Tuesday, August 2, 2011
My Top 5 Catholic Bibles #4
The New Jerusalem Bible: A Great Place to Start
"Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life." -Ephesians 2:8-10 (NJB)
If someone was new to the Bible and asked me for a recommendation, in most cases I would point them to the New Jerusalem Bible. I would also suggest that they get the full hardbound edition, with the single column layout and the copious notes. This dynamic, more literary translation, combined with some solid study tools, make the NJB a wonderful all-around Bible.
Translation Philosophy 3/5
The NJB, as a successor to the original Jerusalem Bible, is known for its more dynamic, yet literary quality. As Henry Wansbrough points out in his book The Story of the Bible: "The English Jerusalem Bible, having no basis in traditional English versions, has the freshness of freedom from traditional biblical language." In many ways, the NJB retains that same quality. While the original Jerusalem Bible closely followed the French Bible de Jérusalem, the NJB was translated directly from the original languages. The NJB is slightly more literal than the original. In particular, as the intro to the NJB states: "Key terms in the originals, especially those theological key concepts on which there is a majot theological note, have been rendered throughout (with very few exceptions) by the same English word, instead of by a variety of words used in the first edition (v)." One other unique quality to the NJB, like its predecessor, is the use of Yahweh instead of the LORD. The use of the Divine Name does give reading the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, a different tone, but one has to measure this with the recent request from the Vatican in 2008.
Another important note about the NJB translation is its use of inclusive language. It is the first major Bible translation to consistently use inclusive language throughout. In many ways, I find that the NJB has done the best out of all the recent translations. Henry Wansbrough notes: "It was the first complete Bible to make consistent use of inclusive language wherever possible, though without the extreme rigour of the later NRSV."
The NJB builds on the already, highly readable JB. Translation philosophy, including use of inclusive language, is constant throughout the OT and NT. I find that if I am in the mood to read long passages or an entire book in one sitting, the NJB does the job best. In addition, since it is not held to using traditional Biblical language, new insights can be gained. In many ways, the NJB makes for a great second Bible, along side a more formal one. It is still a fresh translation, twenty five years later.
Available Formats 3/5
While it is true that the NJB is available in only a limited number of formats, most notably the large hardbound study edition and other text only ones, the beauty of the hardbound edition makes up for it. Personally, I am still waiting for a true single-column edition for the more formal Catholic Bible translations that match the NJB. The single column NJB provides plenty of space for personal note taking, and plentiful cross-references, while also being easy on the eyes. If you look around the Internet, particularly on European book seller sites, you will find some additional editions of the NJB, including ones with leather covers.
With all that has been said about the NJB, one wonders if it will remain in use into the future. It is not the basis for any English language Lectionary and the École Biblique is working on a completely new project called The Bible in Its Traditions. It also does not have many scholarly works keyed to it, nor are there any supplemental texts, like a concordance, that uses the NJB.
When I was studying in Rome in 2000, not for theology but Roman History, I had the beginning of my conversion back to the Church. I was never in another church or anything, but just wasn't a practicing Catholic in many ways. While in Rome, I stopped into a bookstore by the Vatican that sold books in English and purchased a compact NJB. It was in leather too! I still have it today, and it serves as a reminder as to how far I have come since then. All by the grace of God, of course, along with a little help from my pocket NJB.