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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

TENSE INTERPRETATIONS Stephen Prickett, Words and "The Word": language, poetics and biblical interpretation (Cambridge) £27.50

Words and "The Word" starts with a practical problem: how to render, in modern English, the story of Elijah on Horeb in I Kings XIX which, in the Authorized Version, concludes: 'And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice'. Prickett finds this last phrase relatively faithful to the original Hebrew, which in literal translation might read: 'a voice of thin silence'. Elijah's encounter with God is an ambiguous, disconfirming revelation. But today's English translations seem to reject any ambiguity. The Good News Bible gives, for 'a voice of thin silence', 'the soft whisper of a voice'; the New English Bible takes the 'voice' as a metaphor and offers instead 'a low murmuring sound'. The Catholic Jerusalem Bible, even more naturalistically, provides the 'sound of a gentle breeze', and while in an age of typological alertness, the 'breeze' could have evoked the Holy Spirit and Pentecostal wind of the New Testament, such associations are largely lost today. These simplifications exemplify a wider problem in modern Biblical translation: its aversion to ambiguities that are essential to the effect of the original. Prickett attributes this, at least partly, to the estrangement of ...


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