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Monday, February 22, 2016

M3 Library: The Holy Bible

            I own more editions of The Holy Bible (including separate editions of The Books of Moses) than any other book of mythology. I know some people get prickly when it comes to thinking of the Bible as mythology, but it is. We’re just talking about these cultural stories. The reason I own so many (5 at last count) is because the translations can vary so widely. No book has been translated as many times as the Bible. Nor has any book had its translation disputed as much as the Bible.
A lot of this has to do with the specific languages the Bible has been through before getting to modern times. Moreover, the Ancient Hebrews and Israelites have a different culture, and a different method of storytelling than what we think of normally in modern, Western culture. Culturally-specific idioms and language patterns are present throughout the Bible, but scholars have had wildly different opinions as to what those mean, or whether or not they should be included (such as the practice of repeating certain phrases).
It can be daunting to know where to start when it comes to the Bible. I recommend a good Study Bible to start. Harper produces a good one, as does Oxford, but there are many others. These will include copious footnotes about culture and translation, as well as thoughtful essays to understanding the culture and context of Biblical stories.
When it comes to which translation to use, that I leave up to you. The American Standard and New Revised Standard are good choices. I have a soft spot for the poetry of the King James as well. But then I frequently look at about three different translations before I try and make an interpretation of a Biblical story.
I will say don’t consult editions like The Message (or those similar to it). These are not translations. They are interpretations. The people responsible for these editions have gone through and supplied what they believe the stories to mean, and retold them in such a way as to only mean that interpretation. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just compare one of the standard translations with that of The Message, and you will see a clear difference. Is it easier to understand The Message? Yes. But that’s because they have removed all ambiguity. They have also stripped the stories of their context and culture by doing so.
The same can be said for Children’s bibles. These change the story in subtle yet significant ways. The goal is to make them easier for children to understand, but then, that’s the problem. These are not stories that are very easy to understand. They are complex and rich with meaning and cultural context that is lost by simplifying the story.

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