Introductory Note to the Complete Bible in Modern English
In the year 1853 there was inspired into my mind, by what appeared a mere accident, a resolve to study the Bible absolutely in its original languages, to ascertain what its writers actually said and taught. I am now writing in 1903, just fifty years after, and have accomplished my object, and completed an entirely new translation of the whole of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures direct from the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek, in which they were first given to the world. I was in 1853 a young student in course of education for an entirely literary career, but with a wider basis of study than is usually given for that purpose.
I at once threw myself into the stream of the suggestion and registered a vow that I would never again read the Gospels, or Christian Documents of our Faith, in any language but Greek, until I had learned to think in that tongue and it became as familiar to me as the diction of an English newspaper. I consequently abandoned my parental wish for me to take Orders, and ultimately turned to commerce. And in commerce my life has been passed, in transactions extending to all parts of the world and many nations. But not for one hour did I, or have I, abandoned my resolve as to Scriptural research. Indeed, I hold my commercial experience to have been my most important field of education, divinely prepared to fit me to be a competent translator of the Bible, for it taught me what men are and upon what motives they act, and by what influences they are controlled. Had I, on the other hand, lived the life of a Collegiate Professor, shut up in the narrow walls of a library, I consider that I should have had my knowledge of mankind so confined to glancing through a "peep-hole," as to make me totally unfit for the translation of so Universal a Code of the Laws of Life as the Bible forms.
But, nevertheless, I never ceased to read in Philology, Scientific Writers, and Scientific Research, History, Sociology, Statesmanship, and every field which the Scriptures touch upon, to enable me to attain my object. The laws and writes upon Criticism, whether Orthodox, Heterodox, "Higher," "Broad," or "Lower," "Assyriologic," or "Sanskrit," have all been open to me, and my conclusion is that in the Hebro Christian Scriptures we have the only key that unlocks the Mystery of the Universe to the intellect of Man and the Mystery of Man to Himself. In this conviction I present this section of the Bible to my Race, not as a "Parson paid to preach it up"--to use the vulgar phrase of modern men, whom Solomon would have called Fools--but as a man who began the investigation of the possibility of Divine Revelation, as an absolute disbeliever in any such thing, and who after years of honest and independent research has become a profound believer in such a Revelation as the only solution of the Mystery of Existence, not only of Man, but of all things.
The reception by the public of my work issued part by part has been for more encouraging than I ever expected, or could have hoped. It has had no assistance from Publishers or Universities, but by its own self it has gone over the world;--and cheering voices from every region of the globe and from all classes have wished me "God Speed" and urged me to go forward. Like Israel, across the Sea of Difficulty I have gone, and God has brought me to the promised land of Canaan of full success.
Having been asked by several learned scholars, as well as simple laymen, to write an Exposition of what I have learnt from my study of the Scriptures, I will say no more, but hope that God will grant me life and health of body and mind to answer their appeal properly, in such a treatise.
To the three accomplished scholars who have advised and assisted in the revision of my versions I return my best thanks.
The Books of the Sacred Volume of our Faith, as they were arranged by the Editorial Committee appointed by the Great Sanhedrim, called at Jerusalem for the purpose, in the Third Century before Christ, were divided into Four Volumes and put in the succession that I have followed in my translation.
Vol. I. contained the "Books of Moses," or "The Law" and was quoted as "B'reshith" or "Thorah," "The Law."
Vol. II. contained from the Book of Joshua to the end of the Second Book of Kings and was quoted as "Neblim Rishonim," that is, "The Early Reciters or Historians."
Vol. III. contained the books from Isaiah to Malaki and was quoted as "Nebiim Akheronim," the "Later Preachers," or, as we now say, "Prophets."
Vol. IV. contained the whole of the remaining Canonical Books of the Hebrew Scriptures and was quoted as the "Kethobim," "Sacred Writers" and included from the "Books of Psalms" to the end of the "Second Chronicles," and, except in the two "Chronicles" presents us with the Divinely Inspired Poetry and Philosophy of the Bible.
I decided to follow this Order of the books rather than that of the wild muddle in which the European translators of the Dark Ages had mixed them in the Latin and Greek versions, for the following reasons:--It was the original one, and the accurate criticism, mental insight and literary skill shown in it, and its grouping of both the Historical and the Divinely Inspired Writers, shows a masterly comprehension of the work the Editors had before them and of the progressive nature of the Revelation from God to Man of the Everlasting Laws of Creation, Human Life, and Social and National health and duty, that has never been equaled, and which it itself, if studied, a commentary that cannot be excelled.
As in my Introductions to the successive sections of the Bible I have given further details to justify my action, I add no more, especially as I have been appealed to by many correspondents, learned and unlearned alike, to write an explanatory volume on the Scriptures, and which, with the will of God, I have promised to do.
Finally, from the first beginning of my work, my method has been as follows:--I first made, by my own hand and mental effort, the translation absolutely direct from the original, with no intermediary version between the Greek or Oriental Texts and my manuscript. The revision of these drafts I repeated by the same plan three, and in some cases four or five times over, and also submitted difficult passages to the three Orientalist and Grecianist friends, who were the only men in Europe or America with devotion enough to the Scriptures to give any aid. (A sad comment upon the spirit of our age.) I then tested their suggestions by various previous translators and at last began to collate my version with a Polyglot Bible printed in parallel columns. The result of this last was surprising and saddening. For I discovered, in the Old Testament, that wherever the Greek translators had blundered in their rendering of the Hebrew or Chaldee text, every translator in every language, from the Latin to the German, French, Spanish, and Italian, onward to the English, authorized or unauthorized versions alike, had one after another repeated the blunders of the Greek, down to a version I lately added to my collection, made within the last twenty years. These are facts, and but for want of space I would prove my statements by reference to a list of passages. But my readers can verify for themselves by a little industry. The same may be said of the Latin version of the Greek New Testament.
But my readers must not suppose that I sought only to reproduce the mechanism of the diction of the Scriptures. My object was from the first to present the Spirit as well as the Letter of the Sacred Writers in our own tongue as accurately as a photograph shows the features, expression and mental characteristics of a man's face and mind. This, I believe, I have accomplished as no other translators have done, and not a few correspondents write me that they see I have attained my hope.
Finally, I must note as to my spelling of the proper names of localities and men. As I made my translation from the Hebrew without any English version open before me, I have followed the now general plan of Oriental scholars and simply transliterated those names, except a few, such as "Moses," "Joshua," etc., which are too fixed by popular use to be altered. The Geographical Names I invariable retain in transliterated form; because the attempt of my predecessors in translation from the Septuagint and Vulgate, and their versionists, to render them into their supposed Greek equivalents territorially, has made such wild misplacing of Nations and Towns as to remind one of the dreams of a mapmaker gone mad, whole kingdoms often having been put thousands of miles away from their actual localities: and those blunders have been incorporated in all our literature.
As every effort has been made to attain it, I believe this fifth edition of my work is the most accurate rendering into any European language, ancient or modern, ever made, not only in words, but in editing, spirit, and sense. I contend that I am the only man who has ever applied real mental and literary criticism to the Sacred Scriptures. I specially refer to my discovery of the Hebrew laws of Syllabic verse.
Ferrar Fenton, M.R.A.S.