Grail Psalms. I never have read or purchased the New Jerusalem Bible, though I’ve heard good things about it. I haven’t decided yet whether to buy the Revised New Jerusalem Bible New Testament, and then get the whole RNJB Bible when it comes out; or whether to just wait. When I eventually get either or both of these versions, I may blog on them at some point. Meanwhile, I’ve got plenty of reading to do for the time being!
Part of the series “The Pretty Good Book“
Posted on 13/06/2018, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, religion and tagged Bible, Biblical translations, Catholicism, Christianity, Douay-Rheims Version, King James Version, personal, religion, Revised Standard Version, scripture. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.