Italics in the King James Version
Posted: 29 November 2013 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]
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My King James Version has certain words in italics, but I can’t find anything in it to explain what the italics mean: nor does there seem to be a pattern to it. What is the significance?

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Posted: 29 November 2013 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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OP Tipping - 29 November 2013 07:58 AM

My King James Version has certain words in italics, but I can’t find anything in it to explain what the italics mean: nor does there seem to be a pattern to it. What is the significance?

I don’t have my copy at hand, but I believe that the italics signify an addition of a clarifying word in English that doesn’t exist in the Hebrew or Greek. so for example John 1:12,

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

The “even” was inserted for clarity. or in the same John 1 passage, v. 23

Ἐγὼ φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ

is literally “I voice crying in the wilderness.” The KJV adds “am” for clarity, but wants to be faithful to the text by showing that the editors/translators added the word.

[ Edited: 29 November 2013 10:41 AM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 29 November 2013 09:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s weird.

To make this distinction kind of suggests a misunderstanding about the nature of translation.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 04:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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There’s a long tradition of angst over “word-for-word” versus “sense-for-sense” translations of the Bible. In English, it goes back as far as Ælfric’s translation of Genesis c. 1000, and even earlier to Jerome in the Latin. The tension is that one should not change the word of God, but in order to produce a translation that makes sense one has to. The italics would seem to be one way to release some of that tension. It’s not the result of a misunderstanding of how translation works, but rather the opposite.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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OP Tipping - 29 November 2013 09:56 PM

That’s weird.

To make this distinction kind of suggests a misunderstanding about the nature of translation.

Before the Authorized Version there were other attempts to translate the Bible into “vulgar tongues” (Latin was the first, thus “Vulgate). All were met with derision and worse. The assumption (not altogether wrong) that any translation will be a distortion of the original Hebrew and Greek (as if such a coherent thing exists). So the question was not “How” do we translate these holy words into a vulgar tongue, but “whether” such a blasphemy should be undertaken at all.

At the time of the AV, there were also various codices and manuscripts at hand that disagreed with one another about the original languages. The AV translators also used italics to indicate that they were using non-authorized Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (not authorized in the sense of departing from Jerome’s Vulgate). The reader could then decide whether their move was faithful or not.

More modern translations do something similar to italics. Footnotes in my Oxford Annotated note where the rendering they offer is an educated guess given the obscurity of the text. Hebrew words used only once throughout the bible make translating difficult at best. Rabbinical commentary often helps to suss out obscure texts, but too often such commentary is loaded with the prejudices of the times and culture.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Before the Authorized Version there were other attempts to translate the Bible into “vulgar tongues” (Latin was the first, thus “Vulgate). All were met with derision and worse.

Such derision, however, was far from universal, and English (and I suppose other languages) translations exist for pretty much all periods, albeit usually as individual books—relatively few took on the task of translating the entire Bible. (There are, for example, extant Old English versions of the Heptateuch and the Psalms.) The AV is heavily reliant on Tyndale’s earlier translation into English, so much so that one could consider the AV to be a revision and updating of Tyndale.

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Posted: 30 November 2013 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I would say that even Tyndale ran into difficulties. This from Wikipedia (with appropriate cautions)

The chain of events that led to the creation of Tyndale’s New Testament possibly began in 1522, the year Tyndale acquired a copy of Martin Luther’s German New Testament. Inspired by Luther’s work, Tyndale began a translation into English using a Greek text “compiled by Erasmus from several manuscripts older and more authoritative than the Latin Vulgate” of St. Jerome (A.D. c.340-420), the only translation authorized by the Roman Catholic Church. Tyndale made his purpose known to the Bishop of London at the time, Cuthbert Tunstall, but was refused permission to produce this “heretical” text. Thwarted in England, Tyndale moved to the continent. A partial edition was put into print in 1525 in Cologne. But before the work could be completed, Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities and forced to flee to Worms, where the first complete edition of his New Testament was published in 1526. Two revised versions were later published in 1534 and 1536, both personally revised by Tyndale himself. After his death in 1536 Tyndale’s works were revised and reprinted numerous times and are reflected in more modern versions of the Bible, including, perhaps most famously, the King James Bible.

The use of the “more ancient authorities” caused part of the stir, but this challenge to the Holy Catholic Church was not looked on with pleasure.

Tyndale’s translations were condemned in England, where his work was banned and copies burned. Catholic officials, prominently Thomas More,[16] charged that he had purposely mistranslated the ancient texts in order to promote anti-clericalism and heretical views, In particular they cited the terms “church,” “priest,” “do penance” and “charity,” which became in the Tyndale translation “congregation,” “senior” (changed to “elder” in the revised edition of 1534), “repent” and “love,” challenging key doctrines of the Roman Church. Betrayed to church officials in 1536, he was defrocked in an elaborate public ceremony and turned over to the civil authorities to be strangled to death and burned at the stake. His last words are said to have been, “Lord, open the eyes of the king of England!"(citation needed)

It is said that the strangulation was not entirely effective and he was conscious during his burning.

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Posted: 01 December 2013 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I didn’t mean to imply that there were not those who objected to translating the Bible, only to state that those objections coexisted with a large and eager audience for vernacular Bibles. I didn’t want readers of the thread to think that the AV was the first English translation. It wasn’t even the first English Bible to carry royal approval; that was Coverdale’s 1539 Bible, which was largely based on Tyndale’s translations.

And before Tyndale there was Wycliffe (and his associates) in the fourteenth century. Many of Wycliffe’s ideas—not just about translating the Bible—were declared heretical, but he was not excommunicated nor defrocked, and he died of natural causes. (Although, some of his associates were, and some forty-five years after his death his body was exhumed and burned at the stake.)

Plus there are a host of medieval interlinear glosses of the Bible, where individuals took it upon themselves to create their own translations (or did it for others). Before the printing press, this was a practical way to provide a Latin-English version of the Bible. (The printing press was truly “revolutionary,” so much so that it changed what we consider to be a “book” and how books were read and used. Today we often consider such glosses to be defacing a book, but in a manuscript culture, it’s a form of interactive text and a way to create a new text that is just as authoritative as the unmarked copy.)

The Reformation and the advent of the printing press gave a huge boost to the commercial viability of vernacular translations of the Bible, but the practice has always been common, even if frowned upon or worse. And as the different fates of Wycliffe (pre-Luther) and Tyndale (contemporary of Luther) show, with the Reformation came a crackdown and a hardening of the Roman Catholic doctrine. Prior to the Reformation, biblical translation was discouraged, but the Church didn’t do much to stop it. But once there was a viable alternative to its authority, the Church became more hardline. It’s a mistake to take such attitudes present during the Reformation and apply them to earlier eras.

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Posted: 01 December 2013 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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That’s weird.

To make this distinction kind of suggests a misunderstanding about the nature of translation.

Well, you have to take into consideration the significance of the text in many people’s lives, especially those who were doing the translating.  Religious matters are often judged by different criteria than secular ones.

In addition, the Bible contains a number of warnings against any attempt to add to (or subtract from) it:
Deut. 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God.
Prov. 30:5-6 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Rev. 22:18-19 18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Given these injunctions and threats, it’s not too surprising that the translators took pains to distinguish words that were not directly attributable to the texts they were translating.

I recall, but have not searched for, a previous discussion of this non-intuitive use of italics, and somebody mentioning a former pastor or schoolmaster who, when reading aloud, assumed the more usual convention that the italicized words were to receive extra emphasis.  I suspect this is actually a rather common misapprehension.

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