By George Weigel
Biblical translation is an inexact science: a truth of which I was reminded on a recent visit to the American Bible Society’s Museum of Biblical Art in New York, where I enjoyed a brisk walk through a fine exhibit, “More Precious than Fine Gold: The English Bible in the Gilded Age.”
The curator, Dr. Liana Lupas, pointed out the Modern
American Bible, a New Testament translation by Frank S. Ballentine,
published as the 19th century was drawing to a close. One suspects that Mr. Ballentine’s labors were influenced by a commitment to Prohibition, then a hot cause among many American Protestants; his translation of Luke 5:30 has the Pharisees inveighing against Jesus’ eating with “saloon-keepers and prostitutes,” where the original Greek clearly indicates “tax collectors and sinners.”
Then there was the translation by Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886), the only woman ever to have translated the entire Bible by herself. Miss Smith was unhappy with the King James Bible (which strikes me as the only great work of art ever produced by a committee); to her mind, the Authorized Version did not hew closely enough to the original Hebrew and Greek, a putative fault she intended to repair in her own Bible.
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