The discussion in comments here last week about attempts to read the entire Bible raised the question of English translations.
One of my favorite discussions of this comes from a Kathleen Norris piece written for The Christian Century in 1997. Norris argues for what she calls "incarnational language":
Incarnational language might be defined as ordinary words that resonate with the senses as they aim for the stars. This language goes against the modern tendency toward abstraction. For example, in Isaiah 40:6, the [King James Version] gives us one of the great lines of poetry in English — "All flesh is grass." This line of verse has spoken volumes both to poets and to illiterate people since the 17th century. Like many other passages from the KJV, it has entered literate and English idiom. Of the modern Bible translations I have consulted, only Oxford retains "all flesh is grass." The rest make a sorry litany:
All men are like grass (New International Version)
All mankind is grass (New American Bible)
All people are grass (New Revised Standard Version)
All humanity is grass (New Jerusalem)
The Good News Bible demotes the metaphor to a simile (and makes an ugly mouthful) with "All mankind is like the grass."
As the Psalms are ancient poetry, which tends toward the concrete and physical rather than the abstract, I suspected that the word being translated here, the "flesh" of the KJV, would correspond most closely to the literal meaning of the Hebrew. When I asked a Hebrew scholar about this, he told me that the word was basar, meaning meat, something one eats. He said that the word in this context also would refer to human beings. This make my point rather well: in the late 20th century, when referring to human beings, we prefer abstraction. But poets now, and poets thousands of years ago, choose the more physical word, the one with broader metaphorical resonance.