Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: The Voice of Psalms

The Voice Project is, according to its website, "a retelling of the Scriptures . . . not of words, but of meaning and experience." You might call it a translation project. Its team of contributors is tackling the Bible one book at a time, publishing each book separately. It represents a "collaboration among scholars, writers, musicians, and other artists."

It seemed to me that the book of Psalms might be particularly suited for this kind of project--it is, after all, the hymnal of the Jewish Temple, the lyric book and liner notes for the songs of David (and a few others). Songwriters and poets have been re-translating, re-expoloring, re-singing the Psalms for centuries. "The Voice" has reduced them to prose. Here then, is the first of my complaints on this grievous, ridiculous, self-important re-telling project. (It's too far off to be considered a translation). It doesn't even succeed at what it purports to be trying to do. I presume that the meaning and experience of the original readers (and singers) of the Psalms would have been such that they could recognize what they were reading as song lyrics. But it is nearly impossible to imagine singing what is rendered in "The Voice," sometimes laughably so. Who thought it was a good idea to render Psalm 2:12 ("you will be destroyed" in the NIV and "you will perish" in the ESV) as "you won't stand a chance." ? Just one small example of how the book is riddled with unpoetic modern cliche.

Now, about the italicized material. The introduction says that it is "not directly tied to a dynamic translation of the original language." Put another way--it's interpolation. Or, let's simplify yet again, since "The Voice" seems to be all about simplifying--it's stuff that they just added in because they felt like it. And they don't want anyone to be distracted by footnotes or whatnot--so it's right there in the text. Italics or no, which of us can really read through a passage and keep ourselves from integrating the material? It's very troubling.

There's not much worth saying about the interpretive/devotional essays spattered through the book. They're pretty typical American, legalistic apply-it-to-me-and-how-I-feel and God-wants-you-to-work-at-this type fare. Utterly ignorable.

For more educated critique of the word by word translation and theological agenda of this project, see Chris Rosebrough tackling their rendering of the Gospel of John 1 here and Romans 3 here.

One half star for good paper, font and binding. Otherwise, none. If you want a dynamic translation, try The Message.

No comments: