Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reader's Diary #390- The Good News Bible: Kings 1

When I started this plan to very...slowly...read through the entire Bible, I did so with the King James Version. Then, just after Exodus, I switched to the Good News version, citing readability as my reason, and arguing that it was no more or less a translation than was the King James version.

Recently the Globe and Mail listed the KJV as one the 50 Greatest Books (thanks to Historia for posting about it). At first I didn't understand why they picked a specific translation, when they didn't specify any translation for the other books on their list that weren't originally written in English, but Donald Harman Akenson made a compelling case, "More even than William Shakespeare, the KJV sculpted the English language and thus the way anyone who uses English thinks. It is also the language's largest source ever assembled of metaphors, clichés and plots waiting to be cribbed."

The article made me go back to my original reason to read the Bible in the first place. As I said back then, my aim was to "simply read through the Bible and comment upon it (one book at a time) as if it were a novel, but with the understanding that it is much more; that is has a cultural and literary significance that few other books can compare." I'm not having a lot of success with that. I quickly realized that it can't be read as a novel. Quite frankly, it makes a terrible novel. If a novel went into the excruciating detail that the Old Testament goes into, it would probably never be published. Kings 1, while having no chore as tedious as working through genealogy records or ark of the covenant dimensions as in some of the earlier books, still feels monotonous. Basically it's a king who starts off good, wages war, disobeys God, and then dies only to be replaced by another king who repeats the actions, and so on, over and over again.

So, I want to switch gears, rethink what I want to get out of this task. Spiritual guidance? Nah, I'm cool with my current stance. A study of its effect on society? Goodness, no. Literary merit? Possibly. Still, this seems to be more of a scholarly pursuit than I'm up for, but I'll take the beginner course.

And with that, I think I'll stick with the Good News version. The metaphors, clichés, and plots are still there, they're just worded differently. In the Globe and Mail article, Akenson objects to complaints that everyday people and young people cannot understand the language of the KJV, declaring "of course they can." I agree, but he doesn't go onto make a strong case as to why they should, "If they are encouraged to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the most widescreen, soaring, magical, brutal, depressing, elevating and sublime document in our language, they will be forever grateful and we all will be the better for it."

In our language? How is this "our language" any more than a modern English version? I read Shakespeare and would prefer his plays in the original language, because I can understand it, for the most part, the way it was meant to be. If I could speak Aramaic and Hebrew, I'd read the Bible that way. Failing that, a modern translation is potentially just as good as the King James Version. I know not all translations are created equal, but Akenson doesn't make a convincing argument for the KJV. The article simply comes across as a bit of snobbery. It's outdated English, so you know it's smarter.

Compare the opening verses of Kings 1:

From the Good News Version:

"King David was now a very old man, and although his servants covered him with blankets, he could not keep warm."

From the King James Version:

"Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with his clothes, but he gat no heat."

Perhaps someone might argue that "stricken in years" is more poetic, but then I'd like to see them defend the "gat no heat" part at the end.

I'll stick to the Good News Version. Failing a decent argument for the translations of the Kings James Version, Akenson should have just picked the Bible.

2 comments:

Carrie K said...

I concede on the "gat no heat" part but the first part of the sentence is pure poetry.

I'm hopelessly biased towards the KJV myself, the new translations read as bad updates to me. I suppose if I'd read it in the original Hebrew, I couldn't bear the KJV.

Some of the books read like novels. Not many. Esther is the only one that springs to mind and that's because I saw the Joan Collins movie adaption of it then read the Bible story that Sunday to the consternation of my father.

John Mutford said...

Carrie: I have been enjoying some of the stories within the books, but not so much the bits in between.