Monday, 22 July 2002

In the beginning & Granta 75

Listening to:

ENZSO. A recent production of a dozen songs by the '70s/early 80s New Zealand band Split Enz, with singing mainly by the Finn brothers (who led Split Enz, and then went on to the band Crowded House), and backed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Just read:

Alister McGrath, In the beginning: the story of the King James Bible.

This is a readable account of how the King James translation of the Bible came to be made. It starts with Gutenberg and his development of the modern printing process, and describes how one of his first publications was a Bible (in Latin). Then comes a chapter giving the rudiments of Martin Luther's story and how this heightened demands for Bibles in national languages.

The focus then switches almost exclusively to English language translations. There were a number of these through the 16th century, and each is described. In this period, something that now seems pretty trivial was a very significant business, being part of the transformation of religious practice in England. For example, it seems that James’s commissioning of the new translation was seen by him as an opportunity to replace the Geneva Bible. This translation was probably pretty unremarkable in its text, but came accompanied by all sorts of annotations that seemed to James to be anti-King, and drew far too many parallels between modern circumstances and the justified deposing of ancient tyrants.

McGrath explains how the translation process went ahead, and also how some of the language came to be there. For example, the use of the word “its” as a neuter possessive was only just coming into use (it occurs once in the whole thing: That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap (Lev. 25:5)), and instead they used “his” (correct usage then), as in Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour (Matt. 5:13), or avoided the issue entirely, and contorted things, as in Two cubits and a half be the length thereof. There are a number of other interesting linguistic comments made.

The book’s flaws are that it is surprisingly repetitive on occasion (even once on the same page), and rather simplistic in some of its explanation of the historical background. In particular, the description of the Renaissance sounds as if the author thinks his readers are ten year olds.

Granta 75: brief encounters (contents)

This issue of the magazine was an enjoyable read. There are some interesting literary reminiscences by Richard Murphy and Michael Mewshaw, but this issue’s strength is its fiction (particularly Paul Theroux's story, and a neat story about a gay man in a wheel-chair in Tamil Nadu, by Adam Mars-Jones), and its final non-fiction piece. This is a neuro-physiologist’s account of performing a diagnostic test on a young woman with epilepsy. It’s creepy (being able to turn off half of a person’s brain, and even, sticking a catheter in someone’s thigh to reach their heart), but fascinating as well.

To read next:

Kitchen confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.