THE FACE OF WATER by Sarah Ruden


A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible
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A poet and translator of classical literature tackles the Good Book to find concealed biblical meaning and nuance.

There are peculiarities, Ruden (Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, 2010, etc.) discovered, with the King’s English versions of the Old and New Testaments, even if that King is James. Of course, other translations of Scripture have faults, too, but when one seeks to understand what they meant when they first entered the canon, King James is the standard for comparison. The author digs into the original classic Hebrew for the Old Testament and “common dialect” Koine Greek for the New. She compares the rhetorical conventions, grammar, style, and poetics of the Hebrew and Greek to the King James. As paired case studies in translation, she presents, among other passages, the story of David and Bathsheba and the Lord’s Prayer, the accounts of Genesis and the Virgin Birth, the Ten Commandments and the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the book of Jonah and Paul’s comments on circumcision. Ruden retranslates these passages primarily for accuracy. “Don’t close this book,” she writes, “and turn on a PBS documentary about ferrets: what I’m about to tell you is way more interesting.” She follows that with a grammar lesson on indicative and subjunctive moods in Hebrew verb forms. Terms for figures of speech abound, and appended at length are translations with transliterations of Hebrew and Greek with their linguistic peculiarities intact; it will surely be unhelpful to acolytes, while experts will ignore the linguistic detours. Ruden finds hidden meaning in the intricate arrangement of the ancient vocabularies, poetics, and lifestyles, and therein lies the fun. The book is often a master class in translation and Bible studies, though casual readers will decide if her “giant crowd” is more felicitous than “great multitude.”

No version of the Bible is the last word, as this text for grammarians, seminarians, and savants demonstrates—simultaneously didactic and entertaining, academic and easygoing.

Pub Date: March 28th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-307-90856-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2017


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