"peace among those whom he favours" -- the new angel of the lord

Literature These years, I always make a point watching the Candlelit carols edition of Songs of Praise. The changing of words in the hymns (which I've heard someone horridly call 'contemporising' on occasion) is a given these days. But between the carols, there were Bible readings telling the story of the nativity, which this year were read by Julia McKenzie and the late Anton Rogers in the gorgeous Hereford Cathedral. For years, my impression is that the words have been from the King James edition Bible, so beautiful and poetic and infused with awe. Here's perhaps the most famous section, it's from Luke 2:8-16 ...
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
In fact, even at a young age if I didn't remember anything directly from the Bible other than the Lord's Prayer, I remembered those words: "on earth peace, good will toward men" If nothing else, it inspired one of my favourite ever cartoons, MGM's Peace On Earth as brilliant a demonstration of why war is stupid as you're likely to see.

Not on Songs of Praise tonight though. Tonight instead I was introduced to the Holy Bible, New Standard Revised Version. Here's that same passage as it appears in the version read out in Hereford Cathedral:
"In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!'
So region instead of country. News instead of tidings. You can't say Christ -- it's the Messiah. Swaddling clothes become 'bands of cloth'.

The project was no doubt to make the Bible accessible to new generations (more of that contemporising). Arguably there shouldn't be anything wrong with that since the King James itself was translated from Greek and used so that the masses -- at least those who could read -- would have access to the word of God (I'm simplifying -- the Wikipedia inevitably has greater detail). Except in this case were not talking about going from one language to another -- it's the same language. It's just that some of the words are more archaic. It reminds me of the modernisations of Shakespeare in which the verse is translated into prose, absolutely losing the poetry. That's what's happening here -- you're going from one piece of writing which is inspiring and uplifting even to a questioner like me to something which, yes, does the job, tells the story, but lacks a sense of history.

You're into the territory of turning "on earth peace, good will toward men" into " and on earth peace among those whom he favours!" The intention here seems to be strangely PC (considering this work was done in the mid-20th century) and changing 'men' which is too gender specific for some probably into 'those he favours' which is supposed to mean everyone but in context actually sounds like God is only offering peace to those he likes, offering a whole raft of loose interpretations I'll leave in your capable hands. Why is the use of the word 'man' to encompass everyone still a polariser? Aren't actresses called actors these days?

Unsurprisingly, the Revised Standard Version also has a wiki which supplies this great quote:
"The intention was not only to create a clearer version of the Bible for the English-speaking church, but also to "preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used through the centuries" and "to put the message of the Bible in simple, enduring words that are worthy to stand in the great Tyndale-King James tradition."
Which must have looked really good on the sales brochure.

The fact that I was and am annoyed by this continues to underline that I haven't completely let go of my connection to religion just yet. And it could of course just be that I'm a stuck in the mud traditionalist who likes to hear the expected words in the right order and if I'd been brought up on the RSV, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It's just very disappointing that a text which has served us so well on the BBC for all of these years is being phased out in favour of something which seems to have been written to sound similar yet simpler because collectively, even the middle of the last century, we'd become less clever in our use and understanding of language than we used to be.

No comments:

Post a comment