Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: The Catholic Study Bible NABRE

The Catholic Study Bible (CSB) from Oxford University Press has a history going back to 1990, just before the publication of the '91 NAB Revised Psalms.  I have genuine leather edition of that volume, which was unique due to the 500+ pages of reading guides that preceded the Biblical text and the generous 2 inch margins.  Needless to say, the combination of those two things made that first edition a bit of a beast.  Perhaps in a desire to reduce its size, later editions, including the most recent NABRE one, got rid of the large margins.  The same thing happened if you compare the 1991 New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV with its subsequent revisions.  I kind of liked the larger margin editions though.  I will be reviewing here The Catholic Study Bible NABRE 2nd Edition (black bonded leather).

It must be said straight away that the biggest issue I have with this edition of the CSB is the fact that the reading guides have not been updated since the release of the NABRE.  For example, if you are looking up the reading guide section (p. 128) on the topic of the Levitical sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7, it will mention that in Lv 2 the NAB calls this the 'cereal offering' when in fact it is called a "grain offering" in the NABRE.  Look down one more paragraph which discusses the often translated "Peace offering" of Lv 3 which is now "communion offering" in the NABRE.  There are also issues when we get to the prophets, where mention is made of how the NAB rearranged verses.  However, the NABRE restored many of them to their proper order.  Then there is the embarrassing fact that one of the introductory articles called "The Challenges of Biblical Translation" talks about the "proposed NAB Old Testament" which is of course the translation found in this study Bible.  The reading guides need to be updated.  This is an issue that has been mentioned before on this blog, including some helpful comments by reader and blogger Theophrastus.  One wonders if this will be corrected only when the NABRE NT is published.  I hope it will be sooner.

After getting that out of the way, let me move to its overall feel and appearance.  The CSB scores high marks here, due to the quality sewn binding and its classic look and feel.  The sewn binding is well done, which assures longevity for this volume.  Attached to the binding are two gold ribbon markers.  The gold gilt-edged is a nice touch, which works well with thumb indexed pages.  I know some people don't like thumb indexed pages, but I find them to be helpful in a study bible of this size.  Now, my 1990 edition of the CSB was covered in genuine leather, which the current edition is not available in.  The bonded leather is ok, nothing special really.  Would have preferred a genuine leather cover like the NOAB 4th Edition, but if I continue to use this edition as much as I have in past months, I may have to give Leonard's a call.  

Now on to the content that is found within its bonded leather cover.  I have truly grown to love the page layout.  The type is large enough to read for study and to use when teaching.  Personally, I always have a bit of a hard time finding a Bible that fits both the at home and in the classroom setting.  This one seems to meet both needs.  The print itself is quite dark, and while the paper used is a fairly thin Bible paper, I don't feel the ghosting is any where near the problem as found in the HarperCollins Bibles.  The paragraph headings are in a clear bold from the rest of the biblical text, while the NABRE notes and cross-references are distinguishable from the text.  In sum, the page layout is easy on the eyes and is inviting to read.

The one thing I think the CSB excels at is in the fact that it contains a whole lot of additional study helps, which not all Catholic study bibles include.  Part of this is due to the NABRE itself, which comes with study notes and cross-references built into the translation.  The CSB goes above and beyond this with the reading guides, which I will discuss later, but more importantly it includes a considerable amount of material in the appendix.  First, we find probably my favorite set of Bible maps, the 14 New Oxford maps which are large, highly detailed, and indexed.  Also included is an almost 100 page concise concordance, which most of you indicated in one of my recent polls was a mandatory element of a good study bible.  There is also a small glossary, a table of measures and weights, and an index to the reading guides. Rounding out what is found in the appendix is a full listing of lectionary readings for Sundays, Holy days, and weekdays.  It still amazes how many Catholic bibles are missing this.  The Mass and the Bible are tied together, shouldn't all Catholic bibles reflect this?

Having looked at the appendix, let's go back to the beginning of the CSB.  This section has two main parts: the introductory articles and the reading guides.  There are eight introductory articles than cover issues related to Biblical history and archaeology to Catholic interpretation and the lectionary.  The authors are well known Catholic biblical scholars, including CSB co-editor Donald Senior, Ronald Witherup, and the recently deceased Daniel Harrington. 

The over 450 pages of reading guides are authored by many of the most prominent biblical scholars of the post-Vatican II Church.  The late Lawrence Boadt composed the reading guides concerning the Pentateuch. Leslie Hoppe composed the ones for the books of the Deuteronomistic histories, as well as 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther and both Maccabees.  The Old Testament reading guides are rounded out with Diane Bergant's treatment of the Wisdom books, Richard Clifford's guides on the Major Prophets, and John J. Collins who does the guides for Daniel and the Minor Prophets.  The New Testament reading guides are anchored in the Gospels and Acts jointly composed by Donald Senior and Pheme Perkins.  Mary Ann Getty and Carolyn Osiek completed the guides on the Pauline corpus, with Luke Timothy Johnson concluding the reading guides with the Catholic Letters and the Book of Revelation.  These reading guides are generally quite helpful at giving an overall walk through each book.  They are more academic in orientation, being primarily concerned with historical, literary, and textual issues.  While the reading guides do address theological issues, I would not say that it is of its primary concern.  I find that most of the guides help to fill in the gaps of the NABRE notes.  There are particular areas in the NABRE's Old Testament, I am thinking here of Chronicles and some of the Wisdom books, where more notes would be helpful.  The reading guides give that additional background and exposition.  Those who have issues with the NABRE notes may not appreciate the tone and focus of the information found in the reading guides.  I should add that at the end of each book in the reading guide, there are recommendations for further reading.  These have been updated since the first edition came out in 1990, and I would expect to see a further updating whenever a third edition is published.

Finally, incorporated into the NABRE text are 52 in-text maps and 18 side-bar essays and charts.  These are placed in their appropriate location within the biblical text, which makes them quite helpful.  Would love to see more of these in future editions.  How about maps and charts in color?  Perhaps that is asking too much.  

In conclusion, when I consider the entire package, the CSB is a serious candidate for best Catholic study bible, with one major caveat being the desperately needed updating of the OT reading guides.  Oxford should really fix this.  Perhaps they could come out with an "augmented" edition, much like they did with the NOAB 3rd Edition.  Some will not like this Bible because of its focus on historical-critical issues.  I think if you know that ahead of time, you will find that this study bible contains a wealth of helpful information.  The fact that the translation is the NABRE, with its much improved OT and Psalms, make this an upgrade over all the previous editions.  I look forward to seeing what might be produced in the coming years as the NABRE NT is revised. 


Theophrastus said...

On September 1, 2011, you posted

One of my contacts has told me that the Catholic Study Bible NABRE will be updated on the next printing. [...] The reason it wasn't updated was that they wanted to move early to have the text available for fall classes.

I took Oxford at face value, returning my copy, and waiting for the promised update -- which seems to have never arrived in subsequent printings over the following year and a half.

Might I ask you to reach out to your contact and find out when (if ever) Oxford plans to update the Catholic Study Bible to match the text it now contains?

As it is, I am hard-pressed to recommend the Catholic Study Bible volume as compared, for example, to the combination of the New Jerome Biblical Commentary and the HaperOne NABRE.

Timothy said...

I'll see what I can do. Like you, I have checked different editions that I have seen in bookstores and the issues persist. That being said, the material in the reading guides is still quite useful and the problems tend to be more of an embarrassing eye-sore than anything else.

Dave G. said...

Hey Tim,
I have yet to really hear a solid answer to this question: In the NT, when Jesus quotes from the OT, he says "Moses wrote..." or "Moses permitted...". When the NT writers quote prophets, they usually say, "as was written by the prophet so and so". If the Torah was NOT written by Moses (as is usually written in newer Catholic study bible notes), then why did Jesus attribute the writings in the Torah to him? It just seems that every time the NT quotes or references the OT, that the writers confirm the authenticity of the OT writers. So how can we, 2,000 years later, doubt it? And if these newer scholars are right and Moses DIDN'T write the Torah, then Jesus was wrong. How is that possible?

Timothy said...


Thanks for the question. I would have to double check, but I do believe the Catholic Study Bible speaks on this issue. If I remember correctly it states something along the lines of Moses not likely being the actual writer of what has come down to us today as the Pentateuch. However, the CSB does not deny his influence on its formation nor the fact that some of the stories, accounts, laws, and other material come down through the generations going back to the time of Moses.

So, Jesus could legitimately quote from the Books of Moses and attribute it to him.

Dave said...

Thanks much appreciated!

Also, I ordered my copy of the NOAB RSV based on your recommendation. Anxiously awaiting its arrival! :)


Steve said...

Thanks for there review on this. I've been thinking hard about picking up a copy, but keep hesitating due to the small issues you mention above.

Also, on a note that may seem trivial to some, I cannot help but wonder why Oxford isn't using the same real leather cover they have on the RSV and NRSRV study bibles. Overall, this seems like a near perfect CATHOLIC study Bible, especially if they update the reading guides eventually. The fact that they used a bonded leather cover truly leads me to believe there is a plot out there amongst publishers to never actually produce a super high quality Catholic Bible, LOL.

I know, trivial, but really?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review! I have a hard cover Oxford NABRE that I really enjoy. Unfortunately, I was either too hard on it or the binding is not able to handle the page weight because after some use the front cover is tearing away from the Bible.

For whatever reason, I did not know there was a leather (bonded) was available for this format and edition. It's such a great study bible and I hope that the sewn binding will last.

God bless!

Christopher Buckley said...

Theophrastus et al.

Looks like the outdated reading guides will no longer be a problem, come March:

I just ordered my leather copy from my local bookstore. Should tide me over until the revised NABRE NT comes out in ten years. :-)

rolf said...

I like this study Bible! The in text maps are very useful and the text is very readable. I use the reading guide for a reference alot, even if I am reading another Bible at the time. I had this Bible rebound and enjoy using it daily!