Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Little Rock Catholic Study Bible (Deluxe Edition)

Back in June of last year, long-time blog reader Rolf provided a helpful guest review of the hardback version of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible (LRCSB). It wasn’t until a few months later that I actually received a copy for myself, so I never really gave a proper review of it. I am quite happy to do so now after recently receiving the Deluxe Edition in the mail. (Please refer to his review for particulars not covered here.)

The basic size specifications are fairly similar to the hardback edition. The Little Rock Catholic Study Bible Deluxe Edition (LRCSBDE) comes in at a large 9 1/2" x 7”, being a little over 2 inches thickness. It contains 2632 pages in total, in addition to 16 full color maps, a 15 page preface/acknowledgment section, and a presentation page with three family tree pages. The family tree section has pages dedicated to the genealogy and Sacramental life of a husband and wife, but only enough room for information about two children. (Four would have been nice, particularly since my wife and I are on #2 currently and hope to provide Gianna and Judah with a couple more siblings, God willing.) The family tree section is not included in the hardback or paperback editions.

A colorful and helpful timeline of biblical history is located inside the front and rear covers of this Bible, as well as the earlier editions. The gold gilt-edged pages of the Deluxe Edition compliment the soft, bonded brown leather cover. It also includes two ribbon markers, and the binding is glued. The translation, which is the NABRE, is in a highly attractive single-column format, with around a 10pt font size. The brown bonded leather cover is a joy to hold and has a nice, though not overstated, embossed cover. My only concern remains the glued binding, which I hope holds up over time.

Turning back to the page format, the print in the Deluxe Edition seems to be a bit darker than the hardback edition, which allows the Sacred Word to stand out even more. The cross-references are in the upper outer edge of each page, located in a shaded box. The placement of the cross-references, along with the single-column format, makes this Bible a joy to read. In addition, there is plenty of room for personal notes, annotations, and underlining. In that sense, it is similar to the older JB and NJB single-column versions. However, unlike those two Bibles, the LRCSB includes additional study/devotional materials that have been inserted into appropriate places within the text. These include definition of terms and ideas, descriptions of main and not-so-minor characters, archaeological insights, social justice teachings, prayer starters, liturgical use of Scripture, cultural connection, line-drawn maps, and photographs. I have found these inserts to be quite good, particularly when they provide additional information in places where the NABRE text is little light on commentary. An example would be the presence of a photo of Absalom’s tomb located in 2 Samuel 18 (p. 548), where there is no commentary from the NABRE. I have also found a number of helpful inserts in 1 and 2 Chronicles, which is sparsely annotated in the NABRE. The liturgical inserts indicate where particular verses of scripture are used at Mass, as well as in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The social justice inserts touch upon a whole range of issues. I will quote Keith, who commented on Rolf’s initial review, since I think he captures this well: “All in all the articles are relatively benign and lacking specificity…Overall, in the 50+ boxes on social justice there are not many instances where a liberal political view is endorsed by the LRCSB editors. There may be a little redistribution of wealth that is advocated but nowhere is it advocated that it is the role of government to redistribute wealth. And I will give credit because abortion in one box is dealt with as a social justice issue which is not always the case in some Church circles.” The insert on abortion he mentions is found on p. 148, which deals with the courage of the midwives in the story of the infancy of Moses. It remarks: “we are called to speak out against any injustice that endangers or desires to destroy the life that is meant to emerge. Are you willing to accept your role as a midwife?”

Overall, the LRCSBDE is a very accessible study Bible. I dare say that this may be one of the most attractive Catholic Bibles on the market, with a wonderful overall look and feel. When you flip through it, there are plenty of eye-catching features which make the LRCSBDE almost as comparable to some of the study Bibles that Zondervan produces. It reminds me a bit of the TNIV Study Bible, which is now out-of-print. While the LRCSB is not to the level of the more academic Oxford Catholic Study Bible, it certainly isn’t far off either. While the Oxford editions are enhanced by the Reading Guides, the LRCSB supplies more helpful inserts that supplement the text in appropriate places. In many ways, I find the LRCSB more of a pleasure to read than the Oxford editions. The various maps, charts, and other inserts are placed so well in the text, that they become immediately helpful. While I recommend everyone to examine any study Bible before buying one, certainly one that costs over $50 like the LRCSB, one would do well to consider this as their everyday study Bible. If you want the Deluxe Edition, it is only available on the Little Rock website in limited quantity.


owen swain said...

Just today, I have been blessed (!) to have received what I believe is an advanced copy given to a friend in the US who decided to bless me with it.

I opened it at table and two family members instantly want one. We, as you may recall, live in Canada.

Do you know for certain (can you confirm) that the Deluxe Edition will only be available directly from the Little Rock website in limited quantity?

I contacted Little Rock's [LR] Customer Service via the link on the LR site where the Deluxe Edition is shown. I did this last month to ask about availability in Canada. It was Liturgical Press (LR's partner) who answered back. I was told to contact Liturgical Press's Canadian distributor. I did. They didn't know and contacted LP (as I had already done) and reported back LP didn't know (which LP they could have told me directly as it was only the day or so before). In the end I was told to contact LP towards the end of May about availability in Canada.

That's the background and reason for my asking you, Timothy, if you know for certain. Thanks.

Timothy said...


And it's printed in Canada!

My understanding is that it will be available only through the Little Rock/LP sites.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that the binding is glued. Since I already have the hardback edition, I think I'll pass on this one due to the glued binding. However, if I didn't already have a copy, I'm sure I'd opt for this edition. If it were a sewn biding, I'd happily shell out the $ for another edition. Maybe Little Rock will realize that their customers are willing to pay for higher quality bibles.

Chrysostom said...

This looks like, as far as presentation (if not binding quality, etc.) this is the right direction to go - this Bible is the only one I've seen (from the pictures) that appears to even be playing the same sport as the ESV Study Bible, even if this is playing in the farm leagues. This is only the second single-column Catholic annotated Bible I've ever seen, the only other being the prohibitively-priced, poorly-translated, but excellently-annotated Navarre (10 volumes).

Catholic Bible publishers, take notice: Go over to J Mark Bertrand's blog and listen to what he has to say about Bible typesetting, and follow it. Hire him to design your Bibles. As far as layout goes, the Crossway ESV Study Bible is the best study Bible format available, and is close to the best possible layout, full stop. Copy it, but don't make Crossway's mistake of cheap printing with doubly-imprinted pages scattered through, and too-tight or against-the-grain sewn binding, which gives the wrinkle-crinkle effect in the gutter - and Catholic study Bibles, as long as they're annotated properly (i.e. ICSB, Haydock for faithful use, NOAB for criticism and apologetics training), will begin to compete in the Protestant SB market with Catholics (as many Catholics buy a Protestant Bible because the Catholic choices are so lacking).

And, of course, make the notes themselves better and more Catholic. The ESVSB is a prime example of what happens when an "interdenominational" group gets together to write commentary; the only thing that's agreed on is Calvinism in the NT, with half a dozen different millennial positions being advocated, and the annotation to the OT being so bland and non-committal as to be useless (for example, the Trinity isn't even mentioned for Gen 1:26-29).

Note to Catholic Biblical Association: blend the style of annotation of the better volumes of Sacra Pagina (such as John and Luke-Acts minus the neutered language: most strongly NOT Revelation), Pillar NTC, BECNT, CCSS, and the New American Commentary together, from a Catholic perspective, in the form of Haydock's Notes (as such allows one to fit much, much more annotation on a single page), and you'll have something for everyone. (And a six-volume Bible, probably.)

And then publish a companion volume that is drawn from ICC, NJBC, Berit Olam, worse Sacra Pagina, NOAB style annotation, as a "scholar's edition". (Throw some NIGNT in there for the Hell of it, as men using it should know a bit of Greek.)

(The preceding contains a very short adaptation of the theme of a series of articles eventually destined for this blog.)

owen swain said...

Arrghh, Timothy, that kills.

Perhaps I will try contacting LR & LP again. I'm not holding my breath though. My wife is reading *my* copy now and I'm afraid I might not get it back ;-)

Also, with this one in hand I am going to cancel my advance order on the HarperOne NABRE because this one has far greater value between the covers. If one wants a thin NABRE for travel or what, then the H1 would be great but that's not my main focus. I have the NABRE on my Android App "Laudate" when on the go if I really want the NABRE.

Once again thanks for the great work you do on this blog.

Theophrastus said...

Tim, I have not seen the deluxe edition, but I have a copy of the hardback, and I am assuming that the editorial content is identical in both.

I do not agree that this volume is "not far off" from the Oxford Catholic Study Bible reading guides. For example, I do not think that the Little Rock would be appropriate for college or seminary students, although the Oxford is used for that purpose. The Oxford reading guides include extensive overviews of each of the books of the Bible, with commentary discussing each of the major subsections of the book. In contrast, the Little Rock contains brief inserts or photographs that look more like something one would expect to see in a magazine.

In particular, in pre-NABRE editions of the Oxford volume, the reading guide often interacted directly with the NAB notes -- explaining them in some instances -- and were written in a tone that was compatible with the tone adopted by those notes. I don't think the same is true of the Little Rock. (One can only hope that someday the Oxford volume will be revised to interact with the NABRE text and notes.)

As a simple example of a major shortcoming in the Little Rock, one could take the question of the relationship of the three Synoptic Gospels. This seems to be among one of the basic points that a serious study Bible needs to address. The Little Rock is silent on this issue (other than what is already in the NAB notes) except for a relatively shallow tables (e.g. on p. 2003, a listing of the "twelve" that merely lists Matthew, 10:2-4, Mark 3:13-14, Luke 6:12-16, and John 1:40-49.)

I would particularly call out the "prayer starter" notes as an example of non-academic (and sometimes irrelevant) notes. For example, on p. 2026, at Matthew 18:20 the note reads:

All prayer has power, but when prayer is united to the prayer of others, God promises to be present in a unique way. Do you ever ask others to pray with you? Who will you ask today?

Now here, the NAB notes contrast this with a passage from the Minshah. The Little Rock note is hardly explanatory at all, but instead is almost devotional. That's fine for a devotional Bible, but not characteristic of a study Bible -- and completely unlike the Oxford volume.

Another example is the note at Matthew 6:9 (the Lord's Prayer):

Perhaps the most important part of prayer is the "sound of silence." All words fall away and we float in a lake of quiet surrender. It is in the spaces between the words that we hear God's voice.

Not only is that not an academic comment, but it is not even related to the verse! It sounds more like a Hallmark card that a Bible commentary.

I'm also not certain that I agree that social justice teachings are appropriate in a study Bible. Social justice is largely a matter of interpretation (in academic terms, "reception history"), and views have changed over time. One could ask why this type of interpretation is discussed at length in the Little Rock and not other issues of "reception history." Moreover, the social justice notes are highly selective (compare, for example, with the scriptural index in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.) Finally, the Little Rock's rhetorical questions (e.g., see above quotations, or your quotation: "Are you willing to accept your role as a midwife?") are not appropriate at all in an academic work.

Now, I'm not saying that there is not a market for the Little Rock, but rather that it is hardly an academic study Bible and the integration of the added texts with the NABRE notes is quite poor.


Finally, since you mention the TNIV Study Bible, I want to point out that in October, Zondervan released a revision of that work: the 2011 NIV Study Bible (based on the NIV11 text).

Timothy said...


A couple of things:

1) The LRCSB does come with over 50 pages of introductory essays, which in some ways parallels those of the CSB, though certainly not as extensive. I think, in particular, of the ones on translation, archaeology, and the lectionary.

2) I don't have a problem with the prayer aids, even if not all of them are 'inspired' so to speak. I think, however, that it adds to the overall package. One of my biggest complaints with the Oxford editions is that it doesn't appeal to the average Catholic, who may or may not be biblically literate. This tends to be a complaint with the NAB notes as well. For me personally, if I want truly comprehensive scholarly commentary/notes, I am going to consult a scholarly volume devoted to that particular book or subject. While the Oxford reading guides are helpful, I find that after going over them once or twice, they tend to just be way too general. I would much prefer more inserts that provide maps, charts, chronologies, and lists, which I think the LRCSB does better.

3) Readability and space for personal annotation is important to me, particularly if I want to incorporate some notes I have found in other scholarly volumes into the margins. Also, particularly because I find myself involved in pastoral situations at the high school or other ministry areas, the supplemental material in the LRCSB is more meaningful an useful on a daily basis.

But hey, we all have our likes and dislikes. You make valid points to be sure.

Theophrastus said...

Timothy, there is no question that the Little Rock has one of the best layouts (probably the best) among recent English language Catholic Bibles.

I also take your point that the Little Rock may appeal more to the "average Catholic" who does not have so much background -- and even to parochial high school students. (However, I still think the Little Rock is a strange bird, since I agree that the NABRE notes and introductions are quite sophisticated -- so the "average Catholic" probably would be alienated by them.)

I was reacting above to your comment that the Little Rock was not far off from the level of the Oxford. I think they are quite distinct in style and also in intended audience.


I think you are being a little unfair in comparing study Bibles to specialized commentary volumes. Of course, a 10 to 100 volume set can provide much more detailed coverage than a single volume study Bible. But those commentary volumes have a lot of disadvantages too:

* It is unrealistic for most people to read through a complete set of commentary volumes from beginning to end. I suspect that even scholars mostly use them reference. It is, however, very possible for a serious student to read through a complete single-volume study Bible.

* Few people even have space to store, say, a complete set of the Anchor Bible series. (Consider, for example, the average college student in a dorm room.) Even if one has space, most people cannot afford the cost (many complete commentary sets can cost between $2000 and $5,000.) But it is very possible to both afford and store a single volume academic study Bible.

* Many commentary series assume a fairly high Biblical literacy. But how does someone get to the level of being able to productively read those commentaries? Arguably, the best way is to read the entire Bible in an academic study Bible format, or alternatively, to read the entire Bible with the aid of a single-volume academic commentary (such as the New Jerome or Eerdmans).

* There are very few complete commentary sets. Even the Anchor Bible is still "in progress." This means if one wants to study the whole Bible, one needs to pick and choose from many different commentary sets. That's good for scholars, but perhaps not so good for, say, the average college student.

* Having the whole Bible with notes in a single volume is very convenient. For example -- it can aid in checking cross-references. Checking cross-references with multi-volume commentary sets is cumbersome.

* There are quite a few serious academic study Bibles. For example, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, the HarperCollins Study Bible, the New Interpeter's Study Bible, the Jewish Study Bible, and the Oxford Catholic Study Bible are routinely used as textbooks in colleges and seminaries. Perhaps, when it is done, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible can also be used in similar settings.

Chrysostom said...

Gasp, I'm with Tim on this - if I want to do a serious Bible study, I'm picking up a multiple-volume commentary and the original languages, not any single-volume study Bible, no matter how nice.

The NOAB tries to cram so much stuff in to itself it literally falls apart (if anyone's had a fourth edition that lasted longer than a month with all pages intact, let me know - it's a miracle), and still doesn't manage to - and can not manage to, due to the limits of modern books and printing technology, and the limits of readers' attention and intellect - approach anything beyond the first semester of a 101-level Bible-as-literature/myth class. (And that's including the mildly useful 200 pages of essays.) This problem exists in single-volume commentaries as well.

Whereas, one can buy massive multi-volume devotional commentaries, or massive multi-volume critical ones, such as the famous ICC. Say, if you wish to study Genesis, and can not read Greek or Hebrew, $20 will get you Walter Brueggemann's "Interpretation of Genesis", which is far better than anything a study Bible could offer (for $15-20 more, you could get one of Sarna's or Alter's books, although I don't appreciate their methods of eisegesis).

I think a point is, that no single-volume study Bible is going to be able to compete, even in the most minor way, with academic resources - it will always oversimplify, be too general for use, or be quickly out of date - the NOAB 4th edition still teaches JEDP, although every respectable Hexateuch/Deuteronomic History scholar lost "E" and "D" 30 or 40 years ago. This problem rears its head in all study Bibles that attempt to be academic - they end up being incorrect (NABRE, NOAB in places), or bland beyond purpose or usability (ESVSB, any number of generic "NIVSB" or "KJVSB" style Bibles).

The single-volume form-factor lends itself more to the ideal: single-column, paragraphed, text-only contents. Secondly, it lends itself to a devotional nature of annotation. For scholarly work, a manual (or English text-only) edition, with or without apparatus, accompanied by the "scholars' work" in another volume or two, is unbeatable.

That also brings me to a main objection to many of these "study Bibles": Lay Parishioner buys them, expecting it to be a Bible, not a faith-shaker; whereas, when confronted with a massive set of four mismatched volumes spread between two or three languages with abbreviations that one must be an initiate to understand, he steers clear: there is a problem, when the former attempts to do the latter, but finds itself unable, and, in due course, oversimplifies and overgeneralizes itself to the point of unusability for most purposes.

Chrysostom said...

What? I read through Keil and Delitzsche cover-to-cover in about a month when I first became a Christian! And Church Dogmatics! And then the Navarre! Admittedly, I've not managed to afford Balthasar's Trilogy yet, but I've read through several multiple-volume commentaries on single books of the Bible, etc.

But, in summation, your analysis is accurate: there are more volumes that are on my "to read" shelf (as I do intend to read all, including the entirety of Church Fathers, cover-to-cover, and thus memorize them), than are on my "already read" shelf. (Note also that I am in school, and thus unable to devote as much time as I would like to certain areas of study, as analytic philosophy or ancient history often interrupts pure Biblical or theological studies - Dominican House of Studies, here I come!)

I'm still only about 1/6 to 1/8 (maybe a little more, maybe a little less, I'm not sure: probably 25-30k pages out of about 160-180k) of the way through the complete JP Migne (I read most of the ECF 38vol.) but I'm getting there.

For those of us who can study the originals in-depth; for those of us with the inclination and the ability to learn the primary sources, and the skill and ability to be able to distill what is contained therein and synthesize it: it is our duty, so the average man, who can not or will not engage in such studies, can have access to the "For Dummies" version of distilled synthesis that we are capable of issuing as output with the primary sources as input.

Chrysostom said...

Ah, the only Anchor Bibles I have are the 7-volume(?) set on the Deuterocanonicals (they're cheaper than the Hermeneia), and the works on the Johannine books by Fr RE Brown. I've found much of the series to be disappointing in many ways, and, from what I've seen (Hermeneia in the university library: Theophrastus, I believe you are the man who pointed out the series to me), Hermeneia is much more up-to-date and thorough.

However, who doesn't have the space for every AYBC book? The entire set can't be more than a hundred volumes, which means it'll fit on two five-tier bookshelves with several shelves left over.

Chrysostom said...

...And buy them used. My 12 volumes of Anchor Bible cost me under $120 (including shipping) on Amazon!

Brendon said...

I'm not a great fan of Bibles with lots of commentary in general. I find it often leads me to prefer interpretations in the notes to the actual Word of God.

Caine said...

Little Rock is offering free shipping on this Bible until 5/31/12. Just use the discount code BIBLEFS.

Anonymous said...


I have the hardcover edition of this bible. In my copy, the map of The Exodus appears to have an error. The key says the solid line is the Alternate Exodus Route and the broken line is the Exodus Route; however, the map itself says the opposite. Which is correct?


Timothy said...


My leather edition has the same error. The southern route, which goes south into Sinai, is the traditionally accepted one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Timothy. Map is correct, key is incorrect. Hopefully they'll correct this error in new printings.