Are there any other English translations of the Writings?

Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
#1
Are the only English versions of the Baha'i Writings the ones translated by Shoghi Effendi in the "KJV Old English" style? Shoghi Effendi was a very prolific writer and loved the English language and he translated Baha'u'llah's words into a most beautiful, timeless, haunting and powerful prose. However I have never really been a fan of the KJV style. The King James Version, although it is a translation, is considered a masterpiece of English literature and I am in no way discrediting the haunting beauty of it. Who can forget the phrase, "As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil".

However I so sometimes tire of "thee", "thus", "thou", "didst" and other such pronouns when I just want to get my teeth into the text and understand it. It sometimes makes me find the text harder to read and I lose interest more easily. I like the fact that I can get modern translations of the Bible, the Quran, the Gita etc. while still have the opportunity of reading the beauty of older translations if I so choose.

Are there any modern english translations other than Shoghi Effendi's old english ones? Or are Shoghi Effendi's the only available English translations? Why must the Writings be in old English? When Persians read the original Persian manuscripts it isn't written for them in Old Persian! And I am sure it is the same for French translations and others, so why does the English translation have to be in the style of the KJV? Would the text not be as beautiful and as valid in its own right simply if it were translated into plain modern English?

I like the fact that Abdu'l-Baha's works are in modern English style. Now I'm not being harsh, I understand that translating from Persian and Arabic into English must be incredibly hard. But still....
PS I am aware that Old English is not the "KJV" style proper, it actually early modern english but since it is no longer "modern" I call it old
 
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Jun 2006
4,317
California
#2
For some it is true the English of the Baha'i Writings may seem not like day to day speech.. however in time we Baha'is grow to like it and appreciate it..

The reason for the style of the Baha'i Writings is that it approximates the Persian used by Baha'u'llah:

Many of the original Writings of Bahá'í and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are written in very exalted and poetic Persian and Arabic and therefore a similar flavour should be attempted in the language into which it is translated. You will see, for example, that in translating the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh into English the beloved Guardian has created a very beautiful and poetic style in English using many words which might be considered archaic and are reminiscent of the English used by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible.

As you point out, a literal translation is often a bad one because it can produce a phraseology of imagery that would convey the wrong impression; thus, a translator is at times compelled to convey the meaning of the original by means of a form of words suited to the language. However, a person translating the Bahá'í Writings must always bear in mind that he or she is dealing with the Word of God, and, when striving to convey the meaning of the original, he should exert his utmost to make his rendering both faithful and befitting.

(From a letter dated 29 October 1973 written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)[3]

Those who are entrusted with the task of translating the Sacred Writings from the original into English should study the original very closely, and then attempt to express as accurately and as beautifully as possible in English that which the original conveys. To do this they frequently have to use various different synonyms in English to give the best translation of the same Arabic or Persian word when it appears in different contexts. Conversely, they may have to use the same English word in different contexts to translate various different words in the original. In doing this they attempt to follow the example set by Shoghi Effendi in his magnificent translations.


(From a letter dated 31 May 1981 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Translation and Revision Committee of a National Spiritual Assembly.)[4]

The above quotes taken from:

http://bahai-library.com/compilation_provisional_translations
 
Aug 2010
725
New Zealand mainly
#3
Yes, there are many translations of the Writings in addition to those by Shoghi Effendi. However those prepared since Shoghi Effendi's time at the world centre attempt to apply the same style, with the thee and thou (which I am happy with) and shouldst and wouldst, (which I find ugly, but "Thou should" is a mish-mash, even worse).

There are many non-official translations, some of which attempt to use the KJV style (not always understanding the grammar rules involved!), and some without the adornments. A befitting style can be achieved without the adornments. If you will excuse the immodesty, consider this section from my translation of Abdu'l-Baha's Sermon on the Art of Governance:

the religious law is like the spirit of life,
the government is the locus of the force of deliverance.

The religious law is the shining sun,
and government is the clouds of April.

These two bright stars are like twin lights in the heavens of the contingent world,
they have cast their rays upon the people of the world.

One has illuminated the world of the soul,
the other caused the earth to flower.

One sowed pearls in the oceans of conscience,
while the other made the surface of the earth a garden of paradise.

It has turned this mound of dust into the envy of the heavens,
and made this dark house of shadows the cynosure of the world of lights.

The cloud of mercy rose, the gentle rain of benevolence came down,
the fragrant breeze of grace diffused musk and ambergris.

The dawn breeze blows,
wafting the perfume that quickens the soul.

The face of the earth has become like heaven on high,
the agreeable season of spring has arrived.
You can find a number (150+) of translations of varying quality on Jonah Winter's Bahai Library site

For the writings of Baha'u'llah, you can go to the Leiden Index and find the entry for the English title, then take the item number to the Leiden List (where the writings are filed according to their Persian / Arabic names ), and find the card for the work. For example, The Glad Tidings is filed under Bisharat, and the card for it shows where the manuscripts are found, where the Persian/Arabic is published, and then the translations. In this case it is
translated in TB(English) [= Tablets of Baha'u'llah] 19-30, which is the authorised translation used at present, and further:
Browne’s translation of part of 13th Glad Tidings is in A Traveller’s Narrative p. 153. This section is identical to the 8th Ishraqat. A 1917 translation by Ali Kuli Khan is in ‘Tablets of Baha’o'llah’ (Collins 1.133, http:// Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine details/ tabletoftarazatt00baharich) and the first part is reproduced in Bahai Scriptures 236-248 and Baha’i World Faith 191-7 with minor changes. In this tablet Khan’s explanations are omitted rather than being incorporated in the text as in other tablets he translated which are reproduced in BWF. The omitted notes include his interpretation of the ‘men of the House of Justice (13th Glad-tidings) as ‘members’. Sections translated in Esslemont, ‘New Era’, 1923, 81 (confession), 123 (monarchy), 125 (obedience to government), 128 (work).
Then there's a survey of the discussion of the tablet in the academic literature (not necessarily written by Bahais).
 
Mar 2010
1,349
Rockville, MD, USA
#4

Are the only English versions of the Baha'i Writings the ones translated by Shoghi Effendi in the "KJV Old English" style?
In fact, the Elizabethan style used in these translations is in fact modern English (so say English scholars)!

Middle English was stuff like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales ("When that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote...").

And Old English was stuff like Beowulf, which virtually nobody can read in the original today!

So you can take comfort, I hope, in the fact that as others have explained here, the use of this style is intentional in order to yield both the closest equivalent to the original text as well as to provide a beautifully expressive rendering of the text!

You can, I hope, take comfort in the fact that "thou" and "thee" (and their associated verbs) are simply the singular form of the pronoun "you" (which technically is the plural, though today it's commonly used as both the singular and the plural): while they're not much used today outside of religious texts, understanding them definitely shouldn't present any real problem.

Peace, :)

Bruce
 
Sep 2010
190
USA
#5
I've read some of The Message and I prefer the KJV.
Some things in The Message were kind of funny, especially the headings in Ecclesiastes, but it doesn't possess the amazing wording the KJV has.

And do English-speaking Catholic churches use the KJV? I thought James added and took away a couple things the Vulgate had/didn't have?
 
Sep 2010
2,106
United Kingdom
#6
Thank you guys :D I think it just takes getting used to.

Hey Larry :) Well it is not "strictly" true that the KJV translators took away a couple of the Vulgate books. Rather they placed the deuterocanonicals - or "apochrypha" as Protestants call them - in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. Anglicans believe that these books are "indespensible" for a true understanding of scripture. A KJV without apochrypha is normally viewed as "incomplete". It is only the Evangelical Churches which have actually "removed" the deuterocanonical books. That is their decision. They miss out on some incredible wisdom but that is there choice. Catholics are free to read any translations of the Bible. I have many Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic translations. The best for me I think is the NRSV, since it is an ecumenical translation done by a committee involving scholars from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Jewish (for the OT) denominations (well and religions for Judaism is also represented). However Catholic Churches, except those which were formerly Anglican, do not use the KJV. Traditionally they used the Douay-Rheims, which is very similar to the KJV with "thee", "thou", "didst" etc. However it is all varied now - the Douay-Rheims is no longer considered "acceptable" for liturgical use since rchaelogical discoveries and new manuscripts have become availaible, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have improved our knowledge of the Bible. In Britain Catholic Churches use the RSV or New Jerusalem, while in America they use the NAB. Anglican Use Churches use a variant of the modern edition of the KJV but with a Catholic ordering of the books and with the deuterocanonicals. In Eastern Catholic Churches they use Eastern Orthodox translations! So really it depends on the country/individual parish.

I also dislike the Message, the Living Bible and the Good News Bible. I know why you didn't like it. Simply put these are not translations but "transliterations". That means that the translators do not translate the text literally but "modernize" or "simplify" the language. Essentially it gives them the ability to imprint their own views into the text. Transliterations are not allowed by the Catholic Church for liturgical use, since they are not per se "the Bible" but so-and-so's take on the Bible. :)
 
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