The Translators to the Reader
One of the most interesting parts of the King James Bible is the statement by the translators (written by Myles Smith, who would become Bishop of Gloucester the next year) entitled “The Translators to the Reader.” This statement sets forth what the objectives of the translators were, why the translation is justified, answering objectives from both Catholics and Calvinists who object to a new translation, and explaining the translation philosophy of the authors.
Unfortunately, it is also a dense piece of academic prose, that freely mixes English with Latin and Greek, and has long, complicated sentences. Opening my copy at random, I find this single sentence, for example:
But the difference that appeareth between our Translations, and our often correcting of them, is the thing that we are specially charged with; let us see therefore whether they themselves be without fault this way, (if it be to be counted a fault, to correct) and whether they be fit men to throw stones at us: O tandem maior parcas insane minori: they that are less sound themselves, out not to object infirmities to others. [Horat.]
One gets the general sense of the sentence, but following it in detail is difficult. For example who is Horat.? (It turns out it is a quote from Horace’s Satirae 2.3.326, although it is an incorrect quote juxtaposing two words; Horace wrote O major tandem parcas, insane, minori “O greater one, spare, I pray, the lesser madman.”) Further, what is the background that would explain a hostile statement like this? It seems like strong writing, but what does it mean in plain English?Indeed, anyone who thinks that dense academic prose is a twentieth and twenty-fist century affliction can find a seventeenth century practitioner in “The Translator to the Reader.”
And it name drops like crazy: Cato the Elder, Gregory the Divine (Gregory of Nazianzus), Plutarch, Justinian, Theodosius, Suidas, S. Aurelius Victor, Eusebius, Augustine, Jerome, Cyril, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Hephaestus, Clement of Alexandria, Cicero,, Nicolas I, Michael III, Aquilla, Efnard (a misprint for Einard!), Trithemius, Bede, Alfred, Methodius, Aventinus, Valdo Bishop of Frising, Beatus Rheananus, Cporbinian, Valdes, Charles V, Beroaldus, Richard II, Johhn Trevisa, Widminstadius, Augustinus Nebiensis, Postel, Ambrose Thesius, Potken, Cromwell, Radevil, Ungnadius, Clement VIII, Pius IV, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Aristotle, Timotheus, Ptolemy Philadelphus, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Pamelius, Radulphus de Rivo, Pius V, Valla, Stapulensis, Erasmus, Vives, Leo X, Pagnini, Trent, Paiva, Vega, Hieronymus ab Oleastro, Isidorus Clarius, Thomas a Vio Cajetan, Hentenius, Sixtus V, Demaratus of Corinth, Xanthopolulos, Chrysostom, Ireney, Theodotion, Symmachus, Ebionites, Epiphanius, Cataline, Nero, Origen, Sophocles. Now, probably you know some of these names, but I doubt you know all of them!
And then there are the archaic words: glout, panary, and portess. Perhaps these words will cause some to go to the dictionary.
And this density is unfortunate, since the style of the King James Bible itself is rather simple and accessible. Because “The Translators to the Reader” is so difficult, most Bibles omit it (or, if they print it, they print it without the original notes and Greek quotations). And that is doubly unfortunate, because it is quite an interesting document and presents great insights into the philosophy of the translators.
(Instead, Bibles generally reproduce the “Epistle Dedicatory” fawning to the monarch, which has much less interest unless one collects obsequious literature .)
Fortunately, the American Bible Society has produced a marvelous short book (only 85 pages, although the page size is 8.5 x 11 inches) entitled The Translators to the Reader: The Original Preface of the King James Version of 1611 Revisited edited by Erroll Rhodes and Liana Lupas. The format of the book is simple – it contains four sections:
- A brief history of “The Translators to the Reader” and outline of its argument.
- A facsimile of the “The Translators to the Reader” from the 1611 edition (it is the small print of the facsimile that necessitates the large page size, although I still needed to use a magnifying glass to read the marginal notes from the original.)
- A transcription of “The Translators to the Reader” in modernized spelling, with extensive annotation (206 notes, with the word count of the annotation apparently exceeding the word count of the original.)
- A slight rewriting of “The Translators to the Reader” into modern syntax. This is done rather tastefully, with minimal rewording. For example, the sentence quoted above becomes:
But the difference that appear among our translations, and our frequent corrections of them, is what we are charged with specifically. Let us therefore see whether they themselves are without fault in this respect (if it is a fault to make corrections), and whether they are qualified to throw stones at us: “they that are less healthy themselves ought not to point out the infirmities of others.” (Horace)
The most valuable section to me is the third one; with its extensive annotation. I had thought before that I had understood the nuances of “The Translators to the Reader,” but now that I have read this edition, I realize that I did not understand them nearly as well as I could have. I can also imagine that the fourth section will prove valuable to many readers, since the prose in “The Translators to the Reader” is difficult. The other two sections, the overview and the facsimile, are also useful.
All in all, this is a book I would heartily recommend to anyone who is attempting to understand the historical context or translation philosophy of the King James Version. I would think that any Bible translator would find it interesting (it is an interesting counterpart to the theories of Eugene Nida, for example.) At less than twelve dollars at Amazon, it is a bargain.