The Unauthorized Version
A pirate project to re-translate the Bible into English.
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Notes from the Unauthor
The Unauthorized Version began as a tongue-in-cheek experiment in 2017, but very quickly ballooned into a serious academic adventure. A first draft of Genesis was completed in late 2018. Since then several other portions of the Hebrew Bible have been translated but not yet published.
There are endless translations of the Bible in the English language, so why another one?
For all their differences, existing versions all translate the Hebrew ‘Elohim’ as God. And I don’t like it. Given the weight of the word in English usage, and the freight of Greek philosophy that it carries, God is inadequate to capture the plurality of the word in Hebrew (it could legitimately be translated ‘Gods’). But more importantly, after so many centuries of monotheism in the English-speaking world, God is completely unable to evoke its radical novelty in a melting pot of polytheist cultures. The monotheism of the Bible is far weaker, far more uncertain, than the monotheism of imperial Britain or America, for example. When a relatively powerless people assert, in the face of a polytheist empire, that their oppressors’ gods don’t exist and that only one god lays claim to their being, that is one kind of gutsy resistive monotheism. When a powerful empire asserts that there is one God to rule them all, that is a very different kind of monotheism. In English, God is still an agent of Empire.
For that reason I insist, in a move entirely permitted by the Hebrew, of treating Elohim and Yahweh as two separate characters. By restructuring polytheism into the heart of the drama, I can then draw out monotheist claims more forcefully as a narrative process.
Now here’s the thing… I don’t have ancient Hebrew as a languge. So I describe The Unauthorized Version as a re-translation because I’m always working with existing English texts. This might sound crazy – how can you translate without the original language? But the Bible has been translated into English so many times that there are immense resources freely available to any would-be translator. My process is to read multiple translations, review Hebrew words one by one with their English translation options, and slowly construct sentences. It’s an intense and laborious process, but – in my opinion – any English-language translation of the Bible should consider existing versions as it can’t help speaking against a long tradition of translation choices. I’ve simply chosen to do that work explicitly in relation to the body of biblical scholarship that shapes the possibilities and pitfalls of certain meanings.
So while I have created a radical translation that departs from several orthodoxies, I am immensely grateful to the long tradition of English-speaking Hebrew scholars who have done the hard work that I rely on. The Unauthorized Version is not only a pirate project that plunders the work of others, but I am an unauthor through whom others write.
– Matt Valler