I wish to bring to your attention Willis Barnstone’s Restored New Testament. I have ordered, but not yet received this book, so I cannot personally comment on it, but I think some of you may be interested in it (particularly those of you familiar with Barnstone’s translations, including his Other Bible and Gnostic Bible).
Here is the review from Library Journal:
The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels, Thomas, Mary, and Judas. Norton. Oct. 2009. 1152p. index. trans. from Greek by Willis Barnstone. ISBN 978-0-393-06493-3. $49.95.
In an achievement remarkable by almost any standard, and surely one of the events of the year in publishing, renowned poet and scholar Barnstone has created a new and lavish translation—almost transformation—of the canonical and noncanonical books associated with the New Testament. In part a continuation of his work in The New Covenant, Commonly Called the New Testament (2002) and The Other Bible (2005), and in many ways the completion of the pioneering efforts of other modern translators like Robert Alter, Reynolds Price, and Richmond Lattimore, The Restored New Testament offers a completely new version of familiar and unfamiliar texts, restoring the likely Hebrew forms of names, and strongly emphasizing the poetic and almost incantatory passages that have been obscured within the New Testament. Barnstone also substantially reorders the traditional arrangement of books for reasons he ably expounds in an extended and learned yet accessible preface. The high bar Barnstone has set for himself is the creation of an English-language Scripture that will move poets much as the 1611 King James Version moved Milton and Blake. Only time will tell if Barnstone has achieved his goal, but his work is fascinating, invigorating, and often beautiful. Essential.
Here is an interview from Library Journal:
Readers may be familiar with your work as a translator, poet, and editor, but it seems that in the last several years, more of your attention has gone toward religious texts. What accounts for the change?
I don’t want to abuse the catch-all word “spiritual,” but there is a spiritual or metaphysical obsession with most of the work I’ve done. In the early Sixties, I translated The Poems of Saint John of the Cross, who was Spain’s and the world’s foremost mystical poet, whose work is based on the biblical Song of Songs, which I also translated into English. I began The Restored New Testament (RNT) nearly two decades ago, and in the last several years I’ve been doing these monstrous editions and translations of diverse Biblical literature, from The Other Bible, a book of intertestamental scriptures including Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnosticism, and Apocrypha, to Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice in which the Bible is the main paradigm of translation. We live in a world of impossible-to-answer questions about all the great ideas, beginning with consciousness. So begins the meditation. I think there is a common thread in my work, and less change than may appear.
What was the field of New Testament translation like when you began your project? What differences should we expect from your version?
Oh gosh! A revolution. Briefly: a restoration of the probable names of persons and places to their Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew originals; a book that avoids Biblespeak, the half-lovely archaized speech that most translations fall into after the King James Version, or really infelicitous lowbrow talk that floats like lead when the scripture is gold. I attempt to translate the Bible as others have translated Homer or Virgil. Why not? I also show that the name changes—Elizabeth for Elisheva, James for Yaakov, Mary for Miryam—are an attempt to mask the fact that all the characters, big and small, except for the Romans, are Jews. Jesus was a circumcised rabbi who died during the Passover days of the seder. I also show by translating much of the book into verse that like all the world’s religious scripture the book was meant to be chanted as it is today in Greek Orthodox churches. We read the Song of Songs, Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and many of the prophets as lineated poetry. We should do the same with the New Testament, which, like the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), was half in poetry, including Revelation, the epic poem of the Bible which I did in blank verse. As prior translator Richmond Lattimore did, I change the order of the gospels, making them chronological by beginning with Mark, then Matthew, then Luke and John.
What sort of reader do you picture for the RNT? The scholar in the tower? The family in the pew? The poet under the tree?
I hope for a general reader, lowbrow, highbrow, even nobrow. Conservative Christians took to my New Covenant, a translation of the four gospels and Revelation, because they are interested in the meaning of Biblical words and they saw my work as about as faithful one can be to the original words, which cast the Bible in its morning light. I surely hope for literary readers too, who esteem Hemingway or Twain (so much like the Gospel of Mark’s racing plain narrative) or Whitman (who reminds us of Ecclesiastes). I hope for church and synagogue readers—it’s the last great biblical work by a Jew, about Jews, for Jews, as bishop John Shelby Spong points out. It should speak to the general reader, as did the earliest—and in my opinion best—translation into beautiful demotic English by William Tyndale in 1525. He wrote his Bible for the ploughboy of the fields, and even for Scots, women, Saracens and Turks. Where he translated Greek correctly into the equivalent for his time, as in “He was a luckie fella,” the King James Version pumps it up to “He was a fortunate gentleman.” I have also taken out the artificial pomp by translating student as student rather than Latin disciple, and messenger as messenger, not apostle. An apostle stays at home and admires his robes, but Paul’s apostles, many of them women, hit the road for the cause.
What could or should a restored New Testament mean for today’s world? How could it be put to use?
In a world of hatred, especially tribal religious hatreds everywhere, I hope that the book may bring peace, or further peace among Jews, Christians, and Moslems. I hope the reader feels that the restored scripture reveals the commonality of the Abrahamic sects of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I hope the faithful and secular see a work closer to the original scripture and not bathed in the propaganda of bias and willful persuasion, a fascinating read, with verve and freshness. Unlike most scripture it has whimsy and humor for a world drowning in gravity and fear and misunderstanding. Surely laughter is part of our life and not a sin against seriousness.