Friday, June 10, 2011
Guest Review: CTS Bible
Many thanks to reader Geoffrey for the following review of the CTS Bible:
The Jerusalem Bible, literarily speaking, is perhaps one of the best English translations available (and the fact that Tolkien worked on it adds bonus epic-awesome-points). Obtaining its text is worth any deficiencies a certain printing has, especially if said printing contains the Grail Psalter. And make no mistake, the Catholic Truth Society edition has many deficiencies.
Rather than presenting the full document of Dei Verbum, this Bible contains only a resume which at certain points raises the reader's concern that biases of the editor are seeping through. Even though I tend to share the editor's views on a more limited inerrancy pertaining to Scripture, it is improper to force such an opinion on the common faithful or project it onto Vatican II documents, which are at best ambiguous concerning the subject.
Matters degrade even faster when it comes to the historical commentaries and book introductions. Often, the editor (or commentator, or whatever you wish to call him) dates books by assuming their prophecies were always made after the fact. Especially annoying is his continual insistence that the historical basis of the Bible may be unreliable in the most basic sense. In the introduction to the books of Samuel he suggests Saul might have been an "important innovator" whose reputation was blackened by David. Later, he accuses the Chronicler of blatantly re-writing and misrepresenting history, offering little or no thought to justify his accusations or relate them to Christian tradition. Moreover, he seems rather tone death to the actual portrayal of Biblical characters in the text, suggesting substantial differences in perspective between authors where none exist (cf. 2 Kings 15:1-7 and note 26b on 2 Chronicles 26).
Although the footnotes sometimes offer insight, this a rare occasion. Typically, the editor's hubris derails him at the exact moment he is about to enter into an interesting topic. Take, for example, note 2b of Luke 2. Rather than discussing the fascinating debate involving Luke's famous/infamous census passage, he simply asserts that Luke got his dates wrong and then almost jeeringly offers the possibility that Mary and Joseph always lived in Bethlehem as a solution to getting them to the City of David. He clearly rejects the historicity of much of Luke, a fact to which he alludes in the introduction by mentioning his belief that Luke changed certain details of the Jesus narrative specifically to cull favor with Rome (i.e. clearing Pilate and Herod of guilt, which for the life of me I can't see in the actual text). Now, if I stretch my mind and heart enough, I can imagine how one might possibly still adhere to Christianity and reject one of the two birth narratives of Christ (and to our editor's credit he seems to believe Matthew). But this is not a view one should impose on a Bible for the common faithful. The editor is just hotdogging and strutting his historical-critical chops, not providing the reader with any useful material to understand the text. He has not created a scholarly work here. For a good example of how historical critical methods should be used in Christian scholarship, see the NIV Archeological Study Bible.
Not everything about this Bible is bad. The one column format is very attractive, the maps are useful, the text is clear and easy to read, the Divine Name has been removed (the use of YHWH is extremely offensive to the Jews and it's an ecumenical travesty we ever used it), the liturgical notes are expertly done, and the theological commentary is solid and very insightful. There is little business to distract from meditative reading. The book is a pleasure to peruse.
I would recommend the CTS Bible to those who wish to obtain the text of the Jerusalem Bible or want a text that's in a format conducive to meditation. For people looking for a good study Bible, look elsewhere. For those seeking tools to share their faith, be forewarned that the missionary imperative of Dei Verbum has once again gone unheeded. The CTS Bible has almost nothing to offer people wanting to learn more about Christ and Catholicism. I cannot see it being useful in the field of evangelism or apologetics. If the Catholic Truth Society was trying to make a Bible for the everyday believer, they failed. But God bless them anyway, cause it sure looks pretty!
If you would like to see some of my previous comments on the CTS Bible, go here.