My short obituary of Ernie Harwell last week noted that he would begin his first broadcast of the baseball season by quoting from the Song of Solomon: “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.”
A reader wrote in: “That’s ‘voice of the turtle-dove’ not ‘voice of the turtle.’ Do turtles even have a voice?”
I’ve wondered the same thing. In the King James Bible, however, the verse really does refer to the “voice of the turtle.” And that’s how Harwell actually spoke the line. Yet many modern editions of the Bible refer to the “voice of the turtledove.” The original Hebrew uses the word tor, which means turtledove. (Previously, I’ve posted about “the Horns of Moses,” another dilemma of biblical translation.)
The turtle translation is one of the peculiarities of the King James Bible, which is the subject of today’s NRO podcast with Robert Alter, author of Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible.
Next week’s podcast: Ben Wildavsky on global universities.