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The Psalms Project - Translations

There are many, many translations of the Bible into English, and there are even more translations of the Psalms, for many have been done as a separate enterprise. At St. Ann's, we use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV - the same translation as the St. John's Bible shown at left) for our services and Bible study. But we use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer's Psalter - its own translation - for those same services. That will be the primary text for the Psalms Project. If you do not have a BCP of your own, I encourage you to get one (you can order from, and there is also a useful and free digital version at

Exploring multiple translations, however, is always a good thing. The King James Version of the Bible, from 1611, is the classic - except that the real classic is Miles Coverdale's translation from 1535, which was the version used in the first English prayer book of 1549. But let's not get lost in the mists of time. The KJV is wonderful in many ways (its version of the 23rd psalm is beyond reproach) but in many places it is not a very accurate translation. Its language is also that of Shakespeare, and you may recall learning to read his works in editions that had the text on one page and a glossary on the facing page, because the English language has changed so much since then. We will nonetheless look at both of these early and poetically lovely translations from time to time.

On the contemporary end of things, there are two translations I am eager to dip into. The first is one done by Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley. Alter is a renowned scholar whose approach to the Bible as literature is powerful and illuminating, and he's now done his own translation of the entire Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). It's simply brilliant. His version of the Psalms is available as a separate book, and I commend it to you. I'm also looking forward to exploring the St. Helena Psalter, a translation done by the Episcopal nuns of the Order of St. Helena. Their effort has been to make the poetry sing while using gender-inclusive language whenever possible. This is important work, so we'll look at that together as well. 

And there will be more, trust me! But let's start with the BCP - it's a really lovely translation.