Kudos to Baronius Press in the U.K. on their reissue of the mid-century Bible translation by Monsignor Ronald Knox. Knox’s rendition is an unusual combination of dynamic-equivalence translation and high literary quality.
The best argument I’ve seen for the literal-translation philosophy is that it doesn’t foreclose any options by privileging the translator’s own interpretation: If the text can mean two or three things, the translator should leave the phrasing close to the original and leave the interpretation to the reader, instead of deciding for one and letting the reader assume that’s the only one possible. But I find the counter-argument persuasive: Better to let the translated version have a meaning, than to leave it opaque in the hopes that the reader will figure out what it means by looking at a footnote or a commentary.
One of the Bible passages people love to chuckle about — the great British comedian Stephen Fry even got a book title out of it! – is from Psalm 108:9. The KJV has “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe . . . “ Knox decides to transform the colorful but obscure Hebraisms into what an Englishman would say if he were trying to convey the same ideas: “Moab, too, shall be my drudge; over Edom I will claim my right. . . .” The noun “drudge” is much less common now that it was 60 years ago when Knox was writing, yet is still understood by most; and the meaning of the passage about Edom is much clearer, because the reader does not need to understand ancient legal rituals surrounding property claims in order to make sense of it.
An earlier version of the book was published as “Trials of a Translator,” and it’s an appropriate title: Knox’s Bible was treated as something of a stepchild by the Catholic Church in the U.K. It deserves its day in the sun, and Baronius Press is to be commended for making that possible.