The stories contained in this volume are versions of but a few of the narratives related in the first nine books of the Old Testament of the Bible, ‘that inestimable treasure which excelleth all the riches of the earth’.

The Bible, it is said, is not being read nowadays so much as it used to be: while there was a time when, it is recorded, a load of hay would be paid gladly for the loan of a manuscript Testament for an hour a day. Wholly apart from the profound truth that ‘simple men of wit may be edified much to heavenly living by reading and knowing of the Old Testament’, this statement, if true, implies a loss beyond measure to mind and heart, and particularly to the young—its wisdom and divination, truth and candour, simplicity and directness. All that man is or feels or (in what concerns him closely) thinks; all that he loves or fears or delights in, grieves for, desires and aspires to is to be found in it, either expressed or implied. As for beauty, though this was not its aim, and the word is not often used in it—it is ‘excellent in beauty’; and poetry dwells in it as light dwells upon a mountain and on the moss in the crevices of its rocks. In what other book—by mere mention of them—are even natural objects made in the imagination so whole and fair; its stars, its well-springs, its war-horse, its almond-tree?

That there are difficulties for those unfamiliar with its pages no one with any knowledge of the subject would deny. The very simplicity and austerity of the Old Testament stories, their conciseness, the slight changes that have occurred in the meaning or bearing of English words, occasional obscurities and repetitions in the text, are among them. My small endeavour has been to lighten some of these difficulties, while yet keeping as close to the spirit of the text as I am capable of. In many passages I have kept even to the letter. Apart from that, remembrance of what the matchless originals in the Bible itself meant to me when I was a child is still fresh and vivid in mind, and these renderings are little more than an attempt to put that remembrance as completely as I can into words.

But words in their influence are subtle and delicate beyond all things known to man, and the least change in them when they are in company, or the least addition to that company, cannot but entail a change of meaning; a change, that is, in their complete effect on the mind and spirit of the reader. Comparison of some of the English translations, as they deal in turn with the same brief passage, will be evidence of this, however little evidence is needed.

Here, for example, are three familiar verses from the first chapter of the Book of Ruth. Having come to the parting of the ways, Naomi, wholly against her heart and will, entreats Ruth to return to her own people and venture no further into a strange land:

The which answerde, Ne contrarye thou me, that Y forsake thee, and goo a wey; whider euere thou gost, I shal goo, and where thow abidist, and I togidre shal abyde; thi puple my puple, and thi God my God; what erthe the takith diynge, in it I shal die, and there I shal take place of biriynge; thes thingis God do to me, and thes thingis adde, if not oonly deth me and thee seuere. Seynge thanne Noemye, that with stedfast inwit Ruth hadde demed to goo with hir, wold not contrarye, ne more mouynge the turnynge agen to hyrs. And thei wenten forth to gidre, and thei camen into Bethlem …

(‘Wycliffe’: c. 1382)

And sche answeride, Be thou not aduersarye to me, that Y forsake thee, and go awei; whidur euer thou schalt go, Y shal go, and where thou schalt dwelle, and Y schall dwelle togidere; thi puple is my puple, and thi God is my God; what lond schal resseyue thee diynge, Y schal die ther ynne, and there Y schal take place of biriyng; God do to me these thingis, and adde these thingis, if deeth aloone schal not departe me and thee. Therfor Noemy saw, that Ruth hadde demyde with stidefast soule to go with hir, and sche nolde be agens hir, nether counseile ferthere turnynge agen to her cuntrei men. And thei geden forth togidere, and camen in to Betheleem …

(The ‘Wycliffe’ translation revised by John Purvey: 1386)

  By PanEris using Melati.

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