Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Question from a Reader

Dear Timothy,
Up until a short while ago my favorite Bible was also the NRSV Reference Bible with the Apocrypha--French morocco leather. I actually bought several of them to serve me for the rest of my life. Then I discovered 2 Esdras chapter 7 verses 28-30. At first I thought this to be The death of our Lord Jesus Christ at his first coming, but at further reflection it appeared to look as if it is speaking of our Lords second coming, see the mention of Him staying 400 years and then dying. But if this is so, it is wrongly teaching a second death of Christ.

I may understand this wrongly. I tried to find info on this passage in the internet and had no luck to explain the 400 yrs. and the Lords death.
This caused me quite some distress and I came to decide not to use the NRSV with Apoc. although I otherwise love it.

Can you perhaps help me with the understanding of this passage? Perhaps I can continue to read my NRSVs and keep them.

I wish you well, and a wonderful Easter, may the Lord Jesus be with you.


Jason Engel said...

2 Esdras is not part of the Catholic canon, so having a reference book that contains it means you have "reference" material, and that's it. Assuming you are Catholic, that content is thus there only for you to help understand the scriptures included as canon by other Christian traditions, which is essentially the point of having a reference Bible with Apocrypha. It may be useful to note also that 2 Esdras IS included in the Latin Vulgate, albeit as an appendix, so it's presence in a Catholic Bible has some historical support even if it is not considered Catholic canon. You are not spiritually harmed by its presence. If you don't like that verse, cross it out and make a note to yourself why, which is also a common reason for having that kind of Bible.

If I used the argument that finding a particular verse in a Bible to be contrary to the theology I hold requires me to stop using that Bible, I would have to immediately throw away every single Bible in my house (KJV, NIV, Message, RSV, mainline NRSV, Catholic NRSV, basically all of them). The Bible is full of challenging text; if you never found any part of your canon to be a challenge to you, then you aren't engaging your full being - which includes your intellect as well as your faith - in your relationship with God. Wrestle with this text, study it, review the context, research it, talk to a priest about it, share it with friends and get their opinions. Then, ultimately, figure out how this reference material affects you, accept that and move on.

As an aside, the New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th Ed., includes the following commentary on 2 Esdras 7:28-30 = "28: My son the Messiah is a term used often in this book. The precise connection between this term and Christian notions of Jesus 'the Messiah' as 'son of God' is uncertain, and in any event is indirect. 29: My son the Messiah shall die, this idea is unparalleled in Jewish sources."

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with your NRSV. Despite the issue that some have with its use of “gender sensitive” language, outside of that the text is one of the most reliable due to the fact that a body of translators and a body of editors, each composed of representatives of practically all major faiths, contributed to it.

Because 2 Esdras has never been accepted as inspired by either Catholics, Protestants, and even by most Orthodox religions, you will find very little about the verse by searching the Internet. Unless you belong to one of the Eastern Orthodox churches that accept this book as inspired, the fact that it occurs in NRSV with Apocrypha editions is not meant to tell people that the are required to accept the book in the apocrypha as inspired (Roman Catholics, for example, do not include this book in the canon of inspired works).

The book itself likely deals with the time after Titus destroyed Herod's Temple in 70 C.E./A.D. or at least it's current form does. It is a questioning of God's providence, and it could have ended up in the form we have today from a Christian who interpolated his own views into older writings of Jewish expectations regarding the imminent return of a messiah. The original works, if they did speak of a messiah at all, were likely speaking of a messiah different from Jesus Christ. Some scholars believe the book is actually three different works, artfully put together by this last Christian editor, writing as late as the 3rd century.

The statement at 2 Esdras 7, while using the name “Jesus” in some versions at verses 28-30, does not use that name in the most reliable manuscript readings. The best reading is “anointed one,” or in Hebrew “messiah.” This was likely replaced with the name “Jesus” when the text was translated into Latin or, if some of the oldest manuscripts are correct, is evidence that the work's editor was Christian. Because of its questionable status, there are very little agreement as to what these texts are supposed to mean to the writer. But the NRSV translation is correct, nevertheless.

Deep South Reader said...

"the text is one of the most reliable due to the fact that a body of translators and a body of editors, each composed of representatives of practically all major faiths, contributed to it."

How does it follow that because a body of editors are from a plurality of faith, that the text is more reliable?

We need to remember that we find translations that tend to also be "interpretations".

Carl Hernz said...

My comment about the reliability of the NRSV text is to be read in the light of the posted letter and not as a general endorsement for the text or as a statement that the means employed to create the text guaranteed and ensured purity from denominational prejudice.

A comment was made by the writer of the letter in question that since a prophetic statement in a text did not find fulfillment according to their understanding that the NRSV was a faulty translation and should be disposed of. My comment was that a reader's private interpretation does not negate the accuracy of a translation. Then I merely mentioned that many hold the NRSV as accurate due to its translation methodology.

If you re-read my statement, I never said I personally believe that this method ensured a text free of denominational bias or that I even use or recommend the NRSV.

Jonny said...

Regarding inclusive language in Catholic Bibles:

The Congregation for Divine Worship released the document "Liturgium Authenticam" (Authentic Liturgy) in 2001, which condemned inclusive language that manipulated the original texts. The whole premise of using inclusive language in the NRSV was because "...many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism..." (from the NRSV preface also included in the NRSV-CE.) From the point of view of the NCCC (copyright owner), there is a point, because it is a body that represents a large number of Protestant ecclesial communities who create their own doctrines based on their fancy, and use a private interpretation of the Bible to strong arm those opinions on their adherents. However, as Catholics, we know there is only one Church, and can have confidence that she is guided by the Holy Spirit to be free from moral and doctrinal error.

A glimpse of the spirit of LA, to insure authentic representation of Sacred Scripture, can be seen in #20 of that document: "that such a rich patrimony may be preserved and passed on through the centuries..." One may read in #24 of the Scriptures being translated from the original languages, and in #30 the instruction against inclusive language. #34 goes in more detail of how not to use inclusive language: "In particular: to be avoided is the systematic resort to imprudent solutions such as a mechanical substitution of words, the transition from the singular to the plural, the splitting of a unitary collective term into masculine and feminine parts, of the introduction of impersonal or abstract words..." In short, the inclusive language translation philosophy employed by the NRSV translation committee!

I am aware that the LA document is primarily to address translations to be used in the liturgy. But my question is this, if a translation has been deemed inauthentic and inappropriate for use in Mass, should that be the main reading for personal devotion? Especially when you consider the Psalms, wherein the masculine language carries a heavy prophetic significance? Remember that it was inclusive language that prevented the 1991 Psalms from being approved to be used at Mass.

I am not suggesting that the NRSV has no value in Christianity, or even in Catholicism, but when one reads what the Church has spoken about the authentic translation of Scripture, I don’t see why anyone want to use the NRSV as their main translation, especially when there is a much better update of the RSV available (the RSV-2CE) that corrects many of the other infidelities intrinsic to a Bible which is an update of a Protestant version.

Carl Hernz said...

Again, while not implying a preference or approval for the NRSV or inclusive language, it should be noted that Liturgiam Authenticam was not aimed at "condemning" the use of inclusive language in Bible translations, or about Bible translations at all. It was instruction governing translations of the liturgical texts from the official Latin originals into vernacular languages. It is a common mistake to reference Liturgiam Authenticam in a discussion about Bible versions because Liturgiam Authenticam is about Latin texts used in the Liturgy, not about translating the Bible for Catholic use.

As stated on this site (referencing the official NABRE Facebook site): "The norms outlined in Liturgiam authenticam apply only to texts intended for liturgical use. Different norms must apply for a scholarly biblical translation, a fact that Liturgiam authenticam notes (cf. nos. 37ff)"--http://catholicbibles.blogspot.com/2011/01/nabre-answers-from-facebook-site.html

In Canada, an adapted form of the NRSV was approved in 2008 by the Canadian conference and the Holy See. In fact the Holy See did not see "inclusive language" as the main issue when considering the use of NRSV.--http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=25267

It is true that many people have very strong feelings about "inclusive language," but the NRSV is approved by both the USCCB and the Vatican for Catholic use (the NRSV is used in the Catechism, for example). The original letter writer was merely asking if the NRSV should be disposed of because of difficulty with a verse that didn't seem to fit their personal understanding. "Inclusive language" rendition was not the issue.

Theophrastus said...

2 Esdras 7:26-44 is the famous pericope on "The Temporary Messianic Kingdom." The idea of a temporary messianic period has wide discussion in Second Temple period Jewish literature.

The discussion of the death of the messiah is a bit startling, but a somewhat parallel idea of the Son sharing the state of human beings is expressed, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:28.

Here is an excerpt from Michael Stone's Hermeneia commentary:

This verse mentions the death of the Messiah and all human beings. This will bring the temporary messianic kingdom to an end, and the events of the new creation and the day of judgment will ensue. The idea of the death of the Messiah seems to have no precise parallels in its explicitness, but according to 2 Apocalypse of Baruch 30:1, at a comparable juncture of events, the Messiah will “return” (apparently to heaven). According to 1 Cor 15:28, after his rule the Son of man will share the state of all human beings.

And here is an excerpt from Jacob Myers' Anchor Bible commentary:

Some scholars regard this passage and the following one as belonging to the redactor of the book because they supposedly introduce a subject extraneous to the argument pursued in the vision. However, on closer inspection, these passages appear to accentuate the theme of the preceding: judgment is decreed for those who reject the law.

“Emptiness to the empty.” One would expect something of the messianic theme to be injected here whatever course its particular direction may take. Here it takes the form of an interregum between the present period and the final judgment and partakes of a conception somewhat analogous to Jewish thought expressed in the II Isaiah—the period of restoration. It is, of course, presented in more colorful apocalyptic terms and therefore more specific in its descriptives—the four hundred years and the death of the messiah. The messianic age is thus a harbinger of the splendor and wonder of the coming world and of the universal judgment of this world. The appearance of the invisible city sounds as if the old city lay in ruins. All those who have succeeded in escaping the convulsions connected with the signs will enjoy the wonders of the limited messianic age. At the end of that age the messiah and all human beings will die. The world will assume its primordial character; nobody will remain. Only then will the resurrection and the final judgment take place. As the passage now stands; Christian tampering can be detected from the insertion of “Jesus” in vs. 28 and “son” in vss. 28, 29.

Jonny said...

Yes, Liturgiam Authenticam does lay down guidelines for Catholic Bible translation, not just for excerpts to be used in the Lectionary. From LA #34: "It is preferable that a version of the Sacred Scriptures be prepared in accordance with the principles of sound exegesis and of high literary quality, but also with a view to the particular exigencies of liturgical use as regards style, the selection of words, and the selection from among different possible interpretations." And then from LA #36: "The Conferences of Bishops are strongly encouraged to provide for the commissioning and publication in their territories of an integral translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for the private study and reading of the faithful, which corresponds in every part to the text that is used in the Sacred Liturgy."

In layman's terms: Any official Bible translations that are made are supposed to conform to the guidelines in LA, including the instructions against inclusive language noted in my post above. Again, these translations are not to be made from the Latin (Nova Vulgata), but the Latin is supposed to be the preference used to interpret the original languages, especially in certain words that have theological significance. (See #24, 23, 43, and just about everything in between for a fuller understanding.) Also, the requirements demand a very literal translation, for greater fidelity to the Word of God in every way, not just the traditional renderings of the Church.

Now of course, the NAB, the NRSV, and others were made before LA was released in 2001. This is where they fall into the caveat listed in LA #35, which basically allows for use of an altered version of an existing translation. Keep in mind that these altered versions still do not conform precisely to LA, for to do so would be to completely retranslate them, especially in the area of literal renderings.

It would be awesome to see the NAB completely reworked to conform to the LA document (it would be so drastically different it would have to be renamed!) Anyone who keeps up with this blog knows that the NABRE is already slated for revision already, although I don't think the USCCB wants to invest the time to give it the complete overhaul it needs. It seems they feel the desperate need in the US stated in LA #36, that "In order that the faithful may be able to commit to memory at least the more important texts of the Sacred Scriptures and be formed by them even in their private prayer, it is of the greatest importance that the translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for liturgical use be characterized by a certain uniformity and stability, such that in every territory there should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books."

Perhaps my grandchildren or great-grandchildren might see an "authentic" Catholic edition of the Holy Bible in modern English, which is what should happen after the NAB has finally run its course. Until then, the next closest thing to an authentic Catholic interpretation of scripture, in terms of preserving the Latin liturgical tradition and literal translation, is the D-R. The RSV-2CE is the next closest, although I think there are some obvious oversights in conforming it to LA as I mentioned in a recent post on this blog (Dec 27, 2012.)

I don't think I am going to try to make a direct connection of this information to the story about the guy who bought a lifetime supply of Protestant NRSV's, but I hope I have been informative nonetheless. St. Jerome, pray for us!

Theophrastus said...

Jonny, Liturgiam Authenticam (LA) 36 does indeed encourage (but does not require) commissioning an integral Scripture translation which conforms to the liturgical translation in use. However, there is nothing in that paragraph, or anywhere in LA that suggests that this commissioned translation be the only approved Scripture translation.

Under Pastor Bonus 64.3, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) only has authority to approve liturgical translations, not Scripture translations:

[The CDW] grants the recognitio to translations of liturgical books and their adaptations that have been lawfully prepared by conferences of bishops.

Under Canon Law, either the conference of bishops or the Holy See can approve Scripture translations (Canon 825.1), while liturgical translations must be reviewed by the Holy See (Canon 838.2-3).

For better or worse, the NRSV-CE, which was approved by the NCCB-USA (later called the USCCB) and the Canadian CCB, and continues to be widely used (among other translations) in Catholic contexts, including Catholic adult education, Catholic universities, Catholic seminaries, the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and at least one very impressive Catholic illuminated text.

CarlHernz said...

Johnny, it's a common mistake many are still making about Liturgiam Authenticum, the one you are having and voicing here. Early after it's release in Spring of 2001 many were highly critical of these instructions and publicly voiced their displeasure about LA. However this turned out to be due to a poor first-blush reading.

Liturgiam Authenticum seemed to suggest to some that the Vatican was directing all upcoming Catholic Bible translations to match the readings in the Latin Liturgy. It followed such a misunderstand that such was directing future translations of the Scriptures to abandon rendering from the original language manuscripts in favor of the Nova Vulgata as the basis. Of course LA never says that, but if one reads it the way you are understanding it—as many did at first—that would be the only logical course of action.

Many concerns poured in, so many that the Congregation for Divine Worship had to write a letter clearly spelling out that this was not the intention or the direction of LA.--http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWVULG.HTM

As the letter explained, LA does not in any way negate the instruction and the norms set out in Divino Afflante Spiritu. As such modern Bible translations are to be based on the best original-language manuscripts available. This facilitates the need for Catholics, as close as their language will allow, to understand and perceive what the original texts say, as if they were reading Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek.

Since liturgical texts use readings from the Nova Vulgata, as long as a translation from the original texts does not give a different reading from the NV, the NV is NOT translated. The vernacular version is left intact in the liturgical translation. Only when there is a difference of wording in Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek and the Latin is preferred does the Nova Vulgata then get translated and interpolated into the vernacular, creating a different-reading liturgical text. This never means the Latin is more correct than the original reading in Hebrew or Greek. Often it is just another way of saying something more clearly that matches Catholic vernacular. And it is merely done this way because a translation of Latin liturgical texts is just that: rendering the Latin texts, not the Hebrew or Greek texts in which the Scriptures were composed, into another language. To use the reading from the Hebrew or Greek where they do not represent the Latin would not be translating the Latin but replacing it, and replacing is not translating.

While the RSV-CE and its most recent updating is a fine translation (I love mine very much), it is not the most accurate. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the 20th century took about 50 years of study before information could be gleaned and used in Bible translations. The NRSV was one of the first translations to use this information (not even the RSV-CE Second Edition has any of this), and the NABRE is the first version to dramatically improve the text by incorporating it (Tobit for example is far richer as a result, as are most of the Deuterocanonicals since the NABRE is the first to incorporate the original Hebrew readings of these books, unavailable and thus not included in any version before). A new rendition of the Vulgata Latin text of the Scriptures is being considered due to what has been learned since finding the Dead Sea Scrolls/Masada Texts, and this will leave all Catholic Bibles before the NRSV and the NABRE notably lacking.