"The Breadth, and Length, and Depth, and Height" of Early Modern English Biblical Translations

2020-07-29T16:23:05Z (GMT) by Marsalene E Robbins

The significance of early modern Bible translation cannot be overstated, but its “breadth, and length, and depth, and height” have often been understated (King James Version, Ephesians 3.18). In this study, I use three representative case studies of very different types of translation to create a more dynamic understanding of actual Bible translation practices in early modern England. These studies examine not only the translations themselves but also the ways that the translation choices they contain interacted with early modern readers.


The introductory Chapter One outlines the history of translation and of Bible translation more specifically. It also summarizes the states of the fields into which this work falls, Translation Studies and Religion and Literature. It articulates the overall scope and goals of the project, which are not to do something entirely new, per se, but rather to use a new framework to update the work that has already been done on early modern English Bible translation. Chapter Two presents a case study in formal interlingual translation that analyzes a specific word-level translation choice in the King James Version (KJV) to demonstrate the politics involved even in seemingly minor translation choices. Chapter Three treats the intermedial translation of the Book of Psalms in the Sternhold and Hopkins psalter. By using the language and meter of the populace and using specific translation choices to accommodate the singing rather than reading of the Psalms, the Sternhold and Hopkins psalter facilitates a more active and participatory experience for popular worshippers in early modern England. Finally, Chapter Four analyzes John Milton’s literary translation in Paradise Lost and establishes it as a spiritual and cultural authority along the lines of formal interlingual translations. If we consider this translation as an authoritative one, Milton’s personal theology expressed therein becomes a potential theological model for readers as well.


By creating a more flexible understanding of what constitutes an authoritative translation in early modern England, this study expands the possibilities for the theological, interpretive, and practical applications of biblical texts, which touched not only early modern readers but left their legacies for modern readers of all kinds as well.