Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest Blog: Overview of Knox Bible

Thank you to Jonny who provided this guest post, which will serve as a kick-off to an ongoing series of discussions surrounding the Knox translation.

There is much that can be said of Msgr. Knox’s translation of the Holy Bible.  First and foremost, it should be mentioned that the Knox version is a translation of the Clementine Latin Vulgate.  That is indicated quite clearly in the new edition from Baronius Press, on the title page which reads: “Translated from the Latin Vulgate by Msgr. Ronald Knox.”  However, in the old edition, (the one I am referring to is from Sheen and Ward in 1956) it states on the title page that it is “A translation from the Latin Vulgate in the light of the Hebrew and Greek originals.”  From that statement, I had previously thought that in places the Latin had been set aside in favor of Greek or Hebrew, according to the whim of the translator.  Yes, I thought that the Knox Bible was basically a hybrid translation, so I never really took it seriously.
After receiving the Baronius edition, with the complementary copy of Msgr. Knox’s “On Englishing the Bible,” I found that my assumptions were quite incorrect.  In the first article of the above mentioned book, Msgr. Knox states that it is the Clementine Vulgate he is translating, and he only goes back to other editions (Hebrew, Greek, critical editions of the Latin) to gain a better understanding of the Vulgate.  This is a big plus for me, and should be for anyone who likes to read the Douay Rheims Bible.  In the Knox translation, you have someone looking at the Vulgate and the other editions to give you a fresh translation of the Bible in lucid, modern English.  I don’t know of any other source that is more helpful to those who may struggle with the archaic English and sometime awkward sentence structures in the D-R, besides actually learning Latin and using the Clementine Vulgate itself!
So on to the translation itself.  Being, as it is, translated from the Vulgate, it is going to have many traditional renderings that Catholic Bible readers expect to see in a Catholic Bible.  In Genesis 3:15 you will find, “she is to crush thy head,” although regrettably the “enmities” from the Douay are replaced with “a feud.”  There are many places that I cheer the Knox translation, and in others I groan with disappointment.  I was pleased to see in many places that the angelic world was not translated out: such as in Psalms 103:4 “Thou wilt have thy angels be like the winds, the servants that wait on thee like a flame of fire,” the “angel” who “visits…with no kindly message” in Proverbs 17:11, and even “Lucifer” in Isaias 14:12.  Of course, fans of the Douay-Rheims will be pleased to see, “Hail, thou who art full of grace,” “Holy Ghost,” “charity” (often rendered “love” in modern versions), and the traditional spellings of the proper names.  Yes, there are many places in the Knox Bible I must applaud, and many places leave me longing for the more traditional renderings in the Douay, KJV, and RSV versions.  In particular I wish that Knox retained “spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2.  “Breath of God” is adequate as a translation, but after this verse was infallibly defined in the Catechism of the Council of Trent as a direct reference to the Holy Ghost (part 1, chapter II, question XXIII), it seems unnecessarily un-Catholic for a Catholic translation to render this phrase otherwise.
Finally, my biggest cheer for the style of the Knox version: the use of the singular and plural forms for the “you” pronouns.  Msgr. Knox reveals that he would have rather dispensed with the archaic pronouns altogether, but I am glad he felt compelled to leave them in.  The archaic forms reflect more accurately the original languages in this regard, and can give greater clarity to any given reading.  Consider Jesus words to Nicodemus: “Do not be surprised, then, at my telling thee, You must be born anew.”  Aside from this detail, there are examples all throughout the Knox Bible where the English is dignified, creative, and just plain fun to read.
One might get the impression in this article that I still prefer the Douay Rheims translation of the Vulgate, and that would be correct (no offence to Msgr. Knox.)  I am thinking now that I have the Baronius edition, it might get as much attention as my RSV!  Perhaps another top 5 Bible translations vote on the Catholic Bibles Blog is in order! 


ThisVivian said...

Oh my God, I agree. Did I miss the parousia?!

Jonny said...

One detail I forgot to mention regarding the Knox translation is the use of the term “hell.” Many newer translations use the terms “Sheol” and “Hades” in the Old and New Testaments, respectively. There is nothing wrong with those as translations, but I believe that using different terms in this case can further confuse the average reader regarding the already commonly misunderstood subject of the underworld.

I believe the Catechism of the Council of Trent most clearly explains this in Chapter IV, questions I-III. There has already been a discussion of this topic on this blog, but I will here summarize. The term “hell” (as used in the Apostles Creed) is defined as the underworld in its entirety. The lowest level: “everlasting and inextinguishable fire”, a.k.a. “Gehenna”, a.k.a. the “bottomless pit”; next: the “fire of purgatory”; and lastly: “the receptacle … in which were received the souls of the just before the coming of Christ… Abraham’s bosom.” One might argue that the term “hell” in this sense is archaic usage, but that is actually not the case since the current liturgical translation of the Apostles Creed states that “he descended into hell.”

The only complication that might arise in translating the words used to describe the netherworld as “hell” is that the reader might be confused when “Gehenna” is translated “hell” as well. Although, I must mention that when the Knox, Douay, and others who translate “Gehenna” as “hell” the term is often accompanied by “fire”, or else is used in a context regarding damnation. My preference, all things considered, is to keep the traditional rendering and include appropriate footnotes (or better yet, a glossary!)

Regarding the Knox translation. Briefly stated, Knox kept the traditional “hell” in the New Testament, but used other words like “grave”, “abyss”, and “oblivion”… but very rarely “hell” in the Old Testament. I did not check every single instance, but I am confident that the Authorized Version was by far more consistent in rendering “Sheol” as “hell” than Knox. I am disappointed to see this inconsistency, especially from a translation of the Vulgate in light of the Hebrew and Greek by a single Catholic author. I think that consistency is one of the greatest benefits of translating both Testaments from a common language, and I am glad that Douay Rheims was consistent in this matter (and more so than any other english translation that I am familiar with.)

Cindy said...

But, according to NAB footnotes, wasn't Gehenna not part of the spiritual netherworld, but rather an actual pit located in Israel where the dead bodies of paupers were creamated? That's why I get confused when newer translations use Gehenna... its like the translators are denying the existance of hell... and therefore, possibly Heaven and any type of afterlife.

ThisVivian said...

Gehenna might have been an actual pit used to burn trash and/or paupers (I've heard both) that stunk like sulfur, but it was used by a figure of speech to refer to the end things as well.

Timothy said...

What is the role of the translator in this situation then? The NAB is being literal, like with 'Amen, Amen' sayings.

Biblical Catholic said...

The NAB's constant use of the term 'netherworld' is one of the things I like least about it...I much prefer the RSV's 'Gehenna' and 'Sheol'....if it is not clear exactly what the author meant, don't make something up, just carry over the original words and transliterate....where the original is obscure or difficult to understand, the translation should be obscure and difficult to understand as well

Timothy said...

The RSV translates Gehenna as "hell", while the NAB translates it literally. Although I agree that the NAB's use of netherworld is not helpful, particularly when in places like Revelation the Greek term "hades" is translated as "hades".

ThisVivian said...

I strongly agree with Biblical Catholic here:

"...where the original is obscure or difficult to understand, the translation should be obscure and difficult to understand as well".

Brendan said...

"Hades" is a poor and confusing translation choice also. Hades is actually a pagan Greek god, who resides in a self-named realm.

"Hell" is the clearest and most understandable choice. I do not mind "netherworld" to describe all the spiritual realms outside of Heaven.

ThisVivian said...

Hell has more incorrect connotations in English, IMO, than Hades, to be used always as a general "abode of the dead" instead of "place of eternal punishment".

"Hades" is generally thought of as "the underworld"; I do not believe it has pagan connotations to most readers, although I may be incorrect.

I prefer a general rendering of "Hell" in all places where it is acceptable, with "Sheol" and "Hades" used when the underworld - not necessarily the final abode of the damned - is meant.

I threw those thoughts together in a few minutes, so they're liable to drastic revision, and almost certainly will undergo such, as do most of the provisional ideas and views that I form.