One of my Bible study methods, though most important for devotional reading, is to read a passage aloud. Since the lectionary Psalm for this week is Psalm 100, which is very short, I thought I’d read it aloud in a number of versions and then write my subjective impressions.
I chose to read it from the REB, NJB, CEV, NRSV, The JPS Tanakh, and the NLT. There was very little method to all this; those versions were just nearest my computer at the time. I could have read from more by either walking farther or by using my Logos library, but I didn’t.
Prior to reading these aloud in English I had read the Psalm a few times in Hebrew and had done a draft literal translation myself.
The purpose of the exercise, beyond “whatever” was to get a feel for how each version would function in public reading. I’m frequently asked what the “best” translation is, and one obvious question is always “best for what?”
First, whether more functional or more formally equivalent, the translations were more similar than I would have expected when read side by side. The NJB was fairly choppy. I like its use of “Yahweh” in the Psalm, though I don’t use that as a rule in reading publicly. The REB was similarly a bit choppy and appeared to use vocabulary that didn’t fit well. (Note that I normally prefer the REB, though today was an exception.
I disliked the use of “love” to translate Hebrew “hesed”, as was done by the CEV and the REB. I understand the reason in the CEV, but the REB uses “acclaim” in verse 1, “acknowledge” in verse 3, I think they might have employed a few more letters on “hesed.”
The very positive thing about the CEV is that it is very easy to understand when heard, with no difficult vocabulary. At the same time, it loses all sense of Hebrew rhythm and parallelism. This is one of those necessary trade-offs in translation. You’re going to lose something, and if your goal is to translate for a fairly basic set of English vocabulary.
The JPS Tanakh is an excellent translation, though it didn’t seem to read as well as the NLT read aloud. The NRSV sounded remarkably good to me, which again is not usual. I usually like the NRSV for the formal equivalence, but dislike its sound. Unfortunately, it is the Bible used for most scripture readings at my church.
Overall I would give the edge to the NLT as a compromise between easy to understand, decently flowing English text, maintaining some sense of the parallelism, and not translating any of the Hebrew words in too jarring a manner.
All this is, as I have said, very subjective. One impression is very strong–all of the translations seemed less smooth and readable when read aloud than when read silently. I know the CEV is designed to be read orally, but I think there it is very hard for me to come from reading the Hebrew text with the parallelism and some sense of similar length poetic lines, and then go to a translation that deliberately eliminates both elements.
I suspect that a major reason why the NRSV sounds good to me in this case is that this is one of those Psalms I memorized in the KJV as a child, and the NRSV is the closest to the KJV amongst those I read.
One thing I believe I should think about is the quality of reading involved. There are some readers who can make a scripture reading really resonate. I wonder how much my own inclinations about reading impacted the way I felt about what I read aloud?