Thursday, February 17, 2011

NABRE Sneak Peek: Isaiah 7

Today the NABRE Facebook page has released a bonus "Sneak Peek" which is sure to stimulate discussion, hopefully in a constructive manner. It comes from Isaiah 7, which chronicles the Syro-Ephraimite War and includes the famous Emmanuel passage in 7:14. Make sure to consult the notes, which are faily extensive.

Below is the original NAB version:

In the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah, king of Israel, son of Remaliah, went up to attack Jerusalem, but they were not able to conquer it. 2 When word came to the house of David that Aram was encamped in Ephraim, the heart of the king and heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind. 3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah: Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway of the fuller's field, 4 and say to him: Take care you remain tranquil and do not fear; let not your courage fail before these two stumps of smoldering brands (the blazing anger of Rezin and the Arameans, and of the son of Remaliah), 5 because of the mischief that Aram (Ephraim and the son of Remaliah) plots against you, saying, 6 "Let us go up and tear Judah asunder, make it our own by force, and appoint the son of Tabeel king there." 7 Thus says the LORD: This shall not stand, it shall not be! 8 Damascus is the capital of Aram, and Rezin the head of Damascus; Samaria is the capital of Ephraim, and Remaliah's son the head of Samaria. 9 But within sixty years and five, Ephraim shall be crushed, no longer a nation. Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm! 10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: 11 Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! 12 But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!" 13 Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall be living on curds and honey by the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good. 16 For before the child learns to reject the bad and choose the good, the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted. 17 The LORD shall bring upon you and your people and your father's house days worse than any since Ephraim seceded from Judah. (This means the king of Assyria.) 18 On that day The LORD shall whistle for the fly that is in the farthest streams of Egypt, and for the bee in the land of Assyria. 19 All of them shall come and settle in the steep ravines and in the rocky clefts, on all thornbushes and in all pastures. 20 On that day the LORD shall shave with the razor hired from across the River (with the king of Assyria) the head, and the hair between the legs. It shall also shave off the beard. 21 On that day a man shall keep a heifer or a couple of sheep, 22 and from their abundant yield of milk he shall live on curds; curds and honey shall be the food of all who remain in the land. 23 On that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand pieces of silver, shall be turned to briers and thorns. 24 Men shall go there with bow and arrows; for all the country shall be briers and thorns. 25 For fear of briers and thorns you shall not go upon any mountainside which used to be hoed with the mattock; they shall be grazing land for cattle and shall be trampled upon by sheep.


Colleague said...

And let all the critics say: Behold! Doth thus yonder NABRE expressest the holy truth of Emmanuel's virgin mother? Oui!

Timothy said...

Let's hope it remains civil. But I am looking forward to the comments.

Thomas L said...

The note for v.14 makes it sound as if the Septuagint (parthenos) is a Christian translation/interpretation. The note-tone seems to only offer a grudging concession to any Christian interpretations actually, which somewhat grates my nerves—shouldn't the USCCB's Bible be more friendly to Catholics than a Jewish Bible would be?

I can't help but wonder if an original English translation of the Nova Vulgata would have been a much more efficient use of Catholic scholarship than this revision effort, which though surely well-intentioned, is hardly innovative or unique.

Anonymous said...

Frustratingly, the new translation makes it seem that the only "sign" is that Isaiah predicts the name that will be given to the child of a young woman, possible already visibly pregnant, possibly one that he is pointing out in the marketplace while speaking that oracle. I have heard this interpretation from biblical studies students at my university, who must be getting it somewhere, but I consider it highly unfortunate as it rather trivializes the passage. I trust the Jewish and the Christian interpretative tradition on this one.

Timothy said...


Please see my previous post about Anonymous comments. Add some sort of name at the end of your comment so that we can facilitate the discussion more precisely. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

What a pity. Such a lost opportunity on the part of the USCCB which could have ended the needless divisiveness of the previous NABs. Alas, it is not to be. Regret.

BC (& not the previous anon)

Theophrastus said...

I'll let you folks debate the footnotes. I just want to talk about the cross-references.

Note how unhelpful the cross-references are, and how many Biblical parallels they miss. As an obvious example, there is no cross reference at all from Is 7:14 (although the footnote to 7:14 mention several other verses in passing). I guess that the folks preparing the cross-reference index didn't think that verse related to any others in the Bible.

One further point -- a note to Tim. Earlier Tim was mentioning what versions of the NABRE he planned to purchase -- and was comparing the Oxford Catholic Study Bible with the forthcoming Little Rock Catholic Study Bible. It seems to me, however, that given the tenor of the notes and the translation, that this particular translation would work best with the more critical commentary of the Oxford CSB. From the fragments of the Little Rock CSB and NABRE that have been released, it seems like they clash in terms of presumed education, stylistic approach, and reading level.

La Cruzada said...

You people havn't the faintest clue who you're dealing with, do you?

Case in point. A few years ago Hollywood produced a film called the Nativity Story. It became the first film to ever premier at the Vatican. This film, among other blasphemies features a little real-life harlot in the role of Mary, who in the film, upon her entrance into Jerusalem in the presence of St. Joseph has her palm read by some witch (whom if this had really been the case St. Joseph would have stoned on the spot.) This film also features Mary having a grueling and bloody child-birth to the snubbing of Catholic doctrine on the matter. So what do you think all the Cardinals and Prelates and priests and top-dogs at the Vatican (who without any doubt know better) do when they are the first to see this blasphemous film that will influence the lives of millions of the faithful? Read the account yourself and take note of their reaction especially upon the scene of Mary's alleged brutal childbirth :

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Vatican officials have given the latest Hollywood re-enactment of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' birth a thumbs up after hosting the film's world premiere Nov. 26.

"It retells this event which changed history with realism but also with a sense of great respect of the mystery of the Nativity," said Cardinal Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State

Thunderous applause broke out several times during the film's 90-minute showing, with the most enthusiastic being during the scene of Christ's birth in Bethlehem.

Archbishop Foley said Rolf Mittweg, president of the film's distributor, New Line Cinema, told him he was "stunned, but happy" the film generated so much applause.

"I told him it was because they were pleased to see an affirmation of (the Christian) faith," the archbishop said.

"An affirmation of the Christian faith"? Really Cardinal Bertone who surely knows better?

So, people, stop being so stupid on purpose or "willingly ignorant" as the Scriptures have it about the larger context of why your conciliar bibles deliberately remove obvious cross-references or favor hateful Jewish Talmudic interpretations, or feature such ridiculous notes like from the NAB on Matthew :

Matthew 1, 25 : Until she bore a son : The evangelist is concerned to emphasize that Joseph was not responsible for the conception of Jesus. The Greek word translated “until” does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus’ birth, nor does it exclude it.

or even this note from Isaie 7:14 under review : "The young woman: Hebrew ‘almah designates a young woman of marriageable age without specific reference to virginity."

Wake up! There's a war going on all around you! There are Infiltrates in the highest echelons of the Church. Your bibles are bad. Your liturgies are boring. Your people are Liberal. Your false ecumenism is traitorous. You have been made fools of!

Timothy said...

Mel Gibson?

T. said...

Timothy, CLASSIC!

Anonymous said...

W're taking a trip down the rabbit hole tonight? Just looked out the window---FULL MOON.

Sharon in Texas!

Thomas L said...

Oops, I see the note for 14 was split up into separate topics, which I didn't notice while reading from my phone. So it only mentions the historical Christian interpretation of Emmanuel not 'almah. The original note in the NAB is much better than the RE note, which is not as full and reads more like a justification and defense of their revision.

I don't doubt that most every NABRE scholar believes Isiaias foretold the birth of Christ by the Blessed Virgin in vii.14, but why make this prophetic interpretation seem more unlikely than it has ever seemed, compared with the NAB-1970 and previous English Catholic Bibles? Who benefits from this?

Clearly, the NABRE scholars are insistent on following the MT even where it contradicts LXX quotations in the NT. Not to mention St Jerome, who knew a thing or two about Hebrew nouns.

Francesco said...

I had thought that the NAB's use of "virgin" would mean that this verse wouldn't have been changed. I'm unpleasantly surprised.

The footnote for 7:14 is also significantly de-sacralized. I'm not sure who's voice it is, but it sounds so he-said, she-said:

The young woman: Hebrew ‘almah designates a young woman of marriageable age without specific reference to virginity. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew term as parthenos, which normally does mean virgin, and this translation underlies Mt 1:23. Emmanuel: the name means “with us is God.” Since for the Christian the incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s willingness to “be with us,” it is understandable that this text was interpreted to refer to the birth of Christ.

This note feels like one of those Mad Magazine fold-ins. If you fold the sides over the middle you see something new:

"Since the Septuagint translated the Hebrew term as parthenos, which normally does mean virgin, and this translation underlies Mt 1:23, it is understandable that this text was interpreted to refer to the birth of Christ."

And honestly, isn't my redacted version closer to the truth than the complete NABRE note?

Francesco said...

Leaving aside v. 14, many of the changes to Isaiah 7 seem good:

7:5 "mischief" --> "evil"
7:8 "the capital of" --> "the head of"
7:15,16 "reject the bad and choose the good" --> "reject evil and chose good"
7:20 "hair between the legs" --> "hair of the feet" (big difference!)
7:23 "used to be" --> "were"; "be turned to" --> "become"
7:25b "they shall be grazing land for cattle and shall be trampled upon by sheep" --> "they shall become a place for cattle to roam and sheep to trample"

I count two changes due to inclusive language:

7:13 "Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God?" --> "Then he said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God?"
7:24 "Men shall go there with bow and arrows" --> "One shall have to go there with bow and arrows"

v. 13 seems clunkier due to the change, though I think v. 24 sounds better to me, since "one" is singular like "bow and arrows". I'm not sure how many female archers the ancient armies of Judah had though.

Timothy said...


Thank you for bringing us back to the text itself. I agree with your comments in your second post. I think those changes will make it more readable.

When we look at Isaiah 7:14, the issue for the translator, it seems to me, is whether or not to stay literal with the Hebrew. If you are going to base your text of the MT, then should you stick with that in all instances? What about in the instance of an eclectic text, which incorporates the LXX? Or should you stick to the LXX for the entire translation?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me all of this is a tempest in a teapot. Almah is simply more precise than virgin in that it specifies a young unmarried woman who is usually and presumably a virgin. I think it's six of one and a half dozen of another.

Francesco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francesco said...


Those are all extremely important judgments that the translators had to make. I assume they'll explain their translation methodology for these types of passages in an introductory essay in the NABRE

Theophrastus said...

Tim, I don't understand your point. Are you aware of instances in the NABRE where the translation follows the LXX over the MT (excluding the obvious example of the Deuterocanon)?

Perhaps there are some, but I'm not sure I remember any in the excerpts we have seen to date.

The usual case for modifying the the Hebrew is when the text clearly appears to be corrupt, (e.g., 2 Chronicles 36:9), ambiguous, or untranslatable. (In the case of the RSV and especially the NRSV, the editors permitted large numbers of hypothetical corrections based on Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, but that is still regarded as an especially daring approach.)

Regarding the question of method: adopting a method based on precedence of Matthew is problematic: if we revise Isaiah 7:14 because of Matthew 1:23, should we revise Isaiah 11:11 because of Matthew 2:23? (Which does not even solve the problem, since Matthew refers to plural "prophets" and uses the formula "will be called" rather than "will be".) Moreover, Matthew 2:23 cannot possibly be a straightforward quote from a hypothetical missing book of the Hebrew Bible because Nazareth was a recent settlement and post-dated the Hebrew Bible.

Timothy said...


I was speaking with the NAB in general. The original NAB for Is. 7:14 follows the LXX.

Theophrastus said...

I understand that you were speaking of the NAB in general, and my point was that scholarly translations tend to follow Hebrew unless it appears corrupt, ambiguous, or cannot be translated. Why should this verse be singled out for special treatment?

The current NAB includes the Greek translation in the text and the Hebrew translation in the notes; while the NABRE (and the RSV-CE and NRSV-CE) includes the Greek translation in the notes and the Hebrew translation in the text.

I'm not sure what the problem is here.

Timothy said...

I don't, but not everyone would agree.

Mark in Spokane said...

The text of 7.14 combined with the note = a growing sense on my part that I will not be buying an edition of the NAB that contains the new OT revision. At this point, I wouldn't feel comfortable using the NABRE as a stand-alone translation -- I would need to get an Douay-Rheims edition just to be able to get a grasp on the Church's traditional rendering of key passages...

jogomu said...

(St Jerome on almah not meaning virgin or young woman.)