Danté by Dorothy

Title: The Divine Comedy, Part 1: Hell
Author: Danté Alighieri
Translator: Dorothy L. Sayers
(Yes, the same one who wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey series)
Genre: Classic Narrative Poetry
Pages: 352
Rating: 4 of 5

In her translation of the Divine Comedy, Dorothy L. Sayers manages to closely approximate the terza rima of the original (rhyme scheme ABA BCB CDC, DED, etc.). I love it when a translator takes this approach to narrative poetry. The original author chose a specific form (whether meter, rhyme, alliteration, or something else), and I want to experience as close as I can to that original artistry as I read the poem, even if it sometimes means a slightly less precise translation.

Danté’s journey through hell is much more than a morbid freak show of horrors, though that is all you might get out of it without some scholarly help. The poetry is accompanied by insightful notes explaining historical and mythological references, theological and philosophical concepts, and the allegorical/symbolic meaning behind the story. As with any literary analysis, some of the interpretation of symbolism is highly conjectural and probably says more about the commentator than it does about authorial intent. However, the overall understanding of “this is sin stripped of its glamor” and “this is the soul progressing toward repentance” do seem to fit very well.

I have read the entire Divine Comedy before, but this translations and accompanying notes have made it a completely different, more understandable experience. I come from a different theological viewpoint than either the author (Medieval Roman Catholic) or translator (Anglican), but appreciated some of the spiritual insights of the poem and commentary. I am curious if this will continue to be the case as I continue into the other two volumes where our theology diverges even farther (e.g. the existence of purgatory, the role of Mary, etc.).

Overall, if you are interested in The Divine Comedy, can’t read it in the original language, and don’t need word-for-word precision, I highly recommend trying this translation.

Using Biblical Hebrew Responsibly

Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation by [Hardy, H. H. II]Title: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew –
A Refreshing Guide to Grammar & Interpretation
Author: H. H. Hardy II
Genre: Biblical Studies / Translation Theory
Pages: 224
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Publication Date: 7/16/19 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of this review)

A Couple months ago I reviewed the companion volume to this book (Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek) and strongly recommended it. Pretty much everything that I said about that book goes for this one. It is an excellent resource for second year (or maybe even second semester) biblical Hebrew students or those (like me) wishing to brush up on what they studied back in college/seminary.

Each short chapter provides a sample verse and discusses one major aspect of grammar and interpretation. It shows the proper way to use your knowledge of biblical Hebrew rather than the “gold nuggets” approach that reads way too much into every little nuance of the language. This book did seem to have a little more technical jargon in it than its Greek counterpart, but it may just be that my Hebrew is way rustier than my Greek, so I can’t say for sure.

The eARC that I read had some serious formatting issues with the Hebrew font (it frequently read left-to-right with no vowel pointings). I am assuming that this will not be the case in the finished product. With that assumption, I highly recommend this book to anyone in the middle of learning biblical Hebrew or who needs a little refresher course.

Using Koine Responsibly

Title: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Greek –
A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation
Author: Benjamin L. Merkle
Genre: Biblical Studies / Translation Theory
Pages: 192
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Publication Date: 6/16/19 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of this review)

This book targets a specific audience: people who have already studied at least a semester or two (or equivalent) of koine Greek. If that’s you and you’re looking to enhance your understanding and/or brush up on your long-neglected biblical Greek, I highly recommend this book (also this youtube video). If you don’t fit into that category (which might be almost everyone who regularly reads this blog…sorry to bore you!), this probably isn’t worth your time. It might give you a basic overview of the kinds of things that knowing koine Greek can (and can’t) help you with in New Testament exegesis, but the frequent Greek text and technical jargon will probably make it an exercise in frustration.

The book is divided into many short chapters that cover grammatical issues related to case, tense, voice, mood, etc. Each chapter describes the concept under discussion and provides an example of how understanding it can help in accurate interpretation in a sample passage. There were a few times where I would have liked to see a little bit more thorough argumentation in the interpretation section, but that is the price of brevity I suppose. I appreciate that the author carefully avoids reading more information into a grammatical construction or vocabulary choice than is actually warranted. The whole book illustrates how a knowledge of biblical Greek should be used in ministry, avoiding the pitfalls of common exegetical fallacies.

Overall, this is an excellent resource for sharpening your understanding and use of Koine. If I were a professor of biblical Greek this would be at the top of the collateral reading list for second year (or maybe even second semester) students.

The KJV & Vernacular Translations

Title: Authorized – The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible
Author: Mark Ward
Genre: Theology / Translation Theory
Pages: 154
Rating: 5 of 5

“If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, then it’s good enough for me!” Obviously, this statement is (mostly) a caricature of the KJV-Only or KJV-Superiority positions. However, it demonstrates that when it comes to discussing the merits of various English Bible translations, reasonableness and graciousness far too often take a backseat to emotional appeals and exaggerated claims (from both sides).

This book is probably the most gracious, even-handed discussion of the King James Version that I have ever read. It starts with a thoughtful chapter on “what we lose as the the church stops using the KJV” – mostly a sense of historical value, continuity, uniformity, and grandeur when it comes to the language.

The author then goes on to talk about what we gain by having the Bible translated into modern vernacular. He discusses the biblical rationale behind having vernacular translations. For example: the New Testament was originally written in vernacular Koine Greek rather than grand/archaic Classical Greek, the Apostle Paul repeatedly speaks of the necessity of communicating in easily understandable language , the KJV itself was intended to be a vernacular translation back in 1611, the continuously changing nature of language, etc. He answers common objections and shows the reliability and spiritual value of many modern language translations (e.g. the ESV & NIV) without disparaging the historic value or scholarship of the KJV.

He does not go into detailed scholarly arguments about manuscripts and textual families since this is a popular level book (and those arguments are tremendously overblown). However, he does provide this website as a resource to show the slight differences between the different editions of the Greek New Testament that underlie the KJV and more modern translations.

If you are curious about Bible translation or think that the KJV is the only “definitive” English Bible translation fit for mature Christians I urge you to read this book. If you are interested in a slightly more scholarly approach that does go into manuscript/textual issues I would also highly recommend The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism by D. A. Carson. It is quite a bit older (1978), but the general principles discussed in it still hold true.

A closing quote from the book:

I want to change the paradigm we’ve all been assuming. Stop looking for the “best” English Bible. It doesn’t exist. God never said it would. Take up the embarrassment of riches we now have. Make the best use of our multi-translation situation, because it’s truly a great problem to have. (p. 137)