16 June 2007

Praying through the psalms: translations

In recent days I've been reading through Miles Coverdale's translations of the Psalms according to the schedule prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. I am just old enough to have grown up with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, so the Elizabethan English is not altogether foreign to me. When I do run into something incomprehensible, I am sufficiently familiar with the psalms to know what is being said in most cases. From a literary standpoint, Coverdale's translations seem somewhat less polished than the KJV's, including such redundant constructions as "Most Highest," which would be regarded as grammatically incorrect nowadays.

We English-speakers are, of course, blessed — or perhaps cursed? — with a plethora of translations of the Bible. The downside to this is that, lacking a standard translation comparable to the old KJV, scripture memorization has taken a beating over the past generation or two. The advantage is that reading different translations of the same passage can give one an insight into its meaning. However, what do we do when two translations obviously conflict? Here's Psalm 7:4-5 from the Revised Standard Version:

if I have requited my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause,
let the enemy pursue me and overtake me. . . .

Here, however, is the same passage from the New Jerusalem Bible:

if I have repaid my ally with treachery or spared one who attacked me unprovoked,
may an enemy hunt me down and catch me

Nearly every other English translation follows the RSV's interpretation, but the NJB footnote says this:

The text must not be watered down as in the versions. . . ; the morality of the Gospel is yet to come.

Someone versed in Hebrew would be better able than I to determine which is the correct rendition.

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