The Knox Bible is a Treasure

My First Things column this week takes a look at the madness that is upon us in these final days of a deplorably long and seemingly never-ending electoral season, and then shares what I have been using to lift myself out of the funk and fug when the headlines, opinions and debates are all-too-heavy:

Still, there is a restlessness, and in recent weeks, when that feeling comes upon me, I have found an outlet in an unexpected source—Baronius Press’ newly released edition of Msgr. Ronald Knox’s translation of the Saint Jerome’s Vulgate Bible; The so-called Knox Bible . . . is not a study bible; it’s a reading bible, and Knox’s language pulls us into the scriptural stories and images we know so very well and then elevates us with its staggering beauty.

Opening the book at random, I encountered the Song of Songs:

What a wound thou hast made, my bride, my true love, what a wound thou hast made in this heart of mine! And all with one glance of an eye, all with one ringlet straying on thy neck!

There, in a few dozen words, I got a glimpse of the whole mystery of God’s design and his ineffable love for us. The Creator so beguiled with his Creation that he is willing to become vulnerable to it; willing to live and bleed and die for the sake of such a love. Knox’s translation crystallized the truth that we can too easily forget in our electoral anxieties, that yes, God’s hand has been involved—from the first nanosecond, in all of our human affairs—and it remains, even when society seems adrift, and when the princes of the world seem wholly inadequate to their offices.

You can read the rest here.

Baronius supplied me with a review copy of the Knox Bible and I have to say, I’m loving it. My son happened to be home when it arrived and he was immediately struck by its material beauty — the leather binding, the two markers and gilt-edged pages, but when he opened it up and saw the prose format, I had a hard time getting it from his hands.

This is a bible meant for hunkering-down-to-read and becoming lost within–a true escape into another place, from where you emerge refreshed and elevated from simple joy of reacquainting oneself with language structure that is slightly higher and more formal than the usual, but more readable and (perhaps) accessible than the Douay Rheims.

As I mentioned at First Things, my random opening took me to the Song of Songs and when I went to the beginning of that book, I was captivated. Accustomed to “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; more delightful is your love than wine…” (which is perfectly lovely) I confess I was still got a jolt from the immediacy of Knox’s lush romance:

A kiss from those lips! Wine cannot ravish the senses like that embrace, nor the fragrance of rare perfumes match it for delight. Thy very name spoken soothes the heart like flow of oil; what wonder the maids should love thee?

From there, I moved to the Book of Tobit (or, Tobias), Chapter 3:

So at last Tobias fell a-sighing, and he prayed still, but wept as he prayed. Lord, he said, thou hast right on thy side; no award of thine but is deserved, no act of thine but tells of mercy, of faithfulness and of justice. Yet bethink thee, Lord of my case; leave my sins unpunished, my guilt and the guilt of my parents forgotten. If we are doomed to loss, to banishment and to death, if though hast made us a by-word and a laughing-stock in all the countries to which thou has banished us, it is because we have defied they commandments…

Yeah, I read that, took a look at the state of the world, the church, the nation and decided to commit that to memory, for future use!

Then I moved to the psalms, which are such a big part of my life. And once again, I discovered that the Grail Translations are still my favorite, but it was interesting reading the psalms as prose-poems; here’s part of Psalm 19 (18):

See how the skies proclaim God’s glory, how the vault of heaven betrays his craftsmanship! Each day echoes its secret to the next, each night passes on to the next its revelation of knowledge…

And then, of course, the beginning of John’s gospel:

At the beginning of time the Word already was; and God had the Word abiding with him, and the Word was God. He abode, at the beginning of time, with God. It was through him that all things came into being, and without him came nothing that has come to be. In him there was life, and that life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness, a darkness which was not able to master it.

It’s good to read different translations of scripture, particularly in prayer. A new translation — the use of a different word — and suddenly one has a fresh perspective for lectio divinaone gleans something all-new for pondering. In this little section, what jumped out at me and filled my prayer-journal was: without him came nothing that has come to be. . But Knox’s footnotes acknowledged another interpretation that gave me even more.

Since this is not a study bible, footnotes are minimal and are directly concerned with the translation and they’re quite conversational as Knox explains why he chose a particular word over another.

Baronius includes with this bible a brief booklet written by Knox, “On Englishing the Bible.” I’m only reading a little bit as I can, but it’s pretty charming and again, as conversational as you could wish.

UPDATE:
Apparently I’m not the only one moved to tears by this translation

Also looking at the Knox Bible:
The Hermeneutic of Continuity

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