Monday, June 27, 2005

gnosis 2: Bible translations

"In all truth I tell you,
we speak only about what we know
and witness only to what we have seen
and yet you people reject our evidence."
- Jesus, as recorded in John 3:11

MacGregor heads his first chapter, GNOSIS AND GNOSTICISM, with this quote from Jesus. He uses the Jerusalem Bible wording: "I tell you most solemnly" which I've replaced with the New Jerusalem Bible wording: "In all truth I tell you". I couldn't find an on-line Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible I did find is unofficial and possibly illegal, since there is copyright protection on the original. Because I use on-line versions of the Bible (I don't have even one hard copy) it took me a long time to track down just which Bible translation MacGregor was using. He doesn't specify it, probably assuming that his readers would just know which it was.

I normally use which has 20 English translations but, in my search, I discovered a good extra resource in which has an additional 14 versions. I'm quite staggered by all this. I get the impression that The New Jerusalem Bible is the best around and the one I would probably prefer if I ever decided to invest in a hard copy. Until then, however, I'll stick with the King James Version for short pieces and the New International Version for longer stories. If the New Jerusalem Bible offers something better, though, I'll check that one out as well.

In this instance, I think the NJB actually does offer that little extra. Here are seven other versions of this John 3:11 passage:
John 3:11

King James Version:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

New International Version:
I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

New American Standard Bible:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.

Hebrew Names Version:
Most assuredly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don't receive our witness.

Peshitta - Lamsa Translation:
Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak only what we know, and we testify only to what we have seen; and yet you do not accept our testimony.

I can guarantee this truth: We know what we're talking about, and we confirm what we've seen. Yet, you don't accept our message.

THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language:
Listen carefully. I'm speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions.

To me, the key word is the "only" that turns up in the NJB, the Lamsa and MESSAGE. It gives a far more gnostic feel to the words than do the translations without it. Whether consciously done or not, the other less gnostic translations seem to clean the writing of what could be regarded as somewhat occult. At first I thought I was on a wild goose chase here, counting up and obsessing over all these different translations. However, I rather think that no word can be overlooked here. Any word can be an important key which, if lost or distorted, can keep important mysteries locked away.

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