Friday, September 10, 2010

Joseph Smith Translation Psalm 104:1--Power and Majesty

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, thou art very great;
thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Who covereth thyself with light as a garment:
who stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain.

It would be difficult to surpass the beauty of these lines in any new translation of the Old Testament; the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible remains unsurpassed, and as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am grateful for its official status as the true "Mormon Bible."

While the Prophet Joseph's New Translation of the Holy Bible does not replace the Authorized Version, it can clear up tangled patches. Often the Prophet deftly rephrases, with fewer words, and so improves the literary quality. The style of the New Translation is that of William Bradford: American plain style. One can quibble, for the New Translation in its quest for clarity, like any other modern version, in places mars the timeless beauty, however ambiguous, of the Authorized Version. Brother Joseph, Yankee Prophet, eschews tangling ambiguity.

The phrase "thou art clothed with honour and majesty" is certainly not injured, and is likely improved, by the Prophet's rendering "thou art clothed with power and majesty." And say what one will about Brother Joseph, what pious reader of Scripture can resist ascribing more power to God? Somehow honour graces not enough for the inspired translator: kings may have honor; God stands clothed in power.

Think of the old hymn, "Glory to God on High": "To him ascribed be/Honor and majesty/Thru all eternity:/Worthy the Lamb!" Change but a word, and "praise ye his name" shines all the brighter: "To him ascribed be/Power and majesty" (James Allen, 1734-1804).

But does power for honour reflect the Hebrew? Brother Joseph, in 1832-33, had not yet purchased his Hebrew Bible and Lexicon or engaged his Hebrew teacher. The original Hebrew phrase reads as a lovely and intensifying alliteration, hod ve hadar. According to the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon, the word hod approximates the English words weight, power, glory, and the like, with power taking second place in the list. As with the Hebrew word kavod, usually rendered as the glory of God, the principal idea expressed by hod may be that of weight, of a center of gravity or gravitas. Hadar is said to represent "the soul in its highest manifestation of power," although the word literally refers to ornament, attire, splendor: the clothing of God in majesty. Hod ve hadar, with the accent falling on the second part of the phrase in good Semitic fashion, thus bespeaks "power and highest power."

Although not so changed elsewhere in the Prophet's New Translation, power would also better render hod in many other places. Thus God's thundering is to be recognized in the hod of his qol, in the reverberating "power of his voice." In this place (AV Isaiah 30:30) "his glorious voice" makes no sense at all.

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