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From Genesis 34:12 -

Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife. (KJV)

Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.’ (NIV)

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Please someone clarifies me how it is possible that he is ready to give everything for her while he wants her family "never" ask so much dowry and gift from him.

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Your clue here is the fact that the NIV version doesn't include the word "never" and in fact contains the invitation to ask for however much dowry they like ("Make the price for the bride... as great as you like").

The King James Version of the Bible is written in archaic language.

The Biblical sense of the idiom "never so" is rarely encountered today and would confuse many native speakers, especially out of context. (Of course, in everyday language, "never so" and "never so much" are often used with a straightforward meaning.)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Biblical usage as follows:

In clauses and phrases with concessive force, denoting an unlimited amount.

a. never so: (with an adjective or adverb) as —— as could be.

So "never so much" here means "as much as could be".

The OED includes citations from Dickens, Bram Stoker, and - more recently - Terry Pratchett. Here it is easier to understand than in the Bible, because it seems to have the implication "never so ... as now" or "never before so...".

1844 Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit xlii. 488 [They] worked..to make the door secure; but though they worked never so hard, it was all in vain.

1897 B. Stoker Dracula xxiv. 328 To sail a ship takes time, go she never so quick.

1983 T. Pratchett Colour of Magic 30 There are certain spells that can prevent the life departing from a body, be it never so abused.

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A modern paraphrase would be "no matter how much". No matter how much dowry and gift you ask me for, I will give what you ask.

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The English versions of the New Testament are often translations from the Greek, which in turn was translated from the Aramaic (some versions may be translations from Latin <- Greek <- Aramaic). English translations from the Old Testament are often translated directly from the Hebrew.

The point is that translators got creative with the kind of language they use. There's a particular kind of "Bible English" that sounds both old-fashioned and dramatic, to give it the right kind of historical and religious gravitas.

This is especially true of the King James Version, which was written in 1611, and so probably used language which seemed somewhat archaic or overly formal even then.

These texts are not good examples of modern spoken English, and may in fact not even represent how English was ever spoken. The phrase "never so much as" is an English idiom, but it means "not even a little bit".

I can't believe she decided to show up late for her own party, with never so much as an apology.

So I have no idea how the translator of the first passage decided to use the phrase

ask me never so much dowry and gift

to mean

ask as much as you like

It would confuse anyone, but the second part of the sentence makes it clear what the writer means to say. This kind of negation sounds like archaic English, so after I was clear what the sentence meant, I would just assume the writer used an outdated meaning of the phrase that I didn't know.

  • What parts of the New Testament 'were translated from Aramaic"? – green_ideas Nov 2 '17 at 23:17
  • @Clare, what's your point? – Andrew Nov 3 '17 at 0:38
  • You write: The English versions of the New Testament are often translations from the Greek, which in turn was translated from the Aramaic. I am asking for examples (or further explanation) of the second clause which in turn was translated from the Aramaic. – green_ideas Nov 3 '17 at 3:00
  • @Clare perhaps if you were less coy about your intentions, I could help you out. If this is a criticism (which the downvote implies) then please state why you think it's incorrect. – Andrew Nov 3 '17 at 15:28
  • I hesitate to publish my interpretation of your sentence lest I be reading it wrongly, but it seems that is what you want. I guess I'm asking Are you saying that there is an Aramaic New Testament from which was translated the Greek New Testament? because this would be new information to me. If not, then I'm asking you for clarification. – green_ideas Nov 3 '17 at 16:35

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