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Shake your spoils of war. March 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has been amused by the uproar caused by the Catholic Church’s latest English translation of the Bible. The Biblical scholars who crafted the latest edition of The New American Bible replaced words whose meanings had changed significantly in the popular understanding so that the original meaning would be clear. Words like “booty” (now “plunder,” reflecting the original meaning of the word, “spoils of war”), “holocaust” (now “burnt offering”), and “cereal” (now “grain”) bit the dust (now “croaked”—just kidding).

Our friend Ben doesn’t see what the big deal is. There are dozens of English translations of the Bible, and in all of them, scholars have tried to present the text as accurately and clearly as possible to their contemporary readers. This tradition goes back to the very first English translation of the Bible, by John Wycliffe (1384).

It was also the aim of the greatest of all translations, the King James version (1611). But because the King James Bible also happens to be one of the most beautiful expressions of the English language, it is rightly considered great literature as well as a sacred text, and our friend Ben would be appalled if anyone attempted to modernize it.* You might as well modernize Shakespeare to make him more accessible to a modern audience. Imagine it:

Romeo and Juliet

(old version)

Juliet: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

(new version)

Juliet: “Talk about rotten luck! Of all the guys I could have fallen for, I had to pick you, Romeo, the son of my family’s mortal enemies!”

Macbeth

(old version)

Macbeth: “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon! Where got’st thou that goose look?… Death of thy soul! those linen cheeks of thine Are counsellors to fear.”

(new version)

Macbeth: “What’s come over you, you stinkin’ coward?!”

Hamlet

(old version)

Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

(new version)

Polonius: “Just be yourself. If somebody doesn’t like it, tough. At least no one will call you a hypocrite.”

The Tempest

(old version)

Prospero: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with a sleep.”

(new version)

Prospero: “For a minute there, you feel like you have all the options: you can be anything, do anything, have anything. Then before you know it, you drop dead!”

But why pick on Shakespeare? Let’s move on to Wordsworth:

The World Is Too Much with Us

(old version)

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:”

(new version)

“Sheesh, why do we waste all our time working and shopping

When we could be eating in front of the TV?”

Gee. That was kinda fun. I’m starting to see a new career on the horizon… Publishers, editors, think of the possibilities! Our friend Ben is standing by for your call.

* Actually, Thomas Nelson Publishers (in our friend Ben’s native Nashville, adding injury to insult) tried this in 1982. Shame on them!

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Comments»

1. chopinslut - March 23, 2011

Please do not forget Troilus and Cressida 5.3: “fat rump and potato finger.”

And on the KJ, Revelation gives about the horse person “and all Hell followed with him.” The Greek has Hades, not quite the same thing, esp. since Hell would be the equivalent of ancient Tartarus, aka “The French Fryer”.

%%robert

Ha! Somehow I’d forgotten “potato finger”!


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