In praise of the Knox translation?
Not all commentators on the post however were particularly convinced by Professor Kwasniewski's arguments, pointing out that in fact the Knox translation takes a lot of license at some points, thus representing some of the less desirable twentieth century approaches to translation.
I have to say that I sit somewhere in the middle on this debate: for some purposes and books of Scripture, I find the Knox a wonderful translation. His translation of Psalm 118 for example, is certainly not at all literal. But it is lovely just occasionally to read a version that attempts to convey the original Hebrew alphabetic approach to the stanzas.
All the same I do agree with those who suggest that the Knox translation needs to be treated with considerable care, since it doesn't always, in my view, pay due deference to the tradition of the Church on the interpretation of some key verses.
The case of Psalm 2:9
To illustrate this, consider the example of verse 9 of Psalm 2, a verse that will be familiar to many due to its use by Handel in the Messiah.
The Vulgate (and neo-Vulgate) version is:
Reges eos in virga férrea, * et tamquam vas fíguli confrínges eos.The Douay-Rheims-Challoner renders it fairly literally as:
Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron, and shalt break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.The first phrase of the Knox version, however, is, in this case, quite different:
Thou shalt herd them like sheep with a crook of iron, break them in pieces like earthenware.In many cases, significant differences between the Knox translation and the Douay-Rheims arise because the former follows the Hebrew Masoretic Text rather than the Septuagint. That isn't the case here though: the King James Version, for example, is, in this case, very similar to the Douay-Rheims:
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vesselThe Hebrew Masoretic Text reflects a fairly strict parallelism between the two phrases: the key word in the first phrase is ra`a` (break, shatter); in the second naphats (deash to pieces, scatter):
תְּרֹעֵם בְּשֵׁבֶט בַּרְזֶל כִּכְלִי יֹוצֵר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃
The Septuagint however seems to represent a different text tradition in this case, and is more ambiguous: the Latin reges (from rego, regere) generally means to rule or govern, Scripture sometimes uses the Greek equivalent (ποιμαίνω or poimainō ) to mean to shepherd or guide:
ποιμανεῖς αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ ὡς σκεῦος κεραμέως συντρίψεις αὐτούςKnox's choice to follow that meaning here, however, almost certainly has its origin in St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew, which interprets the verse as shepherding rather than ruling:
Pasces eos in virga ferrea ut vas figuli conteres eosChrist the good shepherd vs Christ the King
The problem with this approach though, it seems to me, is that it seems to emphasis Christ the priest over Christ the king in a verse that has traditionally been taken as referring to the latter.
I have to say that personally, the image of the potter breaking a flawed creation into pieces, and effectively starting again, doesn't strike me as terribly consonant with the shepherd image. And it isn't the way the Father's have interpreted the verse, seeing it rather as talking about Christ's kingship. Cassiodorus, for example, suggests that the rod in question is not the shephard's crook but a symbol of kingly power:
Next the manner of his kingship is described...Rod signifies royal power by which the punishment of His correction is banished to sinners. It is iron, not because God uses a metal rod for vengeance, but iron’s hardness is apt to describe the rigour of justice. The rod is that of which the psalmist is to speak in Psalm 44: The rod of thy kingdom is a rod of uprightness. He subsequently explains what he does with this rod; it is the rod which shatters to bring life, the stick which restrains the weak, the scepter which brings the dead to life. As applied to humans, a rod (virga) is so called because it governs by its force (vi) and does not allow those who strain to break lose.
The moral of the story, it seems to me, is never rely on just one translation, but use several if at all possible, advice that Professor Kwasniewski in fact opens his post with, quoting from St Augustine.