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The first problem confronts every writer who treats of the magnificent language of the Hebrew Bible, wherein much is left to be worked out by the imagination of the hearer, in conjunction with the fuller, more elaborated style of the rabbis. The second problem is, that in certain parts of the book the translator cannot but suffer direct comparison with the inspired Authorized Version; for sometimes the first half of a sentence is taken from the Bible word for word and the second half is an addition with or without transmutation, from the Midrash or an original extension of the Biblical idea by M. Fleg himself; and sometimes one of the best-known Biblical passages is taken and so paraphrased or expanded by the inclusion of material from the Tradition, that the Bible narrative cannot be used in a conscientious rendering, though its majestic reverberation in the reader's memory must inevitably make the paraphrase seem somewhat flat.
A great and in part insuperable difficulty exists only for the translator into English. For the French Bible, though it has unique beauties of its own Comme un cerf brame apres des eaux courantes, ainsi mon ame soupire apres toi o Dieu! is, as a whole, nothing more than a reverent, dignified rendering of an obviously foreign idiom. But, with the possible exception of the Lutheran Bible, the Authorised Version alone in the world has influenced the whole literature, the whole imagination of a people for 300 years: so that the Star of Jacob and the burning bush and the law for the widow and the fatherless, are become part of the poetic fibre of the English language. When, therefore, that part of Balaam's prophecy immediately preceding the Star of Jacob is given in unfamiliar form, the reader cannot but feel a certain loss and confusion. Yet perhaps there is some compensation even here, for new elements are added to the familiar narrative and the very strangeness may, as with the retranslations of the Bible into modern idiom, serve to make the Authorised Version fresher and clearer.
Thus the translator was in great uncertainty as to what idiom to adopt: for the language of the Authorised Version could not be intermingled in the same paragraph with a simple, though poetic, modern prose, as could the French Bible with the modern French: and on the other hand, such archaisms as thee and thou and ye, for you, throughout the book and hath for has when the Lord or the Prophets speak, seemed essential, in order to suggest this distant time. Such modern versions of the Bible as Dr. Moffatt's, sincere and illuminating as they are, offer less help than might be thought. The translators of the Authorised Version, to whom the Bible in the vulgar tongue was still a strange thing, whereas to the Jews it had been daily bread through the centuries, sometimes refused to see that certain passages in the all-inclusive Book were prosaic and meant to be prosaic; they were determined to exalt every part to the utmost intensity, thereby sometimes mistranslating; but the present-day translator who calls the Princes Sheikhs and the Elders Notables and mitres turbans, with syntax to match, really misrepresents far more seriously, however great his scholarship and his piety: for the Bible is God's Word to His people and the total effect in English as in Hebrew, should be the highest attainable majesty. The translator has, however, followed Dr. Moffatt to a certain extent, for example by using Eternal in a good many places where the Authorised Version has the Lord (which should, really, be used relatively infrequently) and when Pharaoh or the Egyptians are speaking, by using Hebrews instead of Israelites.
This tedious list of the difficulties that were to be overcome is not meant to excuse the translator but to do justice to M. Fleg's achievement. In a style apparently very simple, almost, at times, naive, yet most subtly woven of clear, almost Greek perception and deep, imaginative sympathy, he does make Moses, the man of God, at whose death the earth and the heaven and the Lord God Himself wept, saying, There shall be no other Moses, emerge from the ages a figure no less majestical than in the Bible story. But his most sensitive modern mind, penetrating the ever-living tradition of four thousand years, reveals, through all the legends, the &'grave;simple man, humble in his heart,'' wistful in his human affections. --S.H.G.
A compilation of Midrash, Biblical, and legendary stories about the prophet Moses, who led the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.