Saturday, October 31, 2015

Draft of King James Bible Discovered

Recently Jeffrey Alan Miller, a researcher looking into the biography of one of the scholars who translated the King James Bible, made an amazing discovery at the University of Cambridge archives. He came upon a text that had been mislabeled, and was able to verify that it was an early version of a portion of the King James Bible itself. Looking at the notes, he was able to gain some insight into how the project worked.

The material in the manuscript discovered by Miller covers the apocryphal books called Esdras and Wisdom and seems to show that the translation process at Cambridge worked completely different than what researchers had previously known. Until now, it had been assumed that six different teams, or companies of translators that is, had worked more collaboratively rather than individually. Yet — this draft throws that idea out the window.

Ward’s draft seems to indicate the people were assigned individual sections of the Bible and then worked on them almost entirely by themselves — a massive undertaking with little guesswork. You would think this would cause people to become more error prone. In fact, quite hilariously, Professor Miller noticed that the draft suggests that Ward was picking up the slack for another translator. This really shows how human the entire job was, according to him.

“Some of them, being typical academics, either fell down on the job or just decided not to do it. It really testifies to the human element of this kind of great undertaking.”

This is sure to piss off a lot of religious conservatives who claim that the Bible is the “actual word of God.” While this finding certainly doesn’t disprove God, it does show that the translators of the Bible didn’t get a finalized product the first go around — it wasn’t a walk in the park with an angel over their shoulder telling them what to write. It took many different individuals, working separately — and they often suffered from man-made struggles, like meeting deadlines.

Actually, more religious conservatives than you might think at first only believe that the original texts in the original languages represent the literal word of God. These are the folks who actually study the Bible and go over the original Hebrew and Greek texts. They may not be the people you see making noise in the media, but I went to a Lutheran college and met several of them who were quite reasonable about the whole thing.

However, there is one particularly bizarre group of fundamentalists who, for some reason, believe that the King James is the literal word of God and no other translations are. I've never gotten a satisfactory answer from any of them as to why this would be the case, and the discovery of this document only highlights that the process by which the King James was translated was just as error-prone as that of any other translation.

I will say that of the various translations out there, I like the King James, but mostly because I appreciate the Elizabethan English which is more poetic than the language used in most of the modern translations. I certainly don't consider it any more accurate, and besides, even if it were, a literalist approach to any religious text that pays more attention to exact phrasing than it does to the overall message is doomed to failure.

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1 comment:

Mikey said...

I really enjoy the KJV translation because of the middle english as well. There seems to be be a lot more leeway in middle english for subtle expression. I don't know if I could stomach reading alot of more recent translations the way I can KJV. There's a charming chopping and changing of pace and more variety in how the same concepts are rehashed from a different points of view. The impression that different parts of the new testament are written from the POV of different disciples is really heightened in the KJV.

If it was translated in the way the article suggests that would explain a lot of things about the overall impression of reading it.

The idea of having a better religious text through meticulous accuracy doesn't really fly anyway,that's similar to thinking a wiki page is better off written by a bot. There's a lot of concepts involved that need to be personally understood and rehashed by an individual mind to be in anyway communicable. Some modern vedic scholars have run across these kinds of issues translating sanskrit texts to english or hindi. Translations can be more illuminating when undertaken by the right individuals, providing they are open about certain liberties they take in getting what they think is the underlying point across.

Other good news is who ever picks up the slack for the sloppyer translators obviously cares about what they're doing, so the lion's share is worked on by people invested in the project. It actually looks like things worked out in this tranlation's favor in terms of how compelling it's voice is and it's integrity.

:D