Monday, November 28, 2016

The Murderous HIstory of Bible Translations - Harry Freedman

I often sense a tendency in myself to take having an English translation of the Old and New Testaments for granted.  But, as Harry Freedman demonstrates in his book, The Murderous History of Bible Translations: Power, Conflict, and the Quest for Meaning, I shouldn't take it for granted and should appreciate all the more the effort and sacrifice that went in to getting the written Word of God into a book that ordinary people could read. 

In this book Freedman does an excellent job at writing, he grasps and keeps one's attention, and it flows nicely.  He takes you through history, beginning with the translation of the Old Testament and then goes on to include the New in the focus as well.  Translating God's Word into the common vernacular of any people was often very tumultuous and controversial, and we see this down the passage of time that the author takes us through and we also see this as we look through the viewpoint of different translators who took many risks to make the translation. 

Though I really like the book, I feel the need to mention that there were several things that I did not like, for instance, statements like:  "…even to this day, radical fundamentalism hasn't gone away.  And religious extremism relies upon a revealed, unmediated, literal reading of Scripture, one which rejects the prism of human interpretation."(pg.139)  Perhaps I am misunderstanding what the author is saying, but I think that' religious extremism' is that which focuses upon the "prism of human interpretation" without interpreting the Word of God with a literal/grammatical-historical hermeneutic. To be extreme is to not take the Bible for what it says, to not interpret it literally.  Interpreting the Bible "literally" in my view is to interpret it correctly in context: taking allegory as allegory, historical narrative as narrative, prophecy as prophecy, …etc. But again, perhaps I misunderstand what he meant by that statement.

This book seemed more or less secular look at the history of Bible translation (as one can probably deduce from the above quotation), but Freedman did a very good job at giving the perspective of the translators (whether Christian or Jewish). whose lives he recounts.  All in all, I really liked the history given, it is very, very interesting and an informative read.  Knowing this history should drive Christians more to reading this Holy Book that people in the past translated and read in secret, suffered and died for; many considered the Words it contains as much more valuable than their lives or comfort in this earth. We Americans should do the same and take advantage of our wonderful privilege of being able to simply sit down and read it without fear of punishment,  imprisonment or death for having done so.

Many Thanks to the folks at Bloomsbury Press for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

One of the places where this book may be purchased is at

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