Saturday, January 15, 2011

"The Voice of the Psalms" -- a new translation I don't recommend

I really wanted to like this translation of the Psalms on the theory that anything that gets the current generation into the Bible has got to be good. I often look at Bible passages in several different translations ranging from ones that are closer to word-for-word end of the translation spectrum to The Message on the dynamic equivalence end so I evaluated this translation of the Psalms as a "reading version" more like The Message and not a study version. Even so, there are things about this translation that I just really don't like.

I'll start with the cosmetics. It's maybe a little shallow but the way a Bible is printed is important to me. I want it to be comfortable to read. On the plus side, the text goes across the page in a single reading line, not two columns. I don't know why publishers still print Bibles in two columns because that's not the way we read. Another positive is that the margins are large enough to write notes in, but given that this is a Bible for reading and not study, that is probably unnecessary.

The positives in appearance are outweighed by the huge negative of the shading behind the words. It starts off fairly light on the bottom of the page but by the top, it is medium gray. Even the lightest parts looked smudgy and dirty. I thought it was ugly. And the way the publisher split individual Psalms over a couple pages to fit the "reflections" on the first page of the Psalm was quite irritating. This wasn't only for the longer Psalms, they split up short ones that could have fit on one page without the interruption of the "reflection." It was bad enough when a Psalm was split over facing pages, but it was most annoying to have to turn the page for the rest of the Psalm just to fit the "reflection" on the first page.

My issues with the translation itself are much more than the cosmetics. I appreciate the idea that poets, musicians and writers might help breathe life into a translation by academics but when the number of contributing writers is triple the number of Biblical scholars, I think the balance is too far skewed to the lay contributor. I also think the Biblical scholars for this book don't have the wide ranging theological background or same level of reputation in the field as the groups involved in some of the other modern translations.

But my most serious issue involves the translation itself. The first thing that bothered me is the choice of "title" for God to use in the places where the original text has the tetragrammaton (YHWH), the holiest name of God. The NIV and the New Living Translation use "the LORD" with large & small capital letters in LORD for this word and The Message uses simply "God." For some reason, the Voice translation uses Eternal One, which I don't think conveys the sense that this is God. God is, of course, eternal but that doesn't convey a name so sacred that the Jews wouldn't even say it aloud.

But even worse than the name of God, I am deeply concerned about the additions to the text that take it far beyond a dynamic equivalence and into adding thoughts that are what the translators thought should be included. The preface of this book notes that "italic type indictes words not directly tied to a dynamic translation of the original language." Given that a dynamic translation is a "thought by thought" not literal translation, going beyond that is pretty dangerous. I compared several Psalms to the NIV and NLT versions and generally either thought the added language in italics either didn't add to the understanding of the passage or were beyond what one should assume the particular psalmust intended. I thought that the italicized passages made this more like a paraphrase than a translation.

For that reason, I urge people who may be interested in getting this that it not be your only Bible. Much like "The Message" translation (which is also more of a paraphrase), if you want this for a reading version for a change of pace, keep that in mind and don't rely on it as a study Bible. At least the publishers give you the italics -- I started skipping over the italicized portions as I read it and that felt better to me. But between thinking "the LORD" in place of Eternal One and skipping over the italics, this was not a great Bible reading experience for me.

I was given a copy of this book free by the publisher, Thomas Nelson, in exchange for writing a review. I think it goes without saying that my opinion is my own and not influenced by the publisher. My review is also available on Booksneeze.

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