The Revised Knox Bible ('you' version)
The past 40 years have seen a welter of English translations of the Bible. One appears to have been quite lost in this biblical multiplication: that of Msgr. Ronald Knox, which was so immensely popular from its publication in 1944 to the mid-1960s. My own reaction to it had been enthusiastic, yet maybe somewhat ambivalent: I found it very readable, very inspiring, and at times a bit debatable...
In any case it descended into practical oblivion after Vatican II. It might - and perhaps should - have survived if Knox had not made the mistake, as I now see it, of sticking to the "thou" forms throughout.
Some time back, seeing the very varied quality of the new versions, I began to wonder if Knox, in "you" form, might not be of interest and help to some people. So I began to while away odd moments by "you-ing" his New Testament (I have a good program for such a task). With "you" etc. throughout, many passages seemed to take on a new freshness and interest.
It has taken four years of spare-time scanning, editing and correcting; but now, Deo gratias, the task is completed. It has been worthwhile, and has drawn more interest than I ever anticipated. Currently some 600-700 viewers look it up each week; and the numbers are on the increase.
One reader makes a comment worth transcribing. For him, the Ronald Knox translations, "somehow combine clarity with mystery: I mean they are easy enough to understand and they still have that majesty of language which constantly reminds the reader that these words concern much more than the everyday".
It is an opinion that may have particular application to the pauline epistles. Regarding these I do recall some early critic who, while conceding that Msgr. Knox had certainly made St. Paul intelligible (he was at times barely so in the old Douai-Rheims version), still doubted whether Knox's version really makes Paul say what he actually wanted to say... I am not scripture scholar enough to resolve the question; but am sure that the same doubt can be made extensive to quite a few more recent versions.
In the Old Testament, the Wisdom books are particularly expressive. No translation of the Psalms is going to please everyone. But it is worth examining Psalm 118, for instance, where Msgr. Knox stood fully up to the particular challenge its translation represents. To my mind, the result is a tour de force.
Consider also the Major Prophets. I find the first chapters of Isaiah and of Ezechiel specially remarkable. The poetic tone of the Psalms and other poetic books changes to something more resoundingly epic - as indeed befits prophecy. Prophecy is meant to surprise; it is dramatic and emphatic. And Knox's rendering of Isaiah or Ezechiel - idiosyncratic if at times it be - certainly brings out the solemn force of God's word on the lips of his prophet. It strikes the listener, and one is more inclined to stand up and take notice. As it should be.
When working from scanned pages, it is difficult to spot and correct all the errors. The New Testament has been subjected to very careful correction over these years. I will be very grateful to those who point out any errors they spot in the Old Testament.
The more this spare-time activity progressed, the greater my impression that something old has in a small but important way become new again. If so, the endeavor has not been totally useless.
In any case, may "Ronnie" forgive me from his heavenly abode if he does not approve of my efforts. But I would not like to see any of his masterly and inspiring prose being thrust aside because of a few pronouns, adjectives, or verb-forms here and there.
Cormac Burke, Nairobi, 2006-2010