Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
new attitude of the American public toward religion. It is doubt­
ful whether there was a widespread demand among American Jews
for a translation to replace that of Leeser — not because they were
well satisfied with Leeser, but because nineteenth century Amer­
ican Jews were more likely to respect the Bible than to read it.
The expense of producing the 1917 translation was borne by just
a few persons, chiefly by Jacob H. Schiff. The situation today is
somewhat different. At least a substantial minority of American
Jews who cannot read the Bible in Hebrew are trying to read it in
English, and are attending study courses for this purpose. For
them, JPS has become increasingly unsatisfactory.
The present writer has been teaching Bible to adolescents and
adults for many years. He has found — and the experience is
typical — that a good part of the teacher’s time is spent, not in
explaining the Bible, but in explaining the English. Admittedly,
the Elizabethan manner has a magnificence and grandeur which
our plainer contemporary style does not possess. But the average
reader does not read Tudor English with assurance. This may be
regrettable; no doubt we should make the effort to read Shake­
speare’s plays as Shakespeare wrote them. The Bible, however, is
not a product of the English Renaissance period. The translators
of 1611 were simply trying to make the Bible accessible to their
contemporaries. Ought not the scholars of every age do the same?
It was to meet this challenge that, under the auspices of the
University of Chicago, a group of scholars produced a new “Amer­
ican Translation” (AT) in 1927. Later, the leading Protestant
groups in the United States sponsored the Revised Standard Ver­
sion (RSV), which was completed in 1952, and was hailed with
much enthusiasm despite dissenting voices. In both these transla­
tions the effort was made — it could not perhaps be carried out
with complete consistency — to render the Bible accurately in the
speech of our time. The Catholic Church is likewise engaged in a
similar project.
Many persons feel that a good deal was lost by modernizing the
language of the English Bible. The archaisms impart a certain
awesome tone which is dissipated when they are replaced by
more commonplace diction. The Bible, however, does not remain
constantly on a sublime level. It contains many a prosaic page.
“Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk” sounds unduly
solemn to the modern reader, when all it means is, “You must
not boil a kid,” etc.
All the earlier translations adhered far too slavishly to the word
order, sentence structure, and idiom of the Hebrew original. Many
Hebraisms, in fact, have been naturalized in English. But this