When I went to the launch of this book, I was asking myself why reinterpret the Bible in a poetic way? After the launch, with some powerful words about poetry, about faith, about humanity I understood that such as interpretation is necessary in English culture. Again why? Because of the first translation of the Bible in the English language. Because of the faith of the author. Because of the beauty of the poetry of the Bible. Because, because, because…..because of the act of the creation, because of the culture.
Now it is time to tell you what is about. Yes, it is – The Dangerous Book – by Jay Ramsay. This poet from Gloucestershire has made most of the Bible into modern poetry. So now English culture has the Bible restored in a lyrical way. This is a very challenging enterprise. Because the Bible – τὰ βιβλία (the books) – has lots of canonical books. The Bible is not only about the faith of a nation, of a group, but is very important as a cultural manifestation, because in some situations, the translation of the Bible from Greek, Latin, Hebrew in a distinct language, overlaps even with the formation of that language, or the transformation of the language as a developed language. So, the translation of the Bible in a new language was a very important and a deep cultural manifestation.
But Revenons à nos moutons (Let’s return to our sheep). First translation of the Bible into English language straight away from Hebrew and Greek, and Latin was the Tyndale version. I mentioned this because there were some attempts were before Tyndale, for example Wycliffe, but his translation was from Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Latin Vulgate ).
Because of his translation from Greek and Hebrew, Tyndale was known as an architect of the English Language—even more than Shakespeare. Actually, Tyndale contributed to the development of the English language, translating and also creating new expressions and also new philosophical expressions which didn’t exist in the language, using linguistic tracing, transliteration or settlement of the terms in a new way, linguistically, creating new ideas.
What kind of image had the English language in Tyndale’s time? So, according to a fascinating study by Fred Robinson, what we know as modern-day English is really a language of “stratified vocabulary, with its primary roots in the Germanic language of the Norwegians, Dutch, and other Scandinavian countries ” – I also refer you to William Tyndale, Contribution to the English Language by Veronica Walker (online Inquires Journal, Social Science, Arts, and Humanities).
It is known that another influence was the French language as a result of the victory of the Normans at the Battle of Hastings. So, the English language has various stages of development from other languages. But in that time Tyndale , translating the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek , introduced lots of Latin expressions and words from Latin or via French, into the English language.
His work actually influenced the Shakespeare’s works who started, under Tyndale’s influence, to use Latin words in his plays. Christopher Marlowe also translated Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These authors combined in their works Latin, French and English. So, Tyndale’s translation gave permission to other authors to have courage to use the beauty of language.
I will give you just a simple example of Shakespeare ‘s line from the play Romeo and Juliet (III, 5, 48)
where a Latin word is used, as a new word in that time:
I will omit no opportunity
that may convey my greetings, love, to thee
So, let’s talk a little about the term opportunity. According to Rosemary Hall, in an Online Journal, The Latinisms In Shakespeare Diction, this term in Shakespeare’s work ” means more than it does now. (….) Romeo was just about to flee to Mantua and it was going to be rather difficult for him to get messages to Juliet in the house of the Capulets at Verona. We miss delicate shade of the poet’s meaning if we fail to feel the force of Latin opportunus in Romeo’s opportunity .” Therefore, opportunity comes from opportunitas But this Latin term is on the same root with opportunus.
Talking again about Tyndale ‘s version and about his influences, I will say that in Tyndale’s work ”the theological paradigm duly becomes a compositional paradigm” (cf. Janel Mueller in The Native Tongue and The Word: Developments in English Prose Style 1380 -1580 , Chicago University Press, 1984, p 192.
Tyndale uses in his translation alliterations, and repetitions, and with this kind of style he changed the face of the English language. In An Answer unto Sir Thomas More, Tyndale affirms that the clergy can be judged by pilgrimages, domme absolutions ….etc (cf Mueller, p. 196).
This elimination of subordination has effect in Tyndale’s works: compositions become no longer asymmetric. The words as peacemaker, long- suffering , scapegoat, etc. were introduced in English language by Tyndale. He shaped the syntax, vocabulary and grammar of the English language even more than Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats. Tyndale’s translation inspired other translations such as the Great Bible (1539), The Geneva Bible (1560), The Bishop Bible (1568), The Gouay- Rheims Bible (1588- 1609), and also the King James Version (1611).
But what was the roots of the term peacemaker, created by Tyndale? What did Tyndale mean in linguistic terms ? Let’s have a look inside the term peacemaker.
Peacemaker < peace + maker. The synonyms are : conciliator, mediator, arbitrator
maker = thing that makes, a manufacturer . The origin of maker is discovered in Middle English maken , Old English macian ; cognate with Low German, Dutch maken , German machen. Peace has another root, from another linguistic branch.
So, Tyndale with his genius combined two different linguistic branches: Latin root with the Germanic root and the result was a beautiful term: peacemaker.
But Let’s return to our sheep. Why did I tell you a long story about language and also about Tyndale’s work? Because The Dangerous Book by Jay Ramsay is an enterprise of translation, interpretation, and also a creation in poetry drawing strongly on Tyndale’s Version of the Bible. Jay Ramsay ‘s work is so original and so genuine, especially if we think of this work as a total work of rethinking of the Bible for the 21st C.. Actually, Jay Ramsay, who is a poet who has lived in Gloucestershire for many years, a translator, and also a psychotherapist, started this work five years ago, having had a long collaboration with Martin Palmer. He studied theology and religious studies at Cambridge University.
But why has Jay Ramsay called his poetry The Dangerous Book?
I will quote some words of Martin Palmer, actually what he said at the launch of this book:”It is a dangerous book when it is used to justify slavery, sexism , homophobia, the supremacy of some and the right to determine who is saved and who is cast into outer darkness. It is a Dangerous Book when the God who is found is only the God of Judgement not the God of Love. …”
Yes, The Dangerous Book by Jay Ramsay is a very challenging book because this form of poetry, as a mirror of Tyndale’s Version Bible, can change lives, gives wisdom, changes the world…
I will finish with an extract from The Song Of Songs, to give you a taste of the beauty of this poetry:
Let Him Kiss Me inside my mouth
your love is lovelier than wine
the smell of you more subtle and fragrant
your name is like oil silken pouring
and that’s why the girls all love you.
Daughters of Jerusalem :
just look at us, and we’ll run after you!
this king of man has taken me into his bedroom.
Daughters of Jerusalem :
We’ll be happy for you – we’ll celebrate,
we’ll talk about your love that’s greater than wine.
It’s right that he loves you
I am black and gorgeous
you daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents at Kedar
like Solomon’s own curtains
don’t see me as swarthy,
imagine the sun has scorched me!
My brothers were angry with me
they made me look after the vineyards,
but I haven’t taken care of my own.
Tell me, oh you that my soul loves
where you feed your flock, and rest in the noonday heat
why should I be like an outcast
among your friends?
King Solomon :
Loveliest woman; if you don’t know why
follow the flock’s footsteps
and feed your young ones by the shepherd’s tent on Zion.
Lover, I’ve compared you
to a horse among Pharaoh’s chariots,
your cheeks gorgeous with their plats
your neck with its string of jewels
I will order you plats of gold
studded with silver.
I chose this fragment from Jay Ramsay ‘s book – The Dangerous Book – because of the beauty of the poetry from the Bible’s book – The Song Of Songs.
Canticum Canticorum in Latin ,שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים in Hebrew, ᾎσμα ᾈσμάτων in Greek, The Songs Of Songs in English is part of canonic sacred Jewish writings along with Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther.
Saadia, a Jewish Mediaeval commentator of the Jewish sacred books, talked about The Song Of Songs as a book whose key was lost, because this book is the most obscure book in the Bible.
The song can be an allegorical book if we read it in a key as a love between God and the nation of Israel. This is a Jewish interpretation. There is also a Christian view that suggests that the book draws out the idea that the love is between Christ and His bride, the Church.
Lyrics, beauty, words, wisdom, faith…..all of these Jay Ramsay has put in his poetry in The Dangerous Book.