Monday, August 10, 2015

History of the Jerusalem Bible

Thanks to Gerald for passing along this helpful essay on the history of the Jerusalem Bible.  Any original 1966 Jersualem Bible readers out there?  Would love to hear from you!


David Garcia said...

Ok so you know I just HAVE to respond to this, right? :)

Gerald shared this a few weeks ago in another post (thank you!) and it really got me thinking and wondering:

I know the NABRE is the "US. Bible" and the NRSV is the "Canadian bible." But the Jerusalem Bible is basically the bible for the rest of the English speaking world. So it begs the question:

Why hasn't this phenomenal bible produced in 1966 primarily by Catholics with amazing format, single column layout, side column references, and terrific notes, become the preferred Bible for us? Why the NABRE or nrsv or rsvce over the 1966jb ? Has anyone spent any significant time with this bible? It is a beautifully poetic, moving, and accurate translation. Why isn't there a bigger push for it?? Especially when it is mother Angelica's favorite version and ewtn and catholic radio being so popular??

I get the politics behind the NABRE being "our" translation and the mass being based off it so that is why it's so popular here. But the 1966JB absolutely deserves a second look from American Catholics (at least for personal reading) methinks!!

Deacon Dave said...

Upon my reversion to the Faith in 1978 I was given a brand new marron cloth-in-slip case 1966 JB and have had it as my treasured (if not always used) Bible ever since. Highlighting, notes and apologetics references written in every nook and cranny of that Bible...Year later I received (and still have)a bonded leather 1966 JB but nothing can take the place of that original massive hardcover JB.I guess I fell a bit away from it's daily use during all the years in between when I read over and over that the 1966 JB was not a 'real" translation of the original languages but of the French, that it's notes were in need of revision, etc...NOT saying all that is true (it may or may not be...I personally have no clue) but it's why I eventually turned to the NABRE, the CCB and now also the NCV/NT.

David Garcia said...

Deacon Dave... That is one of the biggest misunderstandings about the 1966JB. Only the notes used the French translation as a source. The actual text was translated using the original texts and even the Dead Sea scrolls while also referencing the French (ie it was not translated into English directly and only from the French).

But ya know, even if that was the case, it's the English that matters to me. So if the English reads beautifully and faithfully, that's all that matters to me. It's kind of like saying I won't read the Knox or the douay because they were translated from the vulgate and not the "original source texts". I don't think anyone would argue about the quality of those two translations so that is how I feel about the JB. If it used multiple sources I don't mind as long as the English touches and transforms me! :)

David Garcia said...

You can scroll down and read the Editors forward and see how original languages and French were used :)

Christopher Buckley said...


I confess I share Deacon Dave's preconceptions of the text, and I've seen just as much scholarship stating the opposite (that it relies primarily on the French source text using Greek/Hebrew as a reference) that I just don't know what to make of it.

It's weird to say, but even now as a confirmed Catholic I don't "trust" it as a translation. Certainly in light of two more recent developments, it falls short in my eyes, no matter how lovely the language:

-Your source says "And so the translation is based upon the Hebrew and Greek as interpreted by the French version." Liturgiam authenticam now directs us another way: "Furthermore, in the preparation of these translations for liturgical use, the Nova Vulgata Editio, promulgated by the Apostolic See, is normally to be consulted as an auxiliary tool, in a manner described elsewhere in this Instruction, in order to maintain the tradition of interpretation that is proper to the Latin Liturgy." This is especially important given that the JB is used so prominently in English liturgies around the world. Were we to evaluate it for lectionary use now, I doubt it would pass muster.

-The (to my ear) offensive use of the Divine Name is prevalent throughout the JB and the NJB. Raised Protestant, with a number of close Jewish friends growing up, the Divine Name literally slaps me in the face with each reading. The effect is beautiful, lilting English interrupted with the equivalent of an unutterable curse-word every other line! In 2008, the COngregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the "Letter to the Bishops’ Conferences on ‘the name of God.'" Among the recommendations for upholding the Church's tradition of respecting the name of God, it specifically mandates "in modern translations of the Bible “destined for the liturgical usage of the Church,” the tetragrammaton should be translated with an equivalent of Adonai/Kyrios, such as “Lord” in English, “Señor” in Spanish, etc." Were it to be translated today, the JB would likely not receive an imprimatur.

Can we still use it? Of course.

But as lovely as it is, for me as a reader, this translation can never shake the triple baggage of its (likely unwarranted) reputation for being three degrees removed from the source text, somewhat ignoring the Vulgate tradition, and taking the Lord's name in vain. Which is a shame because it is quite beautiful.

David Garcia said...

I understand and respect your concerns truly. But the thrust of your concern seems to revolve around the use of the JB for liturgy. However, My support and "banner waving" for the JB is more for personal use as I mentioned in my original post.

Also, the link I included was not about the reviewers opinion but was included so everyone can read the editors foreword which clearly states the translation is from the Greek and Hebrew while consulting other texts. So it is not really three times removed as everyone thinks.

The use of Yahweh I do not believe is taking the lords name in vain even in the slightest. Original Torah scrolls have that name in them as well. I think we all know what taking the name in vain means. To simply print it in a translation is fine with me. I actually prefer it since it lends Jewish flavor to the text and the fact remains that this is the name printed in the Hebrew text. Just because observant Jews and others write g-d or use Adonai is of no concern to me. That is simple their interpretation and choice regarding gods name. It's not a mandate for all to have to follow ya know?

David Garcia said...

PS.... All the jb's published now (like the ones from CTS) have replaced "Yahweh" with "lord" while leaving the remaining text untouched (Excwpt that the original JB psalms have been replaced by the grail psalms which are used in liturgy). So if you find the JB beautiful and want it to be more liturgical but dislike the use of Yahweh, pick up a copy of the CTS bible and you will be happy :)

Jeff S. said...

I'm with David on this issue:
Here's a direct excerpt from Alexander Jones foreward of June 1, 1966
to the Jerusalem Bible:
"The translation of the biblical text itself could clearly not be made from the French. In the case of a few books the initial draft was made from the French and was then compared word for word with the Hebrew or Aramaic by the General Editor and amended where necessary to ensure complete conformity with the ancient text. For the much greater part, the initial drafts were made from the Hebrew or Greek and simultaneously compared with the French when questions of variant reading or interpretation arose. Whichever system was used, therefore, the same intended result was achieved, that is, an entirely faithful version of the ancient texts which, in doubtful points, preserves the text established and (for the most part) the interpretation adopted by the French scholars in the light of the most recent researches in the fields of history, archaeology and literary criticism."

Christopher Buckley said...

Thanks David-

Agreed and understood.
What I'm describing is the emotional effect of reading the text. While I don't believe the printed text is "committing a sin," reading it aloud "feels offensive" to me.
The fact that the text is so tone-deaf to the fact that many readers will react as viscerally as I do is part of the problem.

Point of correction though: no, the original texts DON'T include the Lord's name. They print the unpointed tetragrammaton, and traditionally read it aloud as "Lord." Had the JB followed suit, and simply printed "YHWH" instead of "Yahweh," I'd have no problem whatsoever. I would have seen that as an attempt at textual clarity instead of over-familiarity with the Divine.

I've seen the CTS version, and I like that it tried to conform the text to the CDW mandate against printing the tetragrammaton. However, as with Ignatius' RSV-2CE, the freedom of a publisher to introduce changes like that to a text bearing an imprimatur is rather questionable.

Anonymous said...

To me, the Jerusalem Bible (JB) and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) are in one package both scholarly and highly readable. The notes are second to none. At times their translations are quite different than others; however, in every case in my recollection, the note will indicate that this translation is different and why the editors chose the one used.
An Example: James 4
Some years ago, someone asked me why their prayers were not answered. To the best of my ability; I gave a long and I am sure unsatisfying answer to a difficult question. Then; perhaps because of the rigorous translation of the word “aiteisthe” in James 4:3 which is “ask.” I missed the opportunity to apply what perfectly met the situation to use James 4:2-3.
James 4:2-3
NABRE: “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. 3 You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
JB: “You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.”
Observation: The use of “pray” versus “ask” makes the meaning of this verse jump out. You know this about prayer.
An example of the different approach to the use of notes:
James 4:4
NABRE: “Adulterers![a] Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
a.4:4 Adulterers: a common biblical image for the covenant between God and his people is the marriage bond. In this image, breaking the covenant with God is likened to the unfaithfulness of adultery.
JB: You are as unfaithful as adulterous wives, don’t you realise that making the world your friend is making God your enemy? Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God’s enemy?

Note: Lit. “’You adulteresses, don’t you know that the friendship of the world is enmity of God?’ The imagers of Israel the unfaithful wife of Yahweh is traditional in the O.T. Ho 1:2, cf. Mt 12:39…….
Observation: In the case of the NABRE the editors saw fit to explain what could be a misleading statement with a note. In the JB the editor cleared up the potential misunderstanding in the text and then explained why it deviated from a rigorous translation.

David Garcia said...

My biggest issue with the njb is the "gender- neutralling" of the text :(

Jeff S. said...

Earlier in these comments, I quoted from the June 1, 1966 foreword
to the JB. Here, I'll copy and paste the March 1, 1968 foreword to the READER's edition of the 1966 JB.

When the Jerusalem Bible was first published in English in 1966, the
Foreword to the complete Standard edition announced its objects : to serve two pressing needs facing the Church, the need to keep abreast of the times and the need to deepen theological thought. This double program was carried out by translating the ancient texts into the language we use today, and by providing notes to the texts which were neither sectarian nor superficial. In that Foreword also, the dependence of the translators on the original pioneer work of the School of Biblical Studies in Jerusalem was acknowledged, and the English version was offered as an entirely faithful rendering of the original texts which, in doubtful points, preserved the text
established and ( for the most part) the interpretation adopted by the School in the light of the most recent researches in the fields of history, archaeology and literary criticism. With the text, the Standard edition presents the full explanatory notes that would enable any student to confirm for himself the interpretations that were adopted, to appreciate the theological implications drawn from them, and to understand the complex relations between different parts of the Bible.
However the Bible is not only for students undergoing a formal course
of study, and there has been an immediate demand for an edition of the Jerusalem Bible which would bring the modern clarity of the text before the ordinary reader, and open to him the results of modern researches without either justifying them at length in literary and historical notes or linking them with doctrinal studies. For this reason, the present Reader's Edition has been prepared. The full Introductions of the Standard edition are here greatly abridged, to serve simply as brief explanations of the character of each book or group of books, their dates and their authorship; and the full Notes of the Standard edition have been greatly reduced in number and length, to restrict them to the minimum which are necessary for understanding the primary, literal meaning of the text; to explain
terms, places, people and customs; to specify dates, and to identify the sources of quotations. In short, the brief Introductions and Notes are here only to help the ordinary reader to understand what he is reading and do not assume in him any wide literary, historical or theological knowledge or interests.

Christ's College, Liverpool Alexander Jones
March 1, 1968

Christopher Buckley said...

I do agree that the Pauline, Catholic, and pastoral letters are my favorite thing about the JB.

Eric Barczak said...

For those of you with the CTS version, are the Beatitudes still "happy" like the original JB, or did they get "blessed"???

Michael Demers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Demers said...

I got the JB for my high school graduation present way back in 1967. I did not read the whole thing until 1985. I liked it well enough except for the somewhat small print size used for the main text. I liked using Yahweh; otherwise you'd run into tautological problems avoiding it.

Daniel said...

I was just watching "Catholicism" with Fr. Robert Barrin and he indicated that "happy" is a great translation for the beatitudes. He said the beatitudes are a like a recipe for a happy life. I think the JB translation is right-on with that translation, even if it sounds funny when we are all so used to the word "blessed."

CatholicSteve said...

I've been thinking of getting the CTS JB, I was wondering about the Intros/ footnote; how often do they explain the liturgical use of the Bible?

Anonymous said...

The CTS is still happy.

Deacon Dave said...

David Garcia - thanks for your words of encouragement. I am pulling out my 1966 JB and I'm going to start using it on a more regular basis.

Anonymous said...

For those of us with poor working memories, translations like the JB are important. I feel that the people (lay people and bishops)making the decisions on how the text should be translated are academics or at least well above normal intelligence. They forget how challenging a litteral translation can be to read when they language is choppy requiring the reader to have multiple ideas in their head because the language doesn't flow. I love my NABRE and RSV2VE but i would prefer to use them for college coursework or as a reference to the JB.

David Garcia said...

Deacon Dave

That's great! I spent many many years trying to find "my bible" and I have certainly found it :) I hope it brings you many blessings again as well!

David Garcia said...

I think that is the primary problem... Our ears get so accustomed I hearing certain verses certain ways that when we hear them another way it sounds "off". But I have to say through experience that when I open my mind and heart to what God has to say, the "good stuff" always comes through even though at first it may sound foreign to my ears.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the flood of comments!

I was also amazed when I heard the story since the JB was a full mystery for us, unlike other Catholic translations that we have an idea how they all started.

Anonymous said...

I also went to the same journey as David G., but eventually I find home in reading the Scriptures in the CTS version of the Jerusalem Bible.

I started to read the Bible continuously from Luke and I am now about to end the Luke.

Many Catholic versions are good in apologetics, study, etc. But for me, for us to dive in those technical fields, we should be familiar first with the Bible by reading it through.

David Garcia said...

I went back and forth between 1966 and cts since the cts has the grail psalms there was a liturgical familiarity to it. And at first I like "lord" instead of Yahweh. But the more time I spent in the 1966 the more I fell in love with the 1966 psalms and really felt a personal flavor to reading Yahweh in the text. So I made the switch and haven't looked back!

Deacon Dave said...

Maybe because I came of age in the St. Louis Jesuits and was in Newman Club in the early 1980's college years but...YAHWEH never bothered me and I was a bit disappointed with the Vatican directive of B16 which affected this translation.

Anonymous said...

David G.,

While I, settled in the CTS, using "Yahweh" bothers me, it makes additional work to do the substitution to "the Lord" when I encountered it in the original JB.

However, I find Grail Psalms fittingly enough for JB. As I had read it somwhere, Fr. Joseph Gulineau, the pioneer of the stressed psalmody, he was on the committee who worked on the French Jerusalem Bible and, Fr. Gulineau is reported to have worked on a draft translation of the Psalms for the French Jerusalem Bible and re-worked it to be singable for music.

And the Catholic hierarchy, became impressed with Fr. Gulineau's psalmody, also found the English version by the Grail very suitable for music.

tuckleong said...

The CTS Bible keeps footnotes mostly with historical and cultural comments from the JB, leaving out the philological and translation ones. Rather well selected.

The introduction for each book includes a section on the liturgical use of the books.

Here are two examples:

At mass, Ruth has only two readings, in Week 20 of Year One; they tell of Ruth’s fidelity and her reward in the renewal of her family. It is not read at all in the Breviary. However, it has a verse heard at Mass in the greeting of the priest: in 2:4 Boaz calls out to Ruth, ‘The LORD be with you’, to which Ruth replies, “The LORD bless you’.

The letter to the Colossians provides the reading for Sundays 15-18 in Year C, and each year for Easter Day on newness of life (3.1-4) and for the Holy Family on Christian behaviour in the home (3.12-21). It is read semi-continuously in Weeks 22 and 23 of Year One. In the Liturgy of the Hours it is read at the office of Readings in the days after Christmas, and the lyrical passage on the exaltation of Christ as first-born in creation and first-born from the dead (1.12-20) constitutes the Canticle at Evening Prayer every Wednesday.

ELC said...

I still have my first JB, which was given to me as a gift by the priest who received me into the Catholic Church. It's a full-size Standard Edition. I'm not certain, but I think he gave it to me for Christmas; it would have been 1975, probably. I used it so much, the binding has cracked at front and back.

I also have a small leather-bound Reader's Edition, which I got December 6, 1980. I used to like to take it when I travelled.

And I have a thin-paper Standard Edition, which I got April 7, 1982. This has been my go-to Bible for most of my adult life. The text/layout seems to be identical to the Standard Edition mentioned above. The cover is very odd, a hard sort of plastic for which I don't know the right word.

I also have a three-volume Study Edition of the Australian lectionary (though I am an American) which I got April 19, 1991. I have used it when I wanted to follow the daily readings but didn't have any other convenient way to do so. They are beautiful leather-bound books.

I also have a neat reference called Modern Concordance to the New Testament, ed. Michael Darton, which I got March 23, 1982. It is keyed to the Greek, but the quotations are from the JB.

wxmarc said...

I'm very late to the party on this, but I've read all the responses with great interest. I also had the impression that the JB was translated from the French, so I'm very glad David and Jeff S. provided the facts to correct that rumor. I wonder how the rumor started? I vaguely remember reading a quote by Henry Wansbrough suggesting that some books of the JB were probably primarily translated from French, but I can't find it. The introduction to the New Jerusalem Bible puts it this way:

"The biblical text of the first edition was occasionally criticised for following the French translation more closely than the originals. In this edition the translation has been made directly from the Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. Only where the text admits of more than one interpretation has the option chosen by the Bible de Jerusalem been followed..."

It sounds like "following the French too closely" morphed into "being translated originally from the French" over time.

I don't own a copy of the original JB at the moment, but I do enjoy the NJB. I think it does especially well with biblical poetry, especially in the New Testament, where most other translations do not separate poetic passages into poetic verse.

I have not used the NJB as a primary translation, though, because I keep running into passages that are translated differently from every other translation I own. This may very well be a good thing. Maybe it provides insight into other possible meanings of the text. But it makes me uneasy. I can think of a couple of examples:

2 Peter 1:10:
The NRSV, CEB, REB, and NABRE are all very close to each other in their phrasing of this verse. Here's the NRSV for reference:

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble"

To me, this suggests the idea that God has already called and chosen us, and we should strive to "confirm" his call by living according to his plan.

The NJB translates this as follows:

"Instead of this, brothers, never allow your choice or calling to waver; then there will be no danger of your stumbling."

That phrasing places more emphasis on the person, rather than God. To paraphrase, it sounds like the NJB is telling the reader: "Stick with it and stay faithful. Then you will not stumble." The NRSV sounds like: "God chose you, so be all the more eager to live according to his design! Then you will not stumble."

Another example: Psalm 51:4:
"Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment."

"Against you, you alone, I have sinned,
I have done what you see to be wrong,
that you may show your saving justice when you pass sentence,
and your victory may appear when you give judgement."

In the NJB, I have no sense of the Psalmist affirming God's justice in condemning him. Also, "I have done what you see to be wrong" seems like far weaker, more relativistic language than "I have done what is evil in your sight."

If anyone is interested in providing the quotes of these verses from the original JB, I would be interested. I'm not sure what to make of things like that. Not knowing the original languages, I have no way to judge accuracy. But when a translation chooses wording that seems to alter the meaning of a text away from the vast majority of other translations, I lose confidence in its accuracy. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, though, and I'd love to hear other perspectives.

Javier said...

the quote by Henry Wansbrough is in the Wikipedia: "Despite claims to the contrary, it is clear that the Jerusalem Bible was translated from the French, possibly with occasional glances at the Hebrew or Greek, rather than vice versa". It is from his booklet 'How the Bible Came to Us', to be found here:
How the Bible came to us

David Garcia said...

I think the bottom line here is that that 1966JB has an imprimatur and nihil obstat. It is an official approved translation of the church and is still absolutely beautiful, accurate, and fresh even 50 years later. It's an almost lost gem of the church that i still encourage every catholic to get ahold of and read it through just once!

rolf said...

Wxmarc, here are the above verses from the Jerusalem Bible (as requested):

2 Peter 1:10
Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it. If you do all these things there is no danger that you will ever fall away.

Psalm 51:4
Having sinned against none other than you, having done what you regard as wrong.
You are just when you pass sentence on me, blameless when you give judgement.

Jeff S. said...

First of all, I went to the Wikipedia page
and it says that it's Henry Wansbrough who is the one saying that
the 1966 JB is merely a translation from the French. And then I went to the link provided by Javier:
and Wansbrough's essay on "How the Bible Came to Us" seems somewhat over-the-top in the attitude it conveys.

I own both the 1966 JB and the 1985 NJB and there are many passages
where the words of the 1985 NJB are almost identical to those of the
original 1966 JB. Using Wansbrough's reasoning, it might imply that
his 1985 JB "copied" from the 1966 JB.

In reality, my guess is that the translators for each of the 1966 and 1985 versions made their first drafts translating it from the original Hebrew/Greek and then compared it to the French of 1956 and then if there was a big difference in meaning, occasionally decided that the 1956 French translation got the meaning better and thus changed their English text.

And for the 1985 NJB, Wansbrough and his fellow translators probably also compared their first drafts with the 1966 JB as well as the French of 1956.

Given that the 1985 NJB is extremely similar to the 1966 JB, the same
argument that Wansbrough uses against the 1966 could be used against his 1985.

And jumping outside the back&forth, hypothetically, suppose the 1956 French translation was an absolute masterpiece and got everything
"right". Then what would be wrong with someone who wanted an English version to simply slavishly translate the French into English without even looking at the original languages?

But,if the translators for the 1966 JB and 1985 JB never even looked at the French translation of 1956, then why would they have the two words "Jerusalem Bible" as part of their titles. In theory, the title could have been anything. But by the fact that the two titles
were "The Jerusalem Bible","The New Jerusalem Bible"
the translators in each case obviously paid extremely close attention to the 1956 French translation.

Given that any translator involved in such a project of 1966,1985 was obviously very competent in their field, they probably had an ego and a sense of pride in "doing their own work" so they all probably translated from the original languages and then checked it against the French of 1956 just to see what had been done then. Because if they didn't compare just even out of curiosity with the French then there'd be no logical reason to involve the name
"Jerusalem" in their titles.

Javier said...

Regarding the 1966 JB main source language question, Henry Wansbrough -in his booklet "How the Bible Came to Us"- goes so far as to say: 'For instance the 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah were translated in two weeks by the actor Robert Speaight, who knew neither Greek nor Hebrew – or so he told me'.
But then I don't know how reliable a source Henry Wansbrough is.
And of course, there is nothing essentially wrong with translating from the french version.

wxmarc said...

Thank you for quoting those verses from the original JB, Rolf. In these two cases, the JB seems closer to the meaning expressed by the NRSV and a number of other translations. It would be interesting to know why the NJB decided to use different wording that conveys a somewhat different meaning.

Thanks also to Javier for finding the quote from Henry Wansbrough. I'm not sure exactly how that squares with the JB's introduction. My best guess is that most of the translators followed the process outlined in the introduction, but there were some who translated from the French.

Anonymous said...

@ Tucklong

Thanks for the reply!
However one thing interesting though is that the book of Ruth IS used in the Liturgy of the Hours. It is used during Advent for Office of Readings in its Two year Lectionary.

God bless