The Cosmological Strangeness of Hart's New Testament: Part 1, Keep the Bible Weird

In 2017 David Bentley Hart released his translation of the New Testament to mixed reviews.

It's not hard to see why the translation created such diverse reactions. The translation is very odd, often jarring. But that was exactly what Hart was trying to accomplish, and what makes his translation so delightful and interesting. 

Both the text and world of the New Testament are strange. And modern translations tend to hide that strangeness. As Hart points out, far too often modern translations don't translate the text, they explain the text. 

Hart, by contrast, set himself the task of making the text and world of the New Testament transparent, to bring out and draw attention to its strangeness. Jarring oddity was the entire point of Hart's enterprise. 

Many of Hart's choices have been discussed at length since the publication of the translation. Hart's responses and defense for many of his choices are collected in the paperback edition of the translation in a "Concluding Scientific Postscript." This postscript is a very interesting read. 

In this short series I'd like to share an observation about the translation, one that I haven't see talked about a lot, about how Hart's translation highlights the cosmological strangeness of the New Testament world. 

Debates about translations tend to swirl around how to translate certain Greek words that carry a lot of theological baggage. For example, the papers and books that have been written about how to translate pistis ("faith," "faithfulness") and the dikaio-cluster ("righteous," "righteousness," "justify," "justification") in Paul would fill many, many dumpsters. And to be clear, Hart does wade into those issues.

But this series isn't going to focus on the meaning of Greek words. It is, rather, a brief look at how Hart uses his translation to draw attention to the cosmology of the New Testament, and how odd and strange that cosmology is to modern readers. Encountering this strangeness might be unsettling to many, but I've found it delightful, more rabbit holes to explore, more things to learn. 

There's a saying in Austin, Texas: "Keep Austin Weird." That's an apt description for what Hart set out to do: Keep the Bible Weird. And if you like weird, like I do, Hart's translation is a fun, fascinating read. And I'll be sharing some of that weirdness with you.

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