Three Gospels by Reynolds Price

The New Testament’s accounts of Jesus’ life are part of the canon of many cultures. Less familiar are the challenges that lie behind the translations of Biblical texts. There are no originals, and among the handwritten copies there are no two that are exactly alike – there are tens of thousands of variations. And then, of course, there is the challenge of capturing the stylistic elements of the texts.

In Three Gospels, Reynolds Price attempts to invoke the tone of the good news, the gospels, according to Mark and John. This is a tricky kind of translation, for the texts were once written in Koine Greek by authors whose literary style has been described as “fairly rough overall” and “stump-fingered” (while the literary structure of the gospels is another matter). Every gospel has its own voice, but what Mark and John have in common is a gritty confidence that shines through in Price’s treatments. His translations are stunning, as he manages to bring the reader close to the tone of the ancient texts. There can, of course, never be a definitive translation of any text. Every translation is a suggestion, but Price’s suggestions are courageous and honest, and thanks to his renderings it’s easy to get immersed in the action and experience the good news anew.

Those who encounter the gospels edit and create their own (more or less) personal account of Jesus’ life. Just as there are no two handwritten gospel copies that are precisely alike, there may not be two people who understand Jesus in exactly the same way. In the third gospel of the book, Price shares his own version of what he calls “a memorable life,” and over the years there has been, as the author points out, a number of attempts at compiling “a harmony of all known gospel themes.” Price’s text sticks close to Mark’s chronology of Jesus’ life, but he also inserts events from other sources, mainly Matthew, Luke, and John. The four gospels of The New Testament are poignant texts, but the benefit of Price’s vision is that he is a contemporary author, writing for a modern audience and bringing clarity to the story. In other words, Price can help readers see the life of Jesus with contemporary eyes, and in doing so he becomes part of a foundation of the Jesus story: it’s vibrant and continues to evolve and fascinate as the world changes. And so, Jesus’ last words in Matthew echo through the ages: I am with you always till the end of time.

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