On Thursday nights, I have the wonderful privilege of teaching an Old Testament narrative class to adults, through the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan. In many ways, it is the highlight of my week since the students are very receptive and show a great desire to engage the Holy Scriptures. Having just spent a number of weeks in the book of Genesis, we have now turned to Exodus. The course primarily relies on the RSV-CE as its teaching text, but I have been using the NABRE quite closely as well. I have found that, when comparing translations, there can be a tendency to just choose those famous passages, like Is. 7:14, to see how one translation stacks up against another. However, it really does take a willingness to sit down with a translation, and read large portions of it, before one can really grasp its worth.
That brings me back to my reading of Exodus, using both the NABRE and RSV-CE. What I have found is that there are some interesting decisions that the NABRE makes which, in general, I find to be quite helpful. One may ask whether the NABRE is as literal as the RSV? Overall, no. But it is certainly a lot closer than the original NAB and in many ways is more readable. Below I am going to provide some examples of what I have found during my reading:
1) There is a verse numbering difference between the NABRE and the RSV in regards to the second, third, and fourth plagues. The NABRE appears to follow the Hebrew numbering, while the RSV does not. Those of you who are familiar with the NAB(RE) know that it will often do this, see the book of the prophet Joel for another instance of this.
2) The NABRE will at times translate some of the more confusing (perhaps?) Hebrew metaphors and idioms into more readable English. For example, Moses refers to himself as having "uncircumcised lips" in Exodus 6:12, which the RSV translated literally into English. In the NABRE, Moses refers to himself as being a "poor speaker". (The NRSV is identical to the NABRE in this case.) Is this a good change? It certainly does clear up any possible confusion that the typical reader may have in understanding the Hebrew idiom. In any case, the NABRE translators do include a helpful note explaining what is the literal rendering of the Hebrew.
3) Snakes and Serpents! In Genesis 3:1, the NABRE went with snake over the more traditional serpent. In Exodus, we find the return of snakes as well as serpents. Is there a difference? Apparently so. Even though most translations, like the RSV, use the same word "serpent" for Moses' rod (4:3) and Aaron's rod (7:9), they are technically two different Hebrew words: nahash and tannin, respectively (Larsson Bound for Freedom 54). Nahash was the same Hebrew word used in Genesis 3, which the NABRE translated consistently in this case. The word tannin though may indicate a more ferocious reptile than a serpent, perhaps a large sea monster or dragon (Ezek 29:3) or crocodile. While one could debate which English terms would be best in translating these two Hebrew words, at least the NABRE made the distinction.
4) One of the most famous idioms of Exodus is the "hardening of Pharoah's heart" which is found some 20 times in Exodus 5-11. Sometimes it is clear that the LORD does the hardening, while on other occasions Pharoah is the one who does so. It is interesting to note that there are three different Hebrew words used in these instances, the most notably being hazaq and kaved. In most cases, however, the RSV simply translates "Pharoah's heart was hardened". The NABRE translates each term differently, kaved as Pharoah was "obstinate", while hazaq as Pharoah's "heart was hardened". (Again, there is also some helpful translator notes which assist the reader in recognizing the difference.) Now, one could argue that this is either not a big deal ultimately or that another word instead of "obstinate" should be used, but the main point is that the NABRE does make the distinction, much like it did with the snake/serpent issue addressed above.
More to come....