Earliest Known Draft of King James Bible Found.

Jennifer Schuessler’s New York Times story reports on an exciting discovery; this bit is of particular LH interest:

The draft, Professor Miller argues, dates from between 1604, when the King James Bible was commissioned, and 1608, when the six teams were asked to send their work to the general committee for review. Unlike the other surviving drafts, which scholars date to later parts of the process, it shows an individual translator’s initial puzzling over aspects of the Greek text of the Apocrypha, indicating the reasoning behind his translation choices, with reference to Hebrew and Latin as well.

“You can actually see the way Greek, Latin and Hebrew are all feeding into what will become the most widely read work of English literature of all time,” Professor Miller said. “It gets you so close to the thought process, it’s incredible.”

Thanks, Bonnie!

Comments

  1. How did people go about such a huge translation project back then? Nowadays a translation team would have all the advantages technology and the Internet have to offer, they could actually work from their houses in different countries, but back then everything had to be done by hand. And yet those translators managed to produce this monumental work that to many English-speaking people is synonymous to the Bible itself, unsurpassed by any modern Bible translation! You can only give them credit for their achievement.

  2. “unsurpassed by any modern Bible translation” Not as a translation, but perhaps as a prose work. The KJV is full of mistranslations due to lack of understanding at the time.

    But it consoles with a superior class of cliché, which is all a religion needs to do for most people.

  3. @Stu, I think Ariadne intended the unsurpassed bit to be qualified by ‘to many English-speaking people,’ not as a factual statement in itself. And I’m sure you’ll have encountered some of those many yourself…

  4. Yes, that’s what I meant. I don’t agree with their view, there are much more accurate and understandable Bible translations nowadays, but there’s an emotional dimension to anything connected to one’s childhood. Regardless of that, I still believe the KJV was a milestone in the English language, the same way Luther’s Bible was for German literature, and its translators deserve the praise for that.

  5. As I said, unsurpassed perhaps as a prose work. There’s no question that “many English-speaking people” think that.

    However, the value of the KJV as a translation is another matter entirely. Espcially for people who regard the texts as “God’s word”. For them, pretty and striking formulations must be discarded when they do not convey the true sense..

    Reviewers of books translated into English, for example from Russian, will routinely praise the books (when they like them) as being ” a fine translation”, even when the reviewers know not a word of Russian. I know that Hat and I share a peevement about this.

  6. J. W. Brewer says:

    The alleged defects in the KJV fall into a few different categories: a) such-and-such verse is an accurate (or at least defensible) translation of the source text the KJV translators were using, but most secular scholars today (as well as Christians with a perhaps uncritical attitude toward the wonders of secular scholarship) have a different view based on giving different weight to different manuscript sources about what the best source text for that verse should be; b) such-and-such verse is an accurate (or at least defensible) translation of the source text into a particular register of early 17th century English but due to subsequent shifts in English is prone to being seriously misunderstood by a modern reader; and c) such-and-such verse is Just Plain Wrong as a translation into the relevant version of English of the source text actually used. I don’t think there are actually very many instances of category c, esp in the NT, and some of the more difficult OT passages are such that, frankly, everyone’s just guessing anyway so the fact that the KJV translators’ guess might be out of step with the current scholarly-consensus guess doesn’t tell you all that much.

  7. I think that (b) is overall the worst problem.

  8. Reviewers of books translated into English, for example from Russian, will routinely praise the books (when they like them) as being ” a fine translation”, even when the reviewers know not a word of Russian.

    Don’t get me started on Gregory Rabassa’s “award-winning translations” (always called such by reviewers) from Spanish.

  9. I think that (b) is overall the worst problem.

    Surely you mean best problem. If snickering at Isaiah 16:11 is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  10. Eh, the KJV’s conventional use of italics to indicate words without direct Hebrew or Greek counterparts leads to a pretty spectacular result in 1 Kings 13:27: And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.

  11. J. W. Brewer says:

    I’m not sure I would agree that (b) is a “problem” as opposed to what might more neutrally be called an “issue.” Whether it’s a “problem” depends on who wants to use a particular English version of the work for what purpose. Indeed, (b) is likewise an “issue” for how modern readers are to be encouraged to approach non-translations of similar vintage (e.g. Shakespeare). What I would call a problem is the naive notion (not necessarily set forth by anyone in this comment thread but certainly floating Out There in general discussions of this type) that the Biblical text could and would be perfectly clear and self-exegeting to a 21st century Anglophone reading it in a vacuum without being deeply embedded in a particular interpretative community and interpretive tradition if only it were properly translated into idiomatic 21st century English.

  12. Don’t get me started on Gregory Rabassa’s “award-winning translations” (always called such by reviewers) from Spanish.

    I’ll never forget when I started reading Cortázar’s Rayuela in Spanish and tried using his translation, Hopscotch, to help with the hard parts. It turned out he’d skipped most of what I didn’t understand, and mistranslated some of what I did, including some basic idioms. That ended my automatic respect for “award-winning translations.”

  13. I wrote my dissertation on Rayuela (and The Recognitions) and was constantly coming up against this. My favorite:

    Cortazar: Sobre el dolor físico como aguijón metafísica abunda la escritura.

    Translation: Concerning physical pain as a stimulus to metaphysics, much has been written.

    Rabassa: On top of physical pain like a metaphysical pinprick, writing abounds.

    I really think Rabassa’s translation is a cause of this great book’s neglect in the Anglophone world and especially its reputation for being full of recondite French notions.

  14. I honestly never understood the respect given to the KJV for its writing. To me it reads as heavy and halting. I’m trying not to be biased by comparing it to the Hebrew original, which is wonderfully compact and sure; but aside from that, even Milton and Bunyan seem to me more graceful than the KJV.

    I see that the KJV was and is important in the history of the English language, just as the Arc de triomphe is an important landmark for Paris, but I find neither of them remarkable artistically.

  15. Huh. Well, that’s what makes a horse race. I don’t care for the Arc de triomphe myself (or most of the large public buildings, for that matter), but I’ve always loved the language of the KJV.

  16. I tend to agree with both of you. Artistic merit isn’t relevant, because the KJV is simply a foundation text for the language: it is our version of a classic. Without something close to the KJV, we simply don’t have the English language as we know it.

  17. Hat, are there any particularly appealing passages in the KJV that you could point out?

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Roger C:

    Cortazar: Sobre el dolor físico como aguijón metafísica abunda la escritura.
    Translation: Concerning physical pain as a stimulus to metaphysics, much has been written.
    Rabassa: On top of physical pain like a metaphysical pinprick, writing abounds.

    It must be metafísicO.

    I have always heard that Rabassa was an excellent translator. But translating sobre as ‘on top of’ in the context of writing is definitely wrong. Similarly como as ‘like’ rather than ‘as’. Definitely an F for that sentence, which does not make sense. (A for you).

  19. marie-lucie says:

    Not to mention that aguijón (cf French aiguillon) is not a pinprick but the stinging instrument that causes the pinprick (hence the Spanish meaning ‘stimulus’).

  20. Y: 1 Kings 19 (especially verses 9-14) comes to mind, but there are many other possible examples.

  21. Marie-Lucie, thank you for the correction. I was tired and probably misled by my own use of “metaphysics” as a noun. It occurs to me that I might also have rendered aguijón as “spur.”

  22. marie-lucie says:

    No problem! The verb precedes words ending in -a, so the typo could also have been due to anticipation.

    “Spur” would not be quite the translation but close enough, since English “to spur” is often used with less than concrete meaning. I think that the French cognate aiguillon only has the concrete meaning (a sharpened stick used to control a team of oxen), but there is the verb aiguillonner which can be a little more abstract, like “to spur”.

  23. That story, Elijah at the Cave, is one of the most stirring passages in the entire Old Testament. The KJV version doesn’t do it for me. It seems ponderous and monumental, but perhaps it is this tone, repeated for thousands of verses, that makes it a landmark.

    On a different matter, the phrase “a still small voice”, the very climax of the story, is a mistranslation. The Hebrew, קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַּקָּה qol dəmama daqqa, means literally ‘the sound of thin silence’. This phrase appears contradictory, and has apparently bothered other translators as well. The Septuagint and the Vulgate both took the liberty of translating it as ‘the sound of slight breeze’ or such. KJV is a bit better, but I accuse all three of wavering faith in the original text. Some people poetically read the Hebrew as a description of the silence of a desert morning, or a rare snowfall summoned for the purpose. To me the very contradiction in the phrase illustrates something truly ineffable and supernatural. We can’t imagine what it sounded like, but Elijah heard it and figured it out right away.
    The theme of silence introducing a voice also appears in Job 4:16.

  24. That is so. But the phrase “a still small voice” has become not only a standard part of English (the point I was trying to make above), but in a meaning completely disconnected from the original meaning! It has now come to mean the quiet voice of intuition or conscience in the heart, which of course has nothing to do with the original story. But that doesn’t matter: phrases mean what they mean, quite independent of their origins.

    Similarly, the Shakespearean phrase “more honored in the breach than in the observance” in its context in Hamlet means ‘more fitly honored’; that is, not observing the custom is more honorable than observing it. But it has changed to mean ‘more often honored’, and this is now the usual meaning in all contexts other than Hamlet.

  25. To be clear, I was separating the quality of the translation from the literary quality of the text per se.

    But I see what you mean. I agree that the phrase “a still small voice” is pretty neat by itself, apart from its heavy matrix.

  26. Hat, are there any particularly appealing passages in the KJV that you could point out?

    I don’t think there’s much point, since you clearly don’t like the style. Similarly, if someone said “I hate all the jazz I’ve ever heard; can you point me to an example I might like?” I’d probably say “If you hate jazz, you hate jazz, and that’s fine, but there’s no point my playing my favorite cuts by Jelly Roll and Pops and Duke and Miles and having you go ‘Naah, not that… no, still nothing… eh, doesn’t do anything for me…’.”

  27. I find certain parts of the King James Bible moving, but not the story of Elijah and the cave. It’s not so much the prose being bad; I just don’t like the story at all, regardless of language. Our rabbi gave a very long holiday sermon on it last year, and I thought the topic was dreadful. When I think of famous examples of artful KJV language, my first thought is always for the famous: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me[.]”

  28. @Y: the contrast between the storm, quake, and fire, and the near-silence works well in KJV, although the “voice” may be misplaced. Compare the great Protestant predecessors. “Après le feu, venoit ung son quoy et subtil” (Olivétan 1535. Olivétan was a cousin of Calvin, who wrote a preface to his NT translation). “Und nach dem Feuer kam ein stilles, sanftes Sausen” (Luther 1534). Both worked from the Hebrew but Luther seemed to follow the Seventy and Jerome (if I understand correctly that “Sausen” refers to the sound of the wind).

  29. Greg Pandatshang says:

    regarding 1 Kings 19:12. I don’t understand any of the Biblical languages, but I like to try to compare different translations and see what they came up with. My go-tos are NASB, RSV (preferably not NRSV), and Young’s Literal, plus Wuest for the NT, and sometimes NEB if I’m in the mood for dynamic equivalence. For the relevant phrase, I found

    NASB: “sound of a gentle blowing”
    RSV: “a still small voice”
    Young’s Literal: “a voice still small” (typical stilted Young phrasing)

    So, not very enlightening. By the way, I heard an interview with Marc Zvi Brettler, one of the editors of the Jewish Study Bible, a while back. I haven’t heard any opinions about this translation from third parties – has anyone here used it? I’m curious how JSB translates the phrase above, but I couldn’t find the answer online.

  30. I will fear no evil

    Yes, that’s foundational language too. Remember that I at least am not talking about the beauty of the KJV, which is subjective, or its accuracy, which is more than doubtful, but about the claim that English is what it is because the text of the KJV is what it is.

  31. Greg P., you can compare translations here. The Catholic New Revised Standard Version has “a sound of sheer silence”. I like the ambiguity of “sheer”. Most other translations, including the Jewish ones, try to reinterpret the phrase, after the Septuagint, Vulgate or KJV.

    Hat, of course tastes vary, but I am sincerely trying to open myself to understand the tastes of others, including in this case. It might not ever become a favorite of mine, but I might at least understand what others see in it.

  32. The Catholic New Revised Standard Version has “a sound of sheer silence”.

    Ooh, that’s very nice!

    Hat, of course tastes vary, but I am sincerely trying to open myself to understand the tastes of others, including in this case. It might not ever become a favorite of mine, but I might at least understand what others see in it.

    Well, I had assumed that you’d already seen the Famous Bits and thus knew what it was you didn’t care for, but I guess check out the Psalms, starting with 22 (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”), 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”), and 23 (“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof”) and not forgetting 137 (“By the rivers of Babylon”); Ecclesiastes (“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever”); the Song of Songs (“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine”); Matthew 4 (“All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me”); John 1 (“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not”); and 1 Corinthians 13 (“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal”). But you may simply not care for the archaic diction and rolling Elizabethan/Jacobean rhetorical style. Me, I don’t like ballet.

  33. J. W. Brewer says:

    “I don’t like opera and I don’t like ballet /
    And new wave french movies, they just drive me away” etc etc

    One complication is that the KJV was the culmination of an almost century-long string of translations into English, but once it became fully standard it crowded all of the prior 16th century versions (except for Douay-Rheims for a limited sectarian audience) out of the marketplace, with the consequences that: i) no other now-familiar version is written in the same historical style/register, so no one other than a specialist will have an informed opinion about whether the KJV did a particular passage better or worse than other translations into that particular version of English; and ii) since the KJV was not drafted on a clean slate and often adopted earlier versions with only slight changes or completely word-for-word (no copyright concerns in those days . . .) if its translators didn’t think they could do any better for the particular passage, we generally don’t know (without specific inquiry, which we generally will not bother to both think to do and then carry out) whether a particularly felicitous rendering should be credited to the KJV team or if they should just get credit for having had the good sense to leave it alone. E.g. “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (orthographic variation over time aside) seems to first turn up in that exact wording in the Great Bible of 1539, very slightly changed (but improved) from Tyndale’s 1525 version of the line, and was left unchanged thereafter.

  34. Right, but historical accuracy aside, I’m not so much concerned with who gets credit for any particular felicitous expression as with the greatness of the final product. I’ll let the various translators fight it out in the afterlife.

  35. J. W. Brewer says:

    What would be fascinating would be an edition of this manuscript by Ward annotated to show whatever differences in wording there may be between it and the final KJV version of the book-and-a-half it contains, and likewise to show differences/similarities between it and the predecessor version(s). The NYT story says that the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 was the official “base text” (which I may have vaguely known, and which certainly makes sense, since it was the most recent edition officially devised for use in the C of E), but I expect that at least some of the translators had other 16th century translations at hand for reference/inspiration, and were not just confined to looking at the Greek vorlage and the Bishops’ Bible side-by-side.

  36. An excellent idea!

  37. “a still small voice”

    Chouraqui has “une voix, un silence subtil.”

  38. Alexei K: (if I understand correctly that “Sausen” refers to the sound of the wind).

    To a sound made by strong wind, stormy waves etc. In modern German Sausen is a whooshing or roaring noise, so stilles, sanftes Sausen is a contradictio in adiecto. Säuseln, however, is still und sanft by nature.

    Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
    That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird?

    Cage, 1990: “It was at Harvard not quite forty years ago that I went
    into an anechoic [totally silent] chamber not expecting in that silent
    room to hear two sounds: one high, my nervous system in operation, one
    low, my blood in circulation. The reason I did not expect to hear
    those two sounds was that they were set into vibration without any
    intention on my part. That experience gave my life direction, the
    exploration of nonintention. No one else was doing that. I would do it
    for us. I did not know immediately what I was doing, nor, after all
    these years, have I found out much. I compose music. Yes, but how? I
    gave up making choices. In their place I put the asking of questions.
    The answers come from the mechanism, not the wisdom of the I Ching,
    the most ancient of all books: tossing three coins six times yielding
    numbers between 1 and 64.”

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Sausen: also “to run/fly fast”, today the most common meaning.

    Ecclesiastes (“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever”);

    Ecclesiastes 1, actually, sounds best in LOLcat.

  40. “Generashun comez n generashun goez, still same lolcats”: Srsly true!

  41. Sausen: also “to run/fly fast”, today the most common meaning.

    Nope, or perhaps in Austria. Across the border, Ohrensausen and “der Wind saust” occur to me immediately. Then “er ist durchs Examen gesaust”.

  42. Not to mention “eine Sause veranstalten”.

  43. Trond Engen says:

    No. suse have both meanings: The Wind in the Willows is Det suser i sivet. For “fly, run fast”, i think the latter comes as an extension of the former, since the meaning “run (or drive) fast” has a connotation of effort- or carelessness.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    I only know Ohrensausen and Sause from reading. …I know a whole lot of German vocabulary only from reading, and have no way of telling if it’s even still in use anywhere.

    For “fly, run fast”, i think the latter comes as an extension of the former

    Sure; it’s onomatopoeic.

  45. In Danish you can suse through an exam as well; my native speaker intuition is that the sound of the wind in leaves is the most basic, onomatopoietic meaning. A sus can go through a crowd as well and it can ‘suse for’ your ears for medical reasons.

    The semantic transfer then starts with ‘suse forbi’ — when something moves past you so fast that you literally hear the sound of its passage through the air. That doesn’t stay literal for long, of course.

    The Ordbog over det danske Sprog basically agrees, and traces the verb back to OHG. The basic sense has been in Danish for 300 years at least, the movement sense at least 200.

  46. From the world of the art song, I know Sausewind, Brausewind! dort und hier! by Mörike, set to music by Hugo Wolf, and Säv, säv, susa by Fröding, set by Sibelius. The latter apparently means “rushes, rushes, rustle” or “reeds, reeds, sough.” The former defies translation, apart from “dort und hier” of course.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    The former defies translation

    Not explanation, however: both Sausewind and Brausewind are exactly analogous to “choo-choo train”.

  48. Greg Pandatshang wrote:
    “I’m curious how JSB translates the phrase above”

    Believe it or not, I own a copy of the Jewish Study Bible and it renders 1 Kings 19:12 like this: “After the earthquake—fire; but The Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire—a soft murmuring sound.”

  49. On sausen: For me, both the “sound” meaning and the “movement” meaning are valid; for the latter, see prefixed verbs like vorbeisausen “rush / zoom by”, corresponding to the suse forbi mentioned by Lars. Ohrensausen is a usual word. Sause for “party, celebration” is something I’d associate with my grandparents’ (i.e. born pre-WW II) Generation.

  50. @Hans, in Danish the only party-related sense of sus is ‘sus i skørterne’ (in the petticoats) — which a certain stereotype of energetic, fun-loving girl was said to have. (Died with skirts, mid-60’s).

    In Swedish, however, ‘det gjorde susen’ is something like ‘that did the trick.’ The semantic development is opaque to me.

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