When the Catholic Scripture Study International Study Bible debuted late last year, all 800 copies sold out within a few weeks. Since then, I had been hoping to get a copy at some point in order to review it, however, I was unable to until this week. So, thanks to the fine people at Saint Benedict Press for sending along a review copy. For those interested, this edition is now available for purchase. I do not know how many were printed, so if you find yourself really liking it, you may want to order one soon.
The production of the CSSI Bible is a joint venture between Saint Benedict Press and Catholic Scripture Study International. It includes: “This high-quality RSV-CE Bible seamlessly integrates Sacred Scripture with extensive study materials and reference guides. Includes 76 full color pages, Holy Land maps marked with significant events and places, and extensive biblical apologetics and topical indexes, all beautifully bound in our Classic Black Bonded Leather with multiple ribbon markers, gold edges and beautiful foil stamped cover.” To see some sample pages, you can go here.
In many ways, this is a great apologetics study Bible. After spending some time with it, I would rate it higher than its closest rival, the New Catholic Answer Bible. This is due not only to the CSSI Bible’s use of the RSV-CE, but also the study material is more substantial and organized. If, however, you are looking for a study Bible comparable to the Catholic Study Bible or the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, then this is not what you are looking for. I hope to explain what I mean below.
There are many positive features of the CSSI Bible. As a matter of fact, some features which I thought I wouldn’t like, surprisingly I found to be quite good. For example, when I read that this Bible was large print, I was initially unsure how I would like it. Yet, after spending a few days reading from it, I have found it to be very readable and inviting. This all comes down to personal preference to be sure, but I was pleasantly surprised. Anyone who has previously purchased a Saint Benedict Press large print Bible will have a good idea of what each pages looks like.
Another feature which I thought would be a distraction was the use of Bible inserts, instead of integrating the study material directly into the text. While I still feel that having the additional study material placed in the text is the best option, Saint Benedict Press has done a really nice job making sure that the inserts are positioned well without being an annoyance to page turning or laying the Bible out flat. What I mean by that is I have an old edition of the St. Joseph NAB, which while having some lovely inserts that include maps, photos and devotionals, always seemed to be more obtrusive than helpful, particularly when flipping through the Bible. From just looking at the CSSI Bible when it is closed, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that there are 76 full color pages included throughout the text. The glossy paper that these inserts are printed on is very thin.
The real jewel of this study Bible is the apologetics content found in the 76 full color pages. Most notably, the eight pages of “Catholic Apologetics Bible Verses” I have found to be quite helpful. This section not only covers issues ranging from “Anointing of the Sick” to “Works” but does so with both biblical citations as well as direct quotations from the Fathers of the Church. A very nice touch! In addition, the editors placed “*” by verses that are used to challenge Catholic teachings. This section, combined with the “Topical Index” in the appendix, makes looking up particular passages related to apologetics and doctrine a breeze. (By the way, I am teaching a Catholic Apologetics course at the high school next Spring for our Seniors, so I am very excited that this Bible has these features.)
I should also mention that the remaining inserts are scattered throughout the Bible and include a couple of Bible maps, timelines, CUF Faith Facts, and some inspirational images of Biblical characters and events. I have found the Faith Facts to be the most helpful of the bunch. You can preview some of them at the CUF site here. One Faith Fact that I would like to point out is entitled “Making Sense Out of Scripture: The Four Best Kept Secrets in Biblical Studies Today”, which does a fantastic job explaining the Four Senses of Scripture as taught in Dei Verbum and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This should be a tool that is present in every Catholic Bible.
Two more positive features that are most welcome are the inclusion of three Bible ribbons and the Sunday/Weekday Mass readings. Both are a definite must for any Catholic study Bible.
With all the praise that I have just given, there are a few things that I feel are missing from the CSSI Bible. Most prominently, any future edition really needs to have cross-references or at the very least a list of Old Testament references in the New Testament in the appendix. (The HarperCollins Study Bible does this.) Any Bible that is named a “study Bible” should have them. I am sure that this is something that Saint Benedict Press is looking into for future editions. (Also, a concordance would be helpful, but as I have mentioned in previous reviews, it is not a deal breaker for me.)
Secondly, while I found the bonded leather cover to be fairly flexible, perhaps future editions could come in their genuine leather or ultrasoft covers. This is particularly the case when the price tag for this Bible is basically $70.00!
My last negative critique would be that a few more maps would be helpful. I think including maps which show the route of the exodus, the Davidic kingdom, the layout of Jerusalem, and the journeys of Paul would be important additions and would compliment the maps already included.
In conclusion, this is a top-notch apologetics study Bible, even with the missing cross-references. If you are looking for an apologetics Bible, particularly utilizing the RSV-CE, look no further. In many ways, this could be a wonderful compliment to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible RSV-2CE.
***Again, thanks to Saint Benedict Press for the review copy***