Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Were Francis and Clare Lovers?

This will be the first of three posts on this topic.

Sts. Francis and Clare became an unusual couple, once Clare came to join the brothers at Portiuncula. The sources all indicate that the two of them had a natural affection for one another. However, it is important to remember (after all of the Hollywoodizing of this tale) that they were not married, and were not a "couple" in any real sense, even though their love for each other was felt palpably by those around them.
G. K. Chesterton calls theirs a “pure and spiritual romance,” an apt description, although they spent very little time together. Clare was an important confidant to Francis, and a link between his childhood (their families seem to have known each other), with all of its extravagant worldliness, and the mature, life-changing decisions that began to mark his early twenties. Their affection for and trust of each other fueled the early Franciscan movement and gave birth to a joy, beauty, and spirit that had long been absent from faith.
However, it has always seemed to make for a better story to have Francis and Clare in love with each other. In fact, some of the early sources give hints that support such a view. Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of each of them, called theirs a “divine attraction”—these two saints wanting to be together. And when Thomas describes Clare’s childhood reputation as a spiritual giant, he also implies that Francis was intent on meeting her. Thomas compares Clare’s holiness to plunder, and Francis to a conquering knight. He writes that Francis “was dedicated to snatching his plunder away from the world.”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Slowing down to read

Bible reading used to be a regular part of our lives, both private and public, and not simply because we all used to go to church more regularly. In a recent phone survey of 13,000 adults, 93 percent of Americans said that they have a Bible at home. In colonial America, this percentage would have been about 99 percent. A Bible was very often the only book to be found in a home, and it was in every home. Also in that recent phone survey, 75 percent of those with a Bible responded that they’ve read at least one passage from it in the last year. In another survey, conducted by Gallup, the number of those who said that they read their Bible “occasionally” was 59 percent, and this compared to 73 percent in the 1980s.
One obstacle to reading and hearing the Bible today is, as it is for poetry, the slowness that it requires. Our time and attention is splintered in ways that Benjamin Franklin never could have imagined possible. As a result, few of us practice the discipline of reading slowly, and the KJV demands the slowest, most careful reading of any translation. Along with classic poetry and certain types of music, appreciating the language of the Bible has almost become a lost art. I wish that Christian parents would still teach their children how to read, and how to read in a way that savors and contemplates the language.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Harold Bloom's new book on the KJB

Very late in the game in this 400th anniversary year, Yale literary critic and professor, Harold Bloom, offers his new book, The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible. Frankly, I am enjoying it more than I thought I would.

Bloom is inimitable, charming (sometimes too charming), insightful, and often provocative. All of this makes for entertaining reading and frequent surprises. Here are a few things that I learned and/or enjoyed from the book's Introduction:

"Cormac McCarthy's one great novel, Blood Meridian, may be a last stand of the KJB's literary influence."

[The central conceit of Bloom's Introduction is to compare the KJB with the works of Shakespeare as the two greatest achievements of English writing/literature. Given that, he writes:]

"Shakespeare's vocabulary remains extraordinary in the history of imaginative literature: more than twenty-one thousand words, eighteen hundred of which he coined.... The KJB keeps to eight thousand, a figure that surprises me because I would have guessed many more."

[It takes a literary critic to pick this up:]

"The translators of the English Bible, from Tyndale to Andrewes, were not dramatists, though Tyndale came closest. They do not voice their characters: Jacob and David do not sound different to us. That is a loss from the Hebrew."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Repeating others' mistakes

Sometimes the KJB translators simply repeated the mistakes of previous translators. This happened in a few cases in their renderings of New Testament verses, as the translation team seems to have relied too heavily upon Beza's 1598 Greek New Testament.

There are mistakes in Beza, and they appear again in the KJB. Some of these mistakes do not appear in Erasmus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, and others, but then they pop up in the KJB. This is unfortunate.

Fortunately, none of them ever rise to the level of creating doctrinal uncertainties, or altering key verses; and, in fact, this is probably why these translation mistakes have rarely caused people to switch away from reading the KJB.

Here is a representative example:

Revelation 16:5 reads, "And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus."

The phrase translated here, "shalt be," should actually be "holy one." A pretty big difference, yes! That is because it is not a typo, but simply a repeated mistake from Beza.

A couple other KJB translation mistakes

The translators of the King James Bible had it right about ninety-five percent of the time. However, admittedly, there are moments in the KJB when it is clear that they were sometimes working from manuscripts that are not as complete as we now possess.

We see this in their use of the noun, "buckler," which occurs eleven times in the Old Testament, never in the New, and is a mistranslation from the Hebrew. The KJB has it meaning “shield” when it should probably have been “spear,” as in 1 Chronicles 12:8.

To take another example, Numbers 23:22 in the KJB has the author of the Torah comparing God’s strength to that of a unicorn: “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.” Well, unicorns never existed, right? It should have been something more akin to "wild ox."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Johannine Comma

Thus far I haven't spent much time talking about mistakes in the translation of the King James Bible. I have spent most of the space in this blog, and in the book that inspired it, talking instead about the beautiful aspects of the KJB.

But let's mention one important snafu, however.

It is called by biblical scholars, the Johannine Comma. It refers to the mistranslation of the verse, 1 John 5:7. The KJB reads:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the holy Ghost: and these three are one.

This translation arose because the translators were using a manuscript for 1 John that was unreliable. The mistake first appeared in English in 1522, nearly a century before the KJB, and was perpetuated without much comment into the nineteenth century. Interestingly, Erasmus fixed the mistake in his own translations of the New Testament into Greek and a revised Latin -- but then there was an outcry that he was compromising the doctrine of the Trinity.

Friday, July 22, 2011

YouTube Bible

I love the YouTube Bible project of The King James Bible Trust in the UK. Check it out.

Mostly ordinary folk read one chapter from the King James Bible, to camera. There is something inspiring about their passion, interest, and participation.