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A Homophonous Restoration of the “King James” Text of Psalm 23

February 17th, 2011 · 1 Comment

The “King James Version” of the Bible gives every indication of a garbled text.  Some words are omitted (for example, that curious hapax legomenon, επιουσιος, in the Pater Noster); some words seem to be approximations or guesswork (particularly the names of animals and musical instruments).  Much of it simply makes little sense.

We encounter similar problems in the Shackspearian canon, the other great literary corpus of the period.  Some passages, especially in the earlier quartos, appear to be faulty transcriptions of an oral source.  We now know that Shakspeare was more of a producer and director than writer; and that he generated playscripts by engaging a scribe to notate the improvisations of the actors (still the preferred method of theatrical creation).  If we predicate a similar procedure for James I’s team of scholars, we can produce a speculative restoration of a section of the text, interpreting it as a faulty transcription of a dictation.  I’ve chosen Psalm 23 for this attempt.

The version that I give below differs in many respects from the KJV.  In particular, it presents a subtly different relationship between the narrator and the “Lord.”

I must emphasize that, although this restoration is speculative, its homophony is significant.  Jung, in his studies on word association, affirmed that phonic associations were the most basic.  And his great precursor, Jean-Pierre Brisset, elaborated this principle:  “There exists in the word a number of Laws, previously unknown, of which the most important is that a sound, or a succession of identical, intelligible, and lucid sounds, can express different things, by a modification in the way these names or words are written or understood.  All ideas that are enunciated with similar sounds have the same origin, and all refer, in essence, to the same object…  This is the key that opens the books of the word.”  (From La Science de Dieu, 1900, my translation.)  Brisset emphasized the theological importance of this method of exegesis in his revised edition of 1913, Les Origines Humaines (again, in my translation):  “The sword of fire that guarded the path to the tree of life is called the pun, the play on words…  God chose those things in the world that are the most foolish, and the most despised, to annihilate those things that are.”

Readers of Raymond Roussel will recognize the theoretical rationale for the famous procédé.  Sound and sense are linked; words with similar sounds have similar meanings, often revealing fresh, sometimes surprising, interpretations.

The Lord is my jester; he’s full of taunt.
He mocketh me with low clownish impostures: he seateth me astride the spilled water.
He ignoreth my calls: he leadeth me to inspire derisiveness, for a jape’s sake.
Say, I could waltz down the alleyway unshaken by doubt, like a paralegal: but thou art witty; thy rudeness and chaff they target me.
Thou preparest me troubles to foil me for the pleasance of mine enemies: thou anointest my rug with oil; I slip, falleth over.
Surely goads without mercy shall swallow up all the joys of my life, and I am drenched by the hose of the Lord forever.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Education · Language · Literature

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Angela // Feb 18, 2011 at 6:53 am


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