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June 24, 2004



Wouldn't they have to stop calling it a "translation"?

I support modernizing the language a bit, but: "that's my boy, you're doing fine"?
Aren't some Christians older than 5 years old?

(Unfortunately, "pigeon" is zoologically more accurate)


I have no interest whatsoever in any form of religion, but I share your judgement about the language of the Authorised Version. If the appalling and limp travesty you quote is typical of the whole they should be pulped immediately and whoever employed the translator set to read the Authorised Version aloud for the rest of their days.

David Gillies

I too commented in the same vein about this on another blog. I can imagine the distress I would feel were I a Christian and I was faced with this drivel. What I find hard to imagine is the motivation of those who would inflict this dreadful, leaden, banausic prose on us in the name of 'accessibility'. Perhaps it was the inverted maxim 'it is fixed, therefore it must be broken' that animates so many petty bureaucrats and functionaries today. Williams should be ashamed of himself for charging these ignorant jackanapes with the utterly unnecessary task of adulterating the KJV. Its offensiveness is rivaled by its spuriousness.

Funnily enough, I am at this moment reading the fourth edition of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, in which Orwell's reworking of Ecclesiastes appears. The perpetrators of this monstrosity should be forced at gunpoint to read this excellent little book, and not be permitted to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard until they have grasped its lessons.


William Tyndale was burned at the stake for his pains. The modern translators deserve at least as much.


I think it’s important to contextualize the scriptural revisions Oliver has (commendably) condemned. They belong, after all, to a long tradition of retrofitting history to fit contemporary sensibilities. Biblical translators and editors have since time immemorial…adjusted…earlier texts to current proprieties. And such obnoxious “fixing” is hardly confined to the Bible.

Shakespeare's repeatedly “edited for contemporary taste” works have received similar treatment. One popular expurgation is particularly relevant here:

Thomas and Harriet Bowdler's Family Shakespeare (1818), omitted all "those words and expressions that cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family," so as not to "raise a blush to the cheeks of modesty.” This “politically correct” edition apparently inspired the use of the term "bowdlerization" as a synonym for expurgation.

Another Shakespeare example, among thousands: bookseller John Benson's censored edition of Shakespeare's sonnets (1640) kept English readers out of “harm's way” until 1766. Even today, Octavio Digital Rare Books continues to reprint Benson's expurgated version of the sonnets.

(And imagine, if you can, that The Bowdler or Benson versions were the only extant versions. Shiver.)

The Archbishop of Canterbury authorized and “gay-friendly” passages Oliver excerpted have an especially interesting place within revisionist history. Most, if not all, classical texts referencing homosexuality were once gleefully revised, rearranged, and sometimes even utterly removed, to accommodate changing sexual world-views and expectations. (And few of us even today express much distress at learning about revisions of that sort.)

Altering problematic pronouns, for instance, has been fashionable among fastidious editors for centuries--at least since Michelangelo's grandnephew did so to conceal the scandalously hirsute nature of the objects of his uncle's poetic affections. When the popular Persian moral fables of Sa'di were translated into English in the early nineteenth century, Francis Gladwin helpfully made each tale more acceptable to his own age by performing sex-change operations on half the cast of characters. As late as the middle of the twentieth century, the homoerotic ghazels of Hafiz were still being surgically altered this way.

Then there's the venerable revisionist standby: simple deletion. From the removal of mere suspect nouns and verbs and adjectives, to the removal of lengthy passages, to excising from the Western Cannon entire awkward works. Thomas Francklin, for instance, deleted all of Pseudo-Lucian’s treatise Amores (Affairs of the Heart) from his respected and often reprinted The Works of Lucian (1781). Why? Because that work was dedicated to answering a question Francklin considered socially and morally unaskable: do men experience better sex with women or with other men?

The late Harvard Professor John Boswell--the man who arguably labored more diligently than any other scholar in history to retrieve the original sexual intent of many ancient authors--has written extensively about commonplace revisionism:

“Probably the most entertaining efforts to conceal homosexuality from the public have been undertaken by the editors of the Loeb Classics, the standard collection of Greek and Latin classical texts with English translation. Until very recently many sections of Greek works in this series dealing with overt homosexuality were translated not into English but Latin, and some explicit passages in Latin found their way into Italian. In addition to the ambiguous comment this procedure makes on the morals of Italian readers, it has the curious effect of highlighting every salacious passage in the major classics, since the interested reader (with the appropriate linguistic skills) has only to skim the English translation looking for Latin or Italian…In the Loeb translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses the Latin “inpia virgo” (“shameless girl”) becomes, by virtue of its occurrence in a homosexual context, “unnatural girl,” even though her desires have been specifically characterized as “natural” by Ovid only a few lines above…Even those who have taken the trouble to learn the requisite tongues find that most lexical aids decline to comment on the meaning of terms related to acts of which the lexicographers disapprove; only painstaking collation and very extensive reading in the sources enables the investigator to uncover with any degree of accuracy the actions and attitudes of previous cultures with have not suited the tastes of modern scholarship.”

The alarming scriptural revisions Oliver has sited, then, are simply the latest additions in a long line of revisionist "scholarship."

Our alarm, it seems to me, unfortunately has less to do with our loyalty to an unaltered literature (or liturgy) than it does to the fact that the revisions Oliver sited indicate a world-view in transition, and therefore still controversial and contested.

Will such alarm survive a hundred years hence?

Yes, if our descendants value understanding what ancient authors actually meant over what our descendants--trapped in their own fleeting future age--might prefer them to have meant.

No, if our descendants are at all like the Archbishop of Canterbury.


John Henson, who is responsible for this new version of the Bible, is described in the article as "a retired Baptist minister". So it seems a little unfair to pin the blame on the poor old C of E.

The Archbishop of Canterbury praises the book as "a vehicle for thinking and worshipping" -- which is quite a different thing from praising it as a translation. He certainly doesn't seem to be suggesting that it should replace the standard translations of the Bible.

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