Mar 122011

Here’s the TLS review of 400 Years of the King James Bible. It toucheth on many topics including translation and mistranslation and, here, yes, even on Robert Alter, critic and translator, whose formalist approach to the Bible (and the novel) dg hath always found revelatory. This little bit is quite funny.


The liveliest essay in the volume is Robert Alter’s “The glories and the glitches of the King James Bible”, in which he matches wits with the KJB translators. As the editor-translator of The Five Books of Moses (2004) and The Book of Psalms (2007), Alter is well qualified to appreciate not only the skill of the translators, but also their mistakes. After reading Alter’s essay, it is hard to feel quite the same way about the KJB’s rendering of the final chapter of Ecclesiastes, which many Anglicans of a certain age can still recite by heart: “the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets”. Alter is justly admiring of this “great sombre poem on mortality and the decay of the body”, but also points out that some of the poetic effect is actually the result of mistranslation. The Hebrew word hagav, which the KJB translates as “grasshopper”, may refer to the locust-tree; the word aviyyonah, which the KJB translates as “desire”, is probably another plant, the caper-fruit.

via 400 years of the King James Bible by Arnold Hunt – TLS.

  One Response to “Sometimes desire is just a caper-fruit after all”

  1. I thought a hagav was a wishtonwish.

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