Sunday, July 10, 2011

William Tyndale

There was an excellent article by Cliff Reed in the latest Inquirer about the King James Bible, and the earlier translations by William Tyndale and others. He points out that Tyndale's translations were much truer to the original texts than subsequent translations, which were manipulated politically.

William Tyndale is not forgotten in Bristol, as there is a statue of him in Millennium Square (sadly it was vandalised in 2008, and I do not know if it has been restored). There is also the Tyndale Monument on the Cotswold scarp, and the small Gloucestershire church of St Adeline's in Little Sodbury, near where Tyndale was chaplain to a local family of Protestant aristocracy has a folder of detailed information about him. (Sadly the family's chapel does not survive, though the church was built from its remains.)

I was also pleased to see both Tyndale and John Wyclif (a fourteenth-century Lollard translator upon whose work later translations were based) receive due honour in Melvyn Bragg's fascinating book, The Adventure of English: the biography of a language which demonstrates that Wyclif was responsible for the rhythmic language of the English translation of the Beatitudes.

The Bible was an important spiritual resource for centuries, and still is for some people, and I think people should be able to read it in their own language (as long as they don't go taking it literally).  I have recently bought the Jewish Study Bible (Tanakh), which is the Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Kethuvim (Writings) translated by and for Jews. If you're going to read a translation, it makes sense to me to read a translation by people who are really immersed in the language and culture of the original work, and who can explain all the symbolism and cultural references. Also, I don't hold with Christian attempts to manipulate the Tanakh to make it look as if it is prophesying the coming of Jesus. The Tanakh is a Jewish work and should primarily be seen as such. And of course Jewish translations are blessedly free of such attempts.

Nevertheless the Wycliffe and Tyndale translations are classic works that have deeply influenced the subsequent development of English language and culture, and given us many proverbs and sayings, and so, as Isaiah puts it, "Look to the rock whence ye are hewn, and the pit whence ye are digged."

UPDATE: The William Tyndale statue is back - I was in millennium square it was there.


Steve Hayes said...

Aren't Jewish translations dogged with slightly different attempts?

In a purely historical sense both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged from Second-Temple Judaism, along with a lot of other things, but historically only those two survived.

There is a sense in which each is markedly different from what went before, and in their subsequent writings they have attempted to make the previous writings (Old Testament/Tanakh) support their later practices and beliefs. For my review of an interesting book that describes some of this process see Angels and demons and egregores (book review) | Khanya

Yewtree said...

That's very interesting. However, I would argue that the Rabbinic tradition is a continuous development out of the earlier tradition, whereas in many ways, Christianity represents a radical break with it.