Thursday, July 20, 2017

7 Questions: Samuel Bray

I want to thank Samuel Bray for taking the time to answer my "7 Questions" about their new translation of Genesis 1-11.  I will have a review up in the coming weeks.  (If you are wondering, I would highly encourage you to pick this volume up.)

1) As we get started, I was wondering if you could you tell my audience about how this book came to be? What was your motivation for proceeding with this project?
We each bring different backgrounds and motivations to this project. For John's part, there has been years of study of the Bible in its original languages, teaching Hebrew, service as a pastor, consulting on Bible translations, and blogging at Ancient Hebrew Poetry. I'm a law professor with interests in language and literature. One of my recent papers, for example, is on figures of speech in the Constitution. I had been trying to decide on a Bible translation to read at home with my kids, and I was dissatisfied with the new ones either for their distance from the original or their roughness when read aloud. I started working on a translation of Genesis, and then approached John about it--I knew him from his blog and thought we would have a similar translation philosophy. We started collaborating, and the first volume, on Genesis 1-11, was recently published. It's called Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators 

2) The heart of this book is your translation of Genesis 1-11.  What style of translation would you say it is?  More formal like a NASB or dynamic like the NIV?  
Translations are classified in many different ways. On a spectrum of formal (NASB) to dynamic or functional (NIV) to more paraphrastic (the Message), we're definitely at the formal end. In fact, our translation is often closer to the Hebrew than the NASB is. To be clear, these terms are generalizations: every translation will be "formally equivalent" some of the time and be forced into "paraphrase" in some places, so these labels should be taken as descriptions of a translation's tendency and emphasis.

But that isn't the only way to classify a translation. Compared to more "formal equivalent" recent translations (e.g., NASB, ESV), our translation is more attentive to literary characteristics of the original, including its puns, its figures of speech, its physicality (discussed here and here and its repetitions here). Our translation is also more attentive to how the English text sounds when it is read aloud--rhythm, euphony, pacing, and so on. Of course this claim about the sound of the English is one that many translations make. The proof is in the pudding; we recommend that you taste it.

3) Could you give an example from your translation that shows its unique characteristics?
One verse that shows a number of careful choices is Genesis 6:9. We translate it like this:


These are the generations of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man. Perfect was he in his generation. With God Noah walked.


Note that our translation is usually not this choppy, but there are several short clauses here, and we render them as separate English sentences, which has the effect of slowing the pace and putting emphasis on each clause.

Let's start with the sentence that is italicized and set off: "These are the generations of Noah." This is an instance of a formula that marks major seams in the Book of Genesis. We don't add headings to the text, but we italicize these and set them off because they are like headings that Genesis itself uses. (A couple instances are complicated, as we discuss in the notes.) Like the older translations, including Douai Rheims, we use "generations" consistently for the keyword in the formula (toledot). That helps the reader follow the use of the formula as a structural marker.

To unpack more of our translation choices in this verse, let me quote three paragraphs from our translation notes (footnotes omitted):

“Perfect” is the traditional rendering. It accords with the Septuagint and Vulgate. Compare Matthew 5:48: “Be yee therefore perfect, euen as your father, which is in heauen, is perfect” (KJV). In recent English translations the dominant rendering is “blameless.” But the Hebrew word (tamim) is not a negation; it expresses integrity and perfection.
The word translated “generations” in “These are the generations of Noah” means “begettings.” A different word is translated “generation” in “Perfect was he in his generation.” This word (dor) refers not to the family a person has generated, but to the people generated and living in a given time, and by extension to that time. (Compare “the Greatest Generation.”) This description has long been understood as qualifying the assessment of Noah’s perfection. In Jerome’s words, “Scripture says distinctly in his generation, to indicate that he was righteous not in respect of the highest degree of righteousness, but relative to the righteousness of his own generation.” Other good renderings: “among those of his generation,” “in his age” (NJPS), “in his time” (NASB, Alter). Note that the Hebrew is plural, “in his generations,” and KJV has that more literal rendering.
In the Hebrew clause rendered “With God Noah walked,” the word order is unusual, and the placement of “With God” at the beginning of the Hebrew sentence likely emphasizes that it was with God that Noah conducted his affairs, that he walked in the path of righteousness indicated by God, not in the path of his peers. In Genesis 5:24, on the other hand, there is no fronting, because the opposite possibility, of walking with all flesh which “had ruined its way upon the earth,” was not in view: “Enoch walked with God.”

4) One of the things I really appreciate about your book is that, since you reference both Protestant and Catholic translations, it has a true ecumenical spirit to it.  Therefore, it makes this text useful to Catholics, who really don't have anything like this available to them.  Was that intentional?  Was there anything you discovered that was unique to the Catholic translations, in general?
John and I are constantly reminded of the wisdom and skill of our predecessors in translating Genesis. As you note, these include Catholics and Protestants. We also draw on ancient rabbinic commentary, the great Jewish medieval exegetes, and more recent Jewish translations and scholarship, as well as a number of Eastern Church fathers. This ecumenical gathering of insight was certainly intentional. And, truth be told, not unique. Although the translators of the King James Version didn't readily admit it, they leaned on the excellent scholarship in the Douai Rheims version for their translation of the New Testament. (The DR rendering of the Hebrew Bible appeared too late to have much influence on the KJV's rendering of Genesis.) And of course all subsequent translators stand in Jerome's debt on many points.

We quote or cite many Catholic translations of Genesis. The ones we invoke most often are the Vulgate, Douai Rheims, and NABRE, but we also refer to the Old Latin, the Latin version of Sanctus Paginus, the Confraternity Bible, Knox's translation, and the Jerusalem Bible, as well as Catholic-Protestant ecumenical projects like Traduction Ĺ“cuménique de la Bible.

I don't think there's a unique characteristic of Catholic translations. Some translate the Vulgate (e.g., Knox), but the more recent ones translate from the Hebrew, emending the received text at various points (e.g., NABRE). Compared to most recent English translations, the NABRE had better stylists and shows more attention to public reading. But it's hard to say that that's a characteristic of Catholic translations--one could invoke modern counter-examples--and despite its strengths Douai Rheims is not stylistically stronger than Tyndale or the KJV.

In the end, I think the sixteenth-century English translations have more in common with each other, whether Catholic or Protestant, and the twentieth and twenty-first century English translations have more in common with each other, whether Catholic or Protestant. Our translation has more of the virtues and vices of the old translations, but that's another topic.

I should add that we are careful, in theologically sensitive passages, to translate with openness to the history of interpretation. One example is the proto-evangelium (Genesis 3:15), which we render: "Enmity will I set between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head; you shall bruise his heel." Moreover, because we try to preserve connections with the rest of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the reader may find passages that echo in unexpected ways, such as Lamech's "Just as I kill a man for a wound, so a child for a stripe" (Genesis 4:23b)--stripe may call to mind stripes in Isaiah 53, where the same word is used, creating a contrast between the suffering of Lamech and the suffering of the Servant. And our rendering of the end of Genesis 6:6 may for some readers call to mind the cross: "And the LORD was aggrieved that he had made man on the earth, and in his heart he sorrowed."

5) After having examined a number of different Catholic translations for this book, did any of them stand out to you?  Why?
I gained new respect for the Douai Rheims version, which is a translation I had not used much before this project. There are a number of places where it carries over a detail lost in other English translations. Sometimes we follow its lead, as in Genesis 10:11, where it has “Niniue, and the streets of the citie" and we have "Nineveh, and the city's wide squares"--not "Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir" as in many translations.

By the way, we have five indices for the book, including an Index of Authors and an Index of Translations. These make it easy to look for where the notes discuss a favorite author or translation. For example, Thomas Merton is quoted or cited on pp. 98, 109, 128, 133, 168, and 179. NABRE is quoted or cited on pp. 50, 55, 66, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 77, 78, 79, 85, 88, 90, 91, 95, 100, 107 (twice), 109, 112, 113 (twice), 117 (twice), 119, 122, 128, 133, 134, 136, 138, 141, 143, 144, 145, 146 (twice), 147, 151 (twice), 152, 153, 154, 156, 157 (thrice), 159, 160, 161, 162, 165, 168 (twice), 171 (twice), 173, 176, 179 (twice), 184, 188, 189, 193, 196, 225.

6) Are there plans for doing additional volumes?
We are continuing our work on Genesis, which should keep us busy for a while, especially since we both have other full-time vocations.

7) After completing this book on Genesis 1-11, was there a verse or two that you came to appreciate more after doing this book?

There are many, but I think one of them is Genesis 4:13, which we render "My iniquity is too weighty to be forgiven." I had thought of Cain as a petulant complainer, but there are good arguments that he is in fact more like Esau as described in Hebrews 12:17. We have a lengthy note on the translation of this verse (pp. 135-138), explaining this choice. But the bottom line is that the tragedy of Genesis 4 cuts deeper, the sense of loss of divine and human fellowship is much keener, than I had ever realized.

Thank you for the chance to discuss the translation. And I should note that we welcome criticism and suggestions from readers. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New Catholic Version: New Testament & Psalms

Thanks to Joshua for spotting this.  As he pointed out in his email to me, "Amazon has four listings for a combined New Catholic Version NT and Psalms.  They should be released in October/November. Two are in leatherette and the other is paperback."

We are pleased to offer our popular NCV New Testament and Psalms together in one volume in four different bindings. Both texts are complete and therefore their best and most-lauded features remain: readability; copious, well-written, and informative footnotes; photographs; maps; and the words of Christ in red. This New Catholic Version translation, in conformity with the Church's translation guidelines, is intended to be used by Catholics for daily prayer and meditation , as well as private devotion and group study. Accolades we have received from satisfied readers of the NCV New Testament: "The words of scripture come alive before your eyes.... The notes bring a depth to the scriptures I have found in few other translations." "...the NCV...will likely be my first choice when looking for a translation that is clear, immediate, and speaks directly to the heart." Features gilded edges. group study. Accolades we have received from satisfied readers of the NCV New Testament: _The words of scripture come alive before your eyes_. The notes bring a depth to the scriptures I have found in few other translations._ _ _ the NCV_ will likely be my first choice when looking for a translation that is clear, immediate, and speaks directly to the heart._ Gold edging. 

So, does anyone actually read from this translation by Catholic Book Publishing?  It is sort of an enigma.  What I mean by that, is that there has been very little fanfare about its release and information about it is sparse.  What are your thoughts on this bible?  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament (11/30/17)

Now this looks very promising.  (It also is very much needed.)

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: Old Testament
John Bergsma and Brant Pitre

Just what Catholic colleges and seminaries have longed for! A solid, up-to-date overview of contemporary scholarship's understanding of the language, literature, history, and culture of the ancient Hebrews; how the Old Testament is seen in the light of the New; and how each book is cited in the modern 3-year lectionary. 725 pages, hardcover. Ignatius.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

In Praise of Paraphrase

A quote from William Griffin, translator of the deuterocanonical books in The Message:Catholic/Ecumenical Edition, while translating some of the Latin classics into English, as found in Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book:

"I fully intended to do the literal translation, of course, and yes, better than any of my predecessors had done, but I soon found myself faltering.  Fidelity seemed its only virtue.  Felicity was nowhere to be seen.  But Fidelity without Felicity in translation can be a very mean virtue indeed.... As many before me, I'd always thought Paraphrase was bonkers.  Why?  Because my intellectual betters had told me so, and I had no occasion to say them nay.  But what they never told me in so many words was that all translation was all too errant.  Soon thereafter I concluded that if err I must, then I'd prefer to err on the side of Paraphrase rather than Literalese (172)."

And of course, there is this classic quote from Msgr. Ronald Knox:

"The translator, let me suggest in passing, must never be frightened of the word 'paraphrase'; it is a bogey of the half-educated.  As I have already tried to point out, it is almost impossible to translate a sentence without paraphrasing; it is a paraphrase when you translate 'Comment vous portez-vous?' by 'How are you?'  But often enough it will be a single word that calls for paraphrase.  When St. Paul describes people as "wise according to the flesh', the translator is under an obligation to paraphrase.  In English speech, you might be called fat according to the flesh, or thin according to the flesh, but not wise or foolish.  The flesh here means natural, human standards of judging, and the translator has got to say so.  'Wise according to the flesh' is Hebrew in English dress; it is not English (Englishing the Bible 8-9)."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Politics of Bible Translation

Scot McKnight, popular author and blogger, recently linked to an older blog post of his concerning Bible translation and politics.  He begins the post this way:

"The Bible you carry is a political act. By “Bible” I mean the Translation of the Bible you carry is a political act. Because the Bible you carry is a political act the rhetoric about other translations is more politics than it is reality. The reality is that the major Bible translations in use today are all good, and beyond good, translations. There is no longer a “best” translation but instead a basket full of exceptional translations."

He goes on to list the various Protestant translations and how they often say something about the individual's politics.  I'd encourage you to check out the entire post here.  Then, I'd be interested in hearing what you think of the author's main point, but with an eye to our Catholic bible translations today.  I think it exists within the Catholic Church here in America, but to a lesser extent than our Protestant brothers and sisters.  I can attest, from my own experience teaching adults Scripture for a biblical school over the course of five years, that it was not uncommon for students to question my "orthodoxy" because I preferred the NRSV over the RSV.

So, please give the article a read first before commenting.  Also, I know I am likely opening Pandora's box by posting this, but let's make sure that we comment with "gentleness and reverence" as the first Pope commanded.  One last thing, if you are going to comment anonymously, please include some kind of name at the end of your post.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Should We Memorize Scripture and With Which Bible?

Ok, so here are the discussion questions:

1) Is the memorization of Scripture something we, as Catholics, should strive to do?  (Protestant friends and readers are welcome to chime in as well.)

2) Is it necessary that we have a stable text in order to do this?

3) If so, which Catholic translation fills that need right now?

My responses:
1) Yes, absolutely!

2) I think so.  The continual revision of translations, often within 20 years of initial publication cannot be conducive to memorization.

3) That is the question, eh?

It should be the NABRE, but it has had a continuous history of revision after revision which means stability is not one of its virtues.  That being said, there is some legitimate hope that the current revision, due to be completed in 2025, may provide the stability many seek.

So, which text has the greatest likelihood of being a stable text?  Texts like the Douay-Rheims or Knox are not likely to be updated (officially) ever again.  Knox, himself, wrote that if his text became dated, he would prefer someone to do a completely fresh translation instead of revising his.  Well, then, how about the RSV or NRSV?  The RSV has been revised/updated a few times over its history, most notably the '66 CE, the '71 NT revision, and the Ignatius changes.  The NRSV has not been updated since publication in 1989 and the NCCUSA has made no mention of future revision.

I don't know if there is a clear answer.  I wonder myself, particularly since having a stable text for memorization would be a very good thing.

What say you?