New Bible taps spirit of soaps

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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Bible has been translated into more than 135 languages, but The Contemporary English Version, published by Thomas Nelson, of Nashville, Tennessee, is probably the first English version for 400 years to be aimed at people who cannot, or will not, read.

"Traditional translations of the Bible count on the reader's ability to understand a written text. But the Contemporary English Version differs from all other English Bibles, past and present, in that it takes into consideration the needs of the hearer, as well as those of the reader," the preface says.

Since the Bible is full of treachery, adultery, murder and all the other staples of television drama, the American translators have rendered it into the language of soap opera. Take II Kings ix, where Jehu, God's candidate for the throne of Israel, seizes the throne by shooting Joram, his predecessor and rival, in the back.

In the authorised version, the story is quickly told: "It came to pass, when Joram saw Jehu, that he said: 'Is it peace, Jehu?' And he answered: 'What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?' And Joram turned his hands, and fled, and said to Ahaziah: 'There is treachery, O Ahaziah.'

"And Jehu drew a bow with his full strength and smote Joram between his arms, and the arrow went out at his heart and he sank down in his chariot."

In The Contemporary English Version, this becomes: "Joram asked: 'Is this a peaceful visit?'

" 'How can there be peace?' Jehu asked. 'Your mother Jezebel has caused everyone to worship idols and to practice witchcraft.'

" 'Ahaziah, let's get out of here!' Joram yelled. 'It's a trap!' As Joram tried to escape, Jehu shot an arrow. It hit Joram between his shoulders, then it went through his heart and came out his chest. He fell over dead in his chariot."

The Dean of Lichfield, Tom Wright, said: "The language reminds me of what happens when someone leading a bible study is trying to summarise for the troops what the passage is really about." However, he said, the results could have been stranger. In one recent US translation, King Saul "entered the cave to go to the bathroom."