Thursday, September 1, 2011

Listening to the Sound of His Master's Voice...

Those of a certain age recall the RCA dog, head tilted, listening to the sound of his master's voice (is it live or is it Memorex?).  Of all the trademarks ever taken, I have a very sentimental attachment to the RCA dog.  Nipper (1884–1895) was a dog that served as the model for Barraud's painting titled His Late Master's Voice. Let me borrow the history from Wiki:

In 1898, three years after Nipper’s death, Francis painted a picture of Nipper listening intently to a wind-up Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph. On February 11, 1899, Francis filed an application for copyright of his painting “Dog Looking At and Listening to a Phonograph.” Thinking the Edison-Bell Company located in New Jersey, USA, might find it useful, he presented it to James E. Hough, who promptly said, “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs.” On May 31, 1899, Francis went to the Maiden Lane offices of The Gramophone Company with the intention of borrowing a brass horn to replace the original black horn on the painting. Manager, William Barry Owen suggested that if the artist replaced the entire machine with a Berliner disc gramophone, the Company would buy the painting. A modified form of the painting became the successful trademark of Victor and HMV records, HMV music stores, and RCA. The trademark itself was registered by Berliner on July 10, 1900.

Ahhhh, I digress.  The point of this being that how it sounds matters and this is true when applied to Scripture.  I read of the appearance of the Common English Bible and found this on its website:  The Common English Bible is not simply a revision or update of an existing translation. It is a bold new translation designed to meet the needs of Christians as they work to build a strong and meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  A key goal of the translation team is to make the Bible accessible to a broad range of people; it’s written at a comfortable level for over half of all English readers. [aka that about the third grade reading level]  You can compare its translation with others familiar to you by clicking here.

Now I do not know what you think of such "readable" translations but I am not so keen on them.  Readable to whom?  Readable by whom?  Readable for whom?  It appears to me that the plethora of translations has not lead to easy reading but loads of confusion.  I spend half my time trying to explain to folks why the version they are using says it one way and another version says it differently, etc...  We often find it impossible to get to the point of the passage until we have resolved such differences.  In addition, there is a vast difference between how something reads in your mind off the page and how it sounds to the ear.  Such "readable" translations often sound bland, wooden, and stilted when read out loud.  Furthermore, some passages have a liturgical identity that is only muddled and confused by these so called "readable" versions.  For example, we have adopted certain texts and given them liturgical identity in spoken word and song -- in such way that they are fully identified with their use.

When I think of Psalm 95, I sing it in the version used in the Venite of Matins.  When I think of the Magnificat, it is the sung text used in Vespers and Evening Prayer that I "hear" in mind.  We have grown accustomed to these texts and it is difficult to rip them out of their liturgical context and replaced them with "readable" versions.  "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves...."  Or "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord..."  Or "Return to the Lord Your God, for He is gracious and merciful..."  Or "Create in me a clean heart, O God..."  There are more examples that space to list them all.

Scripture is not just some book.  Scripture is the sound of our Master's voice.  It is not just how we hear it but how we have heard and how it sounds.  Its form is recognizable and familiar (as well as its content).  Why do folk get so upset with tinkering with the language of the Our Father or using a different version of Psalm 23 at the funeral?  Because we have adopted these texts and this Scripture is liturgical language as well as the words of the Bible.  So we must be rather careful about translations and I, for one, do not think that all our attention to "readable" translations is all it is cut out to be.

CEV: If we claim, “ We don’t have any sin, ” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong...  OR The LORD is my shepherd.I lack nothing.He lets me rest in grassy meadows;he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive. . . Not yet there in my book...

This just in from another source: 
But beyond altering the translation to fit the sensitivities du jour, the CEB in general maims well-known expressions and sayings and renders Biblical language pedestrian to such a degree that Scripture becomes indistinguishable from ordinary speech. Pathos is drained utterly out of the text. This willingness to cater to society’s informality is a more subtle concession than the adoption of studied academic non-offensiveness, and it cannot as hastily be dismissed as a transparent ideological machination.

The fundamental problem is that the translators of the CEB seem to believe Christianity should submit to all stylistic demands of the culture it finds itself in, even if those demands leave it shorn of much of its complexity, elegance, and history, if not its core truths. In charity, this is a debate over means. Does effective conveyance of the Gospel—even to our highly democratic society—really require the kind of bland prose found in the CEB? Can such a stripped-down language hope to stand apart from a world of text messages and formulaic business-talk? The answer, I think, is no.

So far:  No 2  Yes 0


Bill S. said...

I'll cast my vote as a 'No', so make it '3'.

I'll stick with the KJV and the Textus Receptus. I have a real problem with the 50 or so codices and fragments that differ radically from the thousands of other manuscripts that we have.

These new Bibles, in order to gain a copyright, have to have a certain level of differences from other translations. So many of these translations read like someone sat down with Rogets Thesarus and started plugging in words willy nilly. Add to that versions such the the revised NIV that now has 'gender inclusive' language; and the versions that want to dumb down the language of the Bible to the point that it's no different than a text message.

I wonder how long before there's a Bible written in the various codes for text messages--'C Ya N the Clouds'.

Nope...not for me.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Make that 4 'no's.' Bill you make a good point about the business aspect of Bible translations and versions. I will take up Pastor Peters' point as well, that what I look for in a translation is not only accuracy and clarity I also look for it to be beautiful. By beautiful I mean that those who render the Biblical texts into English or any other language should not only be well versed in Hebrew and Greek but ought to be Masters of the language into which the texts are rendered. There are Bible versions that are helpful in the way they render a passage, but in my opinion are limited in their scope by the blandness and reading level of the English. Most dynamic equvalents, and attempts at contemporary English excise any hint of meter, which leaves them useless for anything other than personal reading. You would not use CEV, Good News or others like it for hymnody, chanting the Psalms or even for reading out loud in a worship setting. As we've also found out, meter helps with memorization too.

I'm thankful that the approach often taken with scripture isn't usually taken with art and music; that we'll somehow help people understand an oratorio by Bach, an opera by Rossini, or a sculpture by Michelangelo by dumbing them down and simplifying them in some way that diminishes what they are and defeats the whole point of increasing understanding.

I guess I'm getting old, but I'm at the stage where I want to have one good solid English translation, order up a copy of it from R.L. Allan and use it till it falls apart or die.

Sage said...

I've got more than a couple of bible versions from the JPS Hebrew OT to a Greek NT, and I got a copy of the NET Bible basically for the translators notes (which was interesting but I don't use it other than to get a third opinion on a passage). My standby, old faithful is a KJV. I have the LSB in ESV which is pretty good, but lacks some nuances the KJV has. The NKJV is my bookshelf as well.

I almost blame our educational system for not challenging students with reading and comprehending above the third grade level. I'm amazed when I hear professional people stumble through the KJV. I wonder how they got out of high school with such skills lacking.

Every scripture I have memorized is from the KJV. It's been my choice from the day I began reading the Bible. The liturgy is just so beautiful as it is and has been for centuries. We don't need to change things to accomodate people who are illiterate, we need to remediate the ones who have problems understanding or reading that level. I've seen it done, it's not impossible.

Add me to the list.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

^ I often think of how many settlers out on the plains were educated in one room schoolhouses to about the 6th or 8th grade at best, and all they had for reading materials were their McGuffey readers, a Sears and Roebuck catalog, a 'church book' and their King James Bible. And no one complained the Jacobean english was over their heads.

Anonymous said...

Some people do not realize that the
King James Version was written in
such a manner because it was
appointed to be read and heard in
churches on Sunday mornings.

The cadence and rhythm had to be
right for the ear as people listened
to it. The translation process for
KJV was tested not by sight but by
ear. This is the enduring legacy
of literary excellence.

Terry Maher said...

I imagine the "JPS Bible" mentioned is the newer one. I have it, but much prefer the original 1917 one.

It's also the version used in the Hertz Chumash, which is one of exactly three "study Bibles" I keep around still; the others are in boxes out in the garage with other useless stuff like the Documents of Vatican II.

The other two are the Jerusalem Bible, the original 1966 one not the revisionist PC one, and TLSB.

I also refer to the Clementine Vulgate periodically. For just reading, ESV or maybe NKJV. I do have a KJV and a Lutherbibel around, more for their value as a foundation of English and German respectively than for reading the Bible.

Interesting that the other two "Abrahamic faiths" emphasise learning the original language, whereas Christians translate.

Dixie said...

Interesting that the other two "Abrahamic faiths" emphasise learning the original language, whereas Christians translate.

Now that IS interesting. As I mulled this question over for a few minutes some first thoughts came to mind...because the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church? (So being able to read for oneself the original language is not a deal breaker.) Or 2 Thessalonians, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." (So actual reading for oneself is not so critical because the Tradition will be handed down by word as well. The ESV makes it clear that word here is the spoken word.) What else?

I do know this. I go to a Greek Church and our Epistle readings are translated from the original Greek by Greeks and they are some of the clearest translations I have ever heard. I have been trying for a couple of years now to get the book of readings in this translation but haven't managed it yet.