Monday, May 7, 2018

The 23rd Psalm

Psalm 23. 

A Psalm of David. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; 
He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul; 
He guideth me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. 

That is the 23rd Psalm as it appeared the copy of the Holy Scriptures, i.e., the Old Testament, when I was growing up. It is translated from the Masoretic text, and is very similar to the King James Version. It is absolutely beautiful and yet, you rarely get to hear it read aloud in this version. You will hear one or another so-called modern translations that might indeed be more accurate but are leaden and, frankly, awful.

As Dwight MacDonald said in his review of the Revised Standard Version in The New Yorker (and later, the New English Bible) many years ago, they have taken the poetry out of it. He noted that the King James was produced at a time when English was a language in which some of the greatest poetry was written--viz., Shakespeare and Milton, just to name two. Moreover, think of how many titles of all kinds of books--novels and plays especially--have been taken from these words, and not from the currently published revisions.

So every time I hear this great psalm read aloud or written, usually at funerals, unveilings, or memorial services, I cringe. The poetry is gone and no one seems to care. The officiants--be they Christian or Jewish--do not question the sorry text they are intoning. They do not notice that many in the congregation did grow up with the version based on the King James, and I suspect many find the new renditions as ugly as I do. 

When you get a chance, tell your pastor about this and tell him or her that it matters. Some in the Jewish world might take umbrage at adhering to something labelled the King James Version. However, the editions handed out at every bar or bat mitzvah reflected use of the translation based on the Masoretic text--the only recognized or extant version of the Old Testament--and that text was translated then in a form--around the turn of the 20th Century, I believe--that was almost entirely the same as the King James. 'Tis a glorious thing, indeed.

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