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Monday, February 23, 2004

That Jesus movie knocked for its use of language.

No, no, the other one: The Gospel of John. In a basically positive review, James Bowman makes several good points about modern bible translations, noting they have lost their divine thunder.

For me, the movie never entirely escapes from being an illustration of what I don’t like about the [Good News] translation: its casualness and informality which, in an attempt to be "contemporary" can only succeed in making the most solemn and timeless of human stories sound dated, trivial and unreal. We know already that Galilean peasants in the first century A.D. did not talk, or think, as we do, and the attempt to portray them as doing so tends to create a sense of falseness and unreality about that which we are being asked to treat as the central event in human history.

As one who is old enough still to have the language of the Authorized or King James Version of the English Bible rattling around in my head, I believe that such older translations with their deliberate archaisms avoided this problem by preserving what linguists call the "sacral register" of the gospels, as of the liturgy. By respecting our intuitive understanding that the events they describe took place in a world very different from our own — just as they are intended to point us on our way to a world even more different — they help to preserve the mystery of faith and thus pose less of a challenge to our natural skepticism about events so remarkable.

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