By Leighton, Guest Reviewer
When I found a hardcover edition of the New English Bible with the "Apocrypha" at a used bookstore some years ago, I picked it up because it was inexpensive (I paid less than ten dollars for it) and of high quality: it boasted a pristine dust jacket (like new, though it was a 1970 edition) and sewn signature pages (for me a necessity for a Bible, no getting around it; sorry, Benedictine Press, but for all the otherwise high quality of your Bibles, you really have to get it together in that department: I want a Bible that will last longer than I will, and glued pages don't cut it).
I spent a little time in the text and really liked most of the translation, in spite of some very unusual renderings--- some bordering on weird, and a couple even jarringly laughable (take Joshua 15:18, and Judges 1:14, for example). Most of the text flows with a certain cadence that I find exquisite. Take for example this rendering of Paul: "For if we have become incorporate with him in a death like his, we shall also be one with him in a resurrection like his. We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin" (Ro. 6:5-7). It gets even better, but you can read it for yourself.
Even some of the more unusual renderings I find wonderfully fresh and lively. For instance, Matthew 5:3: "How blest are those who know their need of God," substitutes for the more literal and traditional, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." And Matthew 5:48: "There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father's goodness knows know bounds." (Love it, but better still is the first printing of the New Jerusalem Bible, which rendered this as "you must therefore set no bounds to your love, just as your heavenly Father sets none to his.")
What I do with really "out there" renderings in the NEB, such as the above mentioned Joshua 5:18, that seem to obscure the meaning or even make one blush, is pencil in corrections or alternate translations from the RSV or NABRE to the side of the text (for example: in Psalm 22 I penciled in the NABRE's "pierced" for the NEB's "hacked" the persecuted's hands and feet).
I am usually more of a formal equivalence kind of guy, especially because I am not versed well in the original languages. I am a catechist by trade, not a Bible scholar. I rely on accuracy. The RSV gives me a certain confidence that I find reassuring, especially since I suffer from a certain scrupulosity that probably adds to the reason I buy a used Bible almost as often as I fill the tank of the car (as my wife points out quite frequently). On a side note, for all of you who do indeed have a spouse that likes to point out your frequent Bible purchases, take heart: once when my dear wife was teasing me in front of friends about the number of volumes in my collection, our lady friend said with a shrug, "Well, a lot of women I know would say they are grateful that their husband's addiction is the collecting of Bibles!" Zing! Kapow!
Back to the NEB, though.
I do Bible study with the NABRE, the RSV, the NJB (for the great notes), and the NRSV (a beautiful translation, only marred, in my layman's opinion, by the overarching use of inclusive language... but admittedly, I am a guy, so maybe I fail to understand the benefit of it... I just think it obscures too much in the text). For more devotional reading and lectio divina I usually enjoy the New Jerusalem Bible (for the text, which is much more measured than the NRSV as far as inclusive language goes), the Knox, and the British CTS version of the original Jerusalem Bible.
But the reason, to be frank, why this beautiful hardcover copy of the NEB has been sitting on the shelf in spite of my appreciation of the text is because I am a Bible snob. I just can't seem to make a Bible that doesn't have a genuine leather cover my daily go-to Bible. I want a Bible that is well worn but beautiful (I know, it is what is between the covers that matters; alas, I am a work in progress). I take good care of my Bible. I tend to pencil notes to the side rather than mark up the actual text, because I want my eyes to be free to grab onto a certain passage or word without the distraction of highlighting during lectio divina. I don't want to miss something the Lord wants to say to me. I want a high quality, genuine leather Bible that, when it gets passed down to one of my children (I don't have to worry about not having enough personal Bibles for that, in spite of our large family size!), shows my children that Dad appreciated the Bible, that he used his Bible, that it is something to be cherished all one's life. I want them to be able to see which passages I treasured most by the little stars penciled to the side, or get a glimpse into my faith life by reading the small notes and prayers in the margins and back pages, like I can gratefully do with my late grandfather's Bible.
So, in spite of its appeal as a translation I have consulted my NEB only occasionally, and never marked in it, because it is only a hardcover. As I said, I am a Bible snob. Thus, the NEB translation has been a neglected treasure.
A few days ago I was at a popular used bookstore, one of my favorite haunts on a day off, and after finding little of interest, I "just happened" to check out the rare books selection on a whim. I do this from time to time but rarely find anything of interest that isn't extremely expensive, so tend to avoid that section. As I was about to leave, I thought, "What the heck, I will take a glance." There, at the bottom of the shelf, was a golden box with the words: "The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, Bound in Water Buffalo Calfskin, semi overlapping covers, 23 carat gold edges." I grabbed it, opened the box to find a beautifully preserved leather Bible inside, anxiously opened the soft cover to find the penciled in price, and was very excited to see it was quite inexpensive. I got it for less than the cost of a couple of pizzas for my family!
I have had it less than a week but I am very pleased with it. It was printed in 1971, and other than some yellowing of the first pages, it is in great condition. I expect this edition to become my companion Bible for morning prayer, bedtime reading, and chapel time. For catechesis I will continue to lean on the RSV, NRSV, and the NABRE, but this one is a personal treasure I hope to make good use of over the years. It has its faults (what translation doesn't?), but on the dust jacket of my hardcover edition I am reminded that no less a literary figure than Walker Percy said, "It is is a beautiful job--- first rate scholarship which does not sacrifice the language." Thomas Howard, quoted there as well, spoke highly of the NEB: "The great thing to be praised, from the layman's point of view, about this translation, is the clarity and simplicity of the prose. It is an epochal achievement." And Sheldon Vanauken wrote, "What I want in a translation of the Bible is, first of all clarity of meaning and, next, easy, graceful English. The New English Bible is the best I've found in both respects." Of course, it has also been said that the Venerable Fulton Sheen enjoyed the NEB quite a lot. If it's good enough for the likes of these greats, it's good enough for me.
Finally, borrowing the Methodist theologian Albert Outler's review on the dust jacket, I can say, "And so, it is the one I [will] keep in easy reach."