The Bible In English by David Daniell - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

A Good Book

The Bible In English

By

Yale Univeristy Press 1,600pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

TRANSLATION IS A mysterious business, which often subjects a text to the literary equivalent of a chemical change. It can flatten or heighten. Dostoevsky's tales, for instance, are even more strange in Constance Garnett's translation than in Russian. Edmund Wilson, who taught himself Hebrew to read the Old Testament in the original, said it was like discovering a different book. David Daniell's enormous work of over 1,600 pages in small type deals only with English translations of the Bible and shows how complicated the process was. Much of the Bible most English speakers know, the King James Version, is the result of a process of transformation from Hebrew into Greek, then into Latin and finally into English, in addition to direct renderings from Hebrew or Greek. The King James text incorporates bits from William Tyndale's translation, from the Geneva version, from the Catholic Douai version, on which I was raised, and from others.

Nearly all these efforts were collegiate, and the best of them give the lie to the assumption that committee work kills liveliness. But the Bible is so extraordinary that it can survive anything. There are two points that always strike me. Firstly, Hebrew writers were inclusive: they put in details

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