Monday, March 21, 2016

The Transpositioning and Dislocating of Biblical Texts

Sinag-Tala Confraternity Bible

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been having a fascinating discussion regarding which OT would fit best with the Confraternity NT were it ever to be re-published in the future.  One of the more interesting comments I read concerns the issue of transpositioning/dislocating of verses, which was done in the Confraternity/NAB Old Testament (1969).  

Commenter Mark pointed out the places in Ezekiel and Job in the Confraternity/NAB OT (1969) where this took place and wrote: "For the many passages in the Confraternity version where transpositions and other dislocations of the text are incorporated in the translation, you aren't really reading God's word at that point, but rather what scholars from the 1940s and 50s thought a theoretical reconstruction of the "proper text" might have looked like. And some of those transpositions are in major portions of the text (Job 28's praise of wisdom, the vision chapters of Ezekiel). Not a stray verse here and there, not a disputed reading here and there, but major portions of major books."

Fortunately, the revised NABRE OT avoided transpositioning texts, which was a very good thing. Before 2011, I would occasionally have trouble teaching from the original NAB OT due to this issue. At the time, I had been involved in helping out with an ecumenical bible study, where the vast majority of students were Protestants who used the NIV, ESV, or KJV.  All three of these popular translations did not transposition verses.  This reality was made even more difficult, since the NAB used the Hebrew numbering of verses and chapters, while the vast majority of other English translations followed the Greek numbering.  This remains a minor issue today even in the improved NABRE, most notably in the Psalms and prophets.

While I wouldn't go as far as Mark who said that one who reads a bible that transpositions verses isn't "really reading God's word at that point," I would say that a translated text should be kept in the order it has been received.  I think this should be the case even if moving a verse or two around would aid to clarity of reading a given passage.  We are already reading a text that has been translated into another language, thus leading to a certain level of interpretation already.  I am not sure how fidelity to the original is served when verses are moved around.  As mentioned above, I am grateful that the NABRE OT moved away from this since it has been the text I have used most often this past year when teaching.

What say you?


Steve Molitor said...

What an interesting question! I haven't thought about this much but here are more first thoughts:

First, I would say that we are never exactly reading the word of God in a literal sense. We are reading a translation of an editor compiled assemblage of corrupted copies of corrupted copies of corrupted copies of the word of God. There are competing manuscript traditions, and the first job of a translator is to choose which version of the text to translate from, or in most cases assemble their own version of the "original" text eclectically from the various sources. So there are already editorial decisions made as to what to translate.

One way out of this dilemma would be to arbitrarily privilege one source over all others as the only inspired word, such as the Masoretic text, and ignore competing traditions (LXX, Dead Sea, etc). But even the Masorites assembled, made corrections and re-ordered the texts they received - they were editors, editing centuries or even a millennium after the original texts were written.

I realize that reordering verses takes things even further. However, even in the trusty RSV there are entire versus in the NT that were dropped and later re-added.

Finally, many of the deuterocanonical books, like the additions to Daniel, are insertions and collations.

So I think the core problem is too much of a fundamentalist and sola scriptura based influence on our thinking, the idea that the bible is perspicacious as long as you don't mess with it. As soon as you start looking at all the issues of translation and manuscript traditions, that whole approach starts to fall apart. We simply don't have access to the original bible exactly. We have to make educated guesses.

So I would say this is nothing new or shocking. Having said all of that, I personally prefer that my bible take a conservative approach and not rearrange verses too much and leave that too the footnotes, especially if there no manuscript support, and for the reasons Tim mentioned. But I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with it, if the scholarship supports it.

Kevin Daugherty said...

Even though I am a Protestant, I used to really love the NAB. Then, I discovered that some verses appeared to be out of place, which made me think that my Bible was misprinted. I later learned that this was intentional by the NAB translators. I later switched to the NRSV, partly because of this.

When the NABRE came out, I gave the NAB another shot, and I agree that the revised OT is a huge improvement. The Hebrew-based versification however still keeps me from using it. All major Protestant versions follow the traditional Tyndale-King James versification. I can use the NRSV, ESV, NIV, NKJV, etc. and find everything in the same place. The NABRE does not allow for that.

Christopher Buckley said...

I've always been a little fuzzy on precisely what's happening with those texts and why.

Is it:

a) that some books in Catholic Bibles traditionally had a different internal order because of their reliance on the Latin Vulgate? - If so, how is the NABRE getting around that, since it's at least aiming for some canonical conformity to the Vulgate

b) that the old textus receptus many earlieer English translations call on is now different than older texts in the original languages we've discovered since (like the Dead Sea Scrolls)?

b) something even more obtuse from the Septuaguint?

CarlHernz said...

You hit the nail on the head, Christopher. All three points were a factor contributing to the differences.

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was real concern among scholars regarding the Masoretic readings of some of the texts. Prior to the Shoah and discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there was large distrust among some Christians for the Masoretic tradition. Ezekiel, for example, had not so small differences in readings between what the LXX and the Masoretic version offered. The LXX had the support of other versions, like the Vulgate, to suggest its reading over the Masoretic. So a theoretic reconstruction was developed that would not argue against the weight of the testimony of the LXX in rendering the Hebrew Scriptures in certain areas. It was the best they had with the weight in support of a tradition that went back many centuries.

After the Shoah and the discovery of the scrolls in the Qumram caves, two things happened. Christians learned that some of their distrust for Jewish scholarship was connected to anti-Semitic attitudes that had no place in Biblical scholarship, and that the evidence from Qumram (though scanty in the case of Ezekiel) supported the Masoretic readings in many of these questionable areas over the LXX. This caused the changes, though not incorporated until the recent NABRE.

Catholic Bible versions relied a lot on the Latin texts, even up to the 1960s, due to the fact that the Latin text had been for the Church the touchstone for canonicity. There was also a mistaken Christian view about the importance of the LXX among Jews (some of which has yet to be expelled). Due to old prejudices prior to the Holocaust marked up as Jewish bias against Christianity, the general lack of acceptance of the LXX by Judaism was actively dismissed by many Christian scholars. Translations reflected these attitudes as they were products of their time.

That has all changed dramatically. The Qumram discovery, while often supporting the LXX tradition, does as much (if not more) to support the Masoretic version. The Church has also reiterated the importance and authrority of the original texts over all translations, including the Latin. And in the last quarter of the 20th century, the Church (and most of Christianity) acquiesced to the reality of Scripture being a Jewish product, a product with foundations that cannot be dismissed.

This has changed the text of newer Bibles (and their numbering and order of verses) to agree with the Hebrew text and Masoretic tradition. It is not a mere decision of the USCCB however. These changes have come from directives handed down from the Holy See via the Pontifical Biblical Council, most especially over the past few years. It has been slow to incorporate these things, but many of them had been entrenched by eras of attitudes and views that the Church has come to dispel only through some very hard and costly lessons.

Biblical Catholic said...

Completely false, the Dead Sea Scrolls did not support the Masoretic text, they undermine it. Whenever the Masoretic text disagrees with the LXX, the DSS side with the LXX the overwhelming majority of the time.

CarlHernz said...

Though there are variations in the Dead Sea Scrolls that are found in the LXX but not the Masoretic text, the majority of texts, especially those found in Cave 4, support the Masoretic tradition.

True, variants in some of the scrolls are substantial, but the overall testimony, including an examination of the Masada texts, reveal that the Masoretic text comes from a tradition well-extant by the 2nd century BCE.

The Ezekiel texts (which are three) and the famous Isaiah scroll support the Masorete tradition. In fact so similar is Isaiah that most differences are merely in spelling.

I can offer each and every manuscript designation, show you where to find it, and provide direction of comparison with the various LXX traditions (there are several, not just one) that support this. But it may save space if you offer what texts have inspired your conclusions. Since there are only three fragmented Ezekiel texts, maybe you can point out from these how you arrived at the convictions you mention in your post? I would be most open to what you have to say on the matter.

Mark D. said...
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CarlHernz said...

I believe that is what I also wrote in my second paragraph, that it was a theoretic reconstruction. The words, however, were not pulled out of thin air, but based on a combination of readings from the Pehsitta, the Targums, the LXX, and the Vulgate. You don't build reconstructions from nothing, but I also did not state that the reconstructions matched any ancient text in their entirety. They were an amalgamation of the differences instead.

Ezekiel especially was one of these books, and the reconstruction that was developed for these translations found support in the belief of a "superior" tradition or lost reading known only to the ancients that was supposedly removed by the Jews from the Masoretic text. The theory was that after the Church began to use the LXX as its Bible, the Jews purposefully reconstructed the Scriptures in the Masoretic tradition to avoid favoring LXX readings and thereby avoid supporting Christian doctrine that relied on its readings.

The belief was totally smashed when the Dead Sea Scrolls and the texts of Masada were discovered. Whereas many of the variations in the readings in these texts did match the LXX, the majority of the scrolls matched the Masoretic text with such accuracy that, as one scholar put it, we didn't really need their discovery in as much that we had the original text available to us all along. While Ezekiel is not whole in any of the discovered scrolls, the portions we have disprove that it had not been altered by the Jews by the Masoretic tradition. Instead it had been preserved. That is why little of the Qumran text readings appear in little more than footnotes in modern Christian translations and practically nowhere in Jewish versions.

The former distrust of the Jews in this type of reconstructionalist theory caused far more damage than the transposed texts. The American Standard Bible, based on the same Jewish mistrust, introduced the Divine Name as "Jehovah" into the Biblical text. In the introduction, the translators unfortunately wrote that the reason the Name was not used by Jews was due to a Jewish "superstition" that had no place in Christianity, This falsehood led to the introduction of use of the Divine Name into the Catholic liturgy which was not successfully ended until Pope Benedict XVI stepped in. But the incorrect idea that this and other 'Jewish superstitions' have ruined our Biblical texts is still slow to disappear from a few quarters.

While this and other attitudes of Jewish distrust have yet to be erased from the minds and hearts (and publications) of many, the reconstructions finally disappeared. The Masoretic text is essentially the text that has come down to us from the ancients. Even the differences found in the LXX and other versions of the Tanakh have explanations as a better appreciation for Jewish midrash and other transmission techniques arose after the years of the Shoah and examination of the Qumram scrolls. Like the illusionary "canals" astronomers used to paint of the Martian surface, the reconstructions of some texts were based on illusionary patterns some thought they were seeing in these textual differences that, in the end, were merely projections of distrusting attitudes. The "patterns" had a foundation in other texts...they just weren't the "canals" many convinced were "really there."

Michael Demers said...

Carl, let me see if I understand correctly, the Masoretic text is as close to the original text as we'll ever get and the LXX is useful as an aid to achieving this.

CarlHernz said...

Yes. All the extant texts help in providing help in their own way in fact. Even where the LXX differs, there is enough evidence to support the conviction that the Scriptures have been preserved for us down through the ages. Textual challenges are minor compared to the amazing agreement among textual witnesses. The Masoretic tradition is not perfect, of course, but the need for correction is little and today critically possible. God's Word endures.

CarlHernz said...

It's been brought to my attention that I need to make this typographical correction. In my post before the last one, in paragraph three, the sentence should read:

"While Ezekiel is not whole in any of the discovered scrolls, the portions we have PROVE that it had not been altered by the Jews by the Masoretic tradition. Instead it had been preserved."

Michael Demers said...

Thank you Carl.

Steve Molitor said...

I appreciate the informed comments by Carl and Mark above. My first comment above seems a little glib to me now. I might delete it; haven't decided yet. I still think that in principle, transposition of verses is not necessarily bad if supported by scholarship and the texts, but it sounds like that is not the case with the NAB's transpositions.

I'm still confused though as to wether the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Masoretic text or the LXX. A while back I read a book about the LXX called "When God Spoke Greek", which argued that in many cases the DSS agree with the LXX against the Masoretic text, and that either the Masoretic text revised the original, or that the LXX and the Masoretic text faithfully transmit different text traditions, both of which are found in the DSS scrolls. This latter viewpoint is more post-modern in that the "original" text recedes from view. I did not detect any anti-Jewish prejudice in this book.

I also have a copy of the ESV study bible, which argues in favor of the Masoretic text, and found similar arguments online at evangelical sites which go like this:

- God would not leave us without a faithful transmission of His word.
- What He left us with was the Masoretic text.
- Therefore the Masoretic text is a faithful transmission of His Word.

The argument is of course circular. The argument is further made that God left his OT word in the hands of the Jews, and that since they did not see fit to preserve the apocryphal books in the Masoretic text or Jewish tradition, they are not God's word.

As catholics of course we do consider the deuterocanonical books canonical. Furthermore we do know that in the NT testament the LXX was quoted most often, and the LXX is the OT for Eastern Christianity.

On the other hand Carl obviously knows a lot more about this than I do!

CarlHernz said...


It's a combination of things that we learn from the witness of manuscripts, and not necessarily one or the other.

1. Where LXX has readings that disagree with the Masoretic text, many of the Dead Sea Scrolls show an agreement.
2. The disagreements are actually far fewer than most people realize.
3. Not all the Dead Sea Scrolls agree with the LXX; some agree with the Masoretic text.
4. Some of the agreements between the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls don't dismiss the Masoretic reading; some of these explain how a difference occurred.
5. Some of the overall evidence demonstrate that some of the LXX/Dead Sea Scroll agreements are questionable.
6. There are different LXX traditions and these don't always agree among themselves or the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Masoretic text.

Just because there are agreements between some version of the LXX and Qumram scrolls doesn't mean that all the variations have agreements between the two. The Dead Sea Scrolls can differ greatly with the LXX and Masoretic text in many places. We need to check our logic and make sure we are not equating "agreement" with "universal agreement."

We might also be accepting some things as true becuase they are repeated so often, and this causes some of the confusion for some on this matter. For instance, the New Testament does NOT quote the LXX most often, or maybe never. Practically every single quote of the Hebrew Bible in the NT has a unique variable that matches no extant LXX version. Mark's quotes, for instance, seem to be Greek translations of the Hebrew text, what became the Masoretic tradition. They are that strikingly different from the other quotes in the NT.

It is human nature to take things for granted. We must build on what we know in order to come up with workable solutions. But too often "what we know" is flawed because we fail to look at ourselves, our thinking processes, and our facts with the same critical eye we use on others. I am just like everyone else here too, so on top of learning data we often have to learn to think critically and use a forensic approach with fail-safes.

This is important becuase, as you mention, you can end up employing a logical fallacy that creates a poor conclusion: the Deuterocanonicals not being preserved by the Masoretes means they cannot be God's Word. This argument presented by some is not logical for Christians. Applying such logic would mean that none of the New Testament is God's Word either since the Masoretes never copied and preserved those either.

I believe I am not unique in knowledge, however. With a little application and time I am certain any person can learn these things and even surpass what knowledge I have gained over the years. But I have noticed that we humans tend to want things more black-and-white than they really are. We also don't like testing ourselves or thinking outside the box. We can't just learn facts to be smart. We need to learn how to apply these facts logically so that we can be wise.

Steve Molitor said...

Hi Carl,

Thanks for your response, corrections and clarifications. I agree with most of what you say. I was just trying to push back a little against what I saw as a bit of "Masoretic-text onlyism" - the idea that the DSS have validated the Masoretic text against all other traditions, and that we need only consult LXX and others in the handful of cases where the Masoretic text has issues.

Have you read "When God Spoke Greek?" If not I'd encourage you to. I'd love to get your take on it. Unfortunately we're in the process of moving and all my books are in boxes so I can't pull it out. As I recall it basically says that:

- The DSS show that the Masoretic text is an extremely faithful transmission of one text lineage.
- The DSS show that the LXX is at times a very faithful transmission of another text tradition.

This is a simplification - as you point out there are several LXX variations. At times the LXX is quite literal and and others almost paraphrase. And the DSS seems to reflect yet other traditions. But the gist is that it would be arbitrary to privilege either the Masoretic or the LXX (or the Vulgate) as the one and only faithful transmission.

Where does that leave bible translators? One could take an eclectic approach and mash them together. Alternately one could have different versions of the OT, some based on the LXX, others based on the Masoretic text.

Of course as bible believing Christians that makes us a bit uncomfortable. We want there to be one official word of God, not several variations. To a literalist that's intolerable, leading to the various "onlyisms." But as you pointed out the differences aren't that frequent, we can be confident that God is sufficiently redundant in His message that the essentials are there in all text traditions, and finally that we have the tradition and magisterium of the church to further guide us.

Christopher Buckley said...

"We need to learn how to apply these facts logically so that we can be wise."

Or, as Jesus said to sum up classical rabbinic method: "What is written in the law? How do you read it?” (Lk 10:26)

A good questioning method for ALL people of faith. Notice how many of us were raised to stop with just the first question (What is written?) and never tackle the second (How do you read it?).

Timothy said...

I want to thank you all for this great discussion, perhaps we could also return to the question of the dislocating of the texts. Does it matter? Perhaps it is not an issue anymore with the NABRE?

I am also interested in thinking/discussing the role of the Vulgate in this. I am intrigued by the idea of the Vulgate as a unifying text. Of course there are issues with the Latin text(s) as well. I'll be doing some reading on this over Easter, since I purchased:

Mark D. said...
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Gerald de Belen said...

Going back to the original question raised by the post:

Perhaps we can attribute the continual patronage of the Protestant family of Bibles to the Greek numbering of verses, while partly Hebrew in the Psalms (I had brought it before in a post on Bible verse numberings) to the use of KJV of the said system. If I am not mistaken, the precedent Geneva Bible was the first one to be divided in chapters and verses.

I wonder now why the KJV translators back then chose to stick with Stephen's Langton system of numbering the verses when the Hebrew Massoretic text was already available to them. One may think that the people being accustomed to the Geneva Bible was the main cause why KJV chose not to adopt the native numbering present in the Hebrew text.

As to the order of the verses, we cannot canonically assert that there is some sort of prohibition or conservation on the order of the verses that no one is allowed to transpose verses. St. Jerome already did this when he moved the Greek parts of Esther after the parts that have Hebrew correspondents. Susanna's account in Daniel is located as introduction to the Septuagint Daniel, but in Vulgate we find it being chapter 13. The only justification that we can hold on is the logical sequential purpose of numbers.

If we are to believe with the Protestant doctrine of "plenary inspiration" down to the very letter, it can be asserted from that even the order of the verses were "inspired" by the Holy Spirit and therefore should not be touched. Perhaps the reason why Protestant versions did not bother to touch the verses on how they sequentially appeared in the Bible.

James Ignatius McAuley said...


I appreciate your asking that this get back on track, but I do think a point Carl makes needs to be clarified. What is overlooked is that the text of the Dead Sea scrolls are the product of the Essene Jewish community, and not necessarily indicative of the majority accepted Jewish text in the first century B.C. Certainly, it is a primary source of the evidence of what this particular Jewish Community thought was scripture, but if they are to be the majority text that we must rely upon, then why was a copy of the Septuagint Leviticus found along with the Hebrew ones? What about additional texts found in Hebrew texts in Qumran that are not in the medieval Masoretic Jewish Text, should we include them? Obviously, not, but the Qumran scrolls are proof positive of what this particular Jewish Community treated as Scripture.
In the same way, the Septuagint should be understood. It is an earlier presentation/production of the Greek speaking Jews of Alexandria, reflecting their tradition and historically precedes that of Qumran. That being said, its importance to us is that is the primary source text on scripture quoted by the New Testament authors and the Greek Speaking Fathers of the Greek Speaking Church. The Vetus Latin for the western Latin speaking Church was a translation of this text. However, the Peshitta, the translation of scripture for the Syriac speaking Church (a semitic language) not only used the Septuagint as a translation source, but appears to have used Aramaic (also found in Qumran) translations of scripture!
Looking at source texts of what the fathers used in their commentary on scripture is something that has been overlooked in ALL of the above comments. If we create, cobble together a biblical text that depends on the Masoretic tradition, we divorce ourselves from what the Greek Speaking and Latin Speaking and Syriac Fathers understood scripture to beas well as the Alexandrian Jewish tradtion. As an ecumenical point, this cannot be ignored. The Orthodox fiercely hold to the Septuagint tradition and it is the normative text for Byzantine Catholics (though the Melkite, Ruthenian and Ukrainian lectionaries still use the NAB!) IF you read Commentary from the Fathers, whether it be Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, or Augustine, you will often find your text and the explanation of said text is distinct from what is found in the NABRE. That is problematic.
More interesting is the use of Hexapla by Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Jerome. They are also proof, by the various Greek Translations, of variant Jewish understandings of scripture. Since Origen and Jerome actually made use of their contemporary Jewish sources, it critical in crafting old testament text to take in account their comments on variant texts – in fact, I would go so far as to say anybody who considers themselves a scholar of scripture should read the works of these fathers.
So the question remains – do we rely on a mythical, reconstructed text or do we go with the text as understood by the Early Christians and our own particular western Latin tradition? Should our traditional interpretations be tossed aside in the name of contemporary scholarship? The NAB is proof positive of what yesterday’s experts once paraded as the right/correct/authentic way being discarded as rubbish by a later generation of scholars.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

We should also take into account another point- we should not disregard our own biblical traditions because, as the fathers would point out, we are the heirs of temple Judaism, not of synagogue Judaism – if you want clarification on this point, read Chrysostom’s commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews and, in fact, take up the Letter to the Hebrews – it is in the Liturgy of the Hours and a great preparation for Good Friday. In any event, our own scriptural heritage, as shown by the fathers, should not be ignored when we put together our Biblical texts.

A related issue, ignored by Biblical scholars enslaved to the historical critical method is the extra-Biblical traditions amplifying scripture. The best examples are the various ancient Syriac and Palestinian traditions regarding the Virgin Mary. One story tells us that Symeon, the elderly man who received the infant Christ in the temple was actually a member of the 72 translators of the Septuagint, being the one who translated Isaiah into Greek. While translating the book of the prophet Isaiah Symeon came to the passage, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” He picked up a knife to scratch out the word ‘virgin” and replace it with “woman” and an angel of the Lord appeared, seized his hand and declared “Trust the prophet’s words, for you shall witness their fulfillment. You will not see death until you behold the Lord’s Messiah born of a pure virgin.” The same tradition states that Symeon was 360 when he met our Lord. Fantastic, incredible, perhaps something for the historical-critical crowd to write off as a fairy tale, but not impossible with God and found in the Syriac, Coptic and Byzantine liturgical traditions.

yes, liiturgy is another source of scriptural traditions. When reading works by Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, we notice a divergence at times in the Septuagint as used in their respective liturgical traditions. Liturgical propers derived from the Septuagint also show this. A unique example of a scriptural tradition in the Roman Rite is the use of 4 Esdras in the propers for the second mass for All Souls day - but you will not find that in our NABRE! In any event, a holy, healthy, and happy Holy Week for all and may abundant spiritual

CarlHernz said...

As to what Timothy mentioned regarding the Vulgate being a "unifying text." From what I remember when I worked in my diocesan pastoral office and going over information from the Vatican about this (this was about 9 years ago), the need for uniformity of expression to both carry on the faith and properly educate in it is a primary concern of the Vatican. This goal is believed possible even though the Latin text doesn't hold the status it once did.

The Neo-Vulgate for instance, though the touchstone of liturgical renditions into other languages, is not considered the "official" Biblical text of Catholicism. At one time, as we all know, prior editions of the Vulgate enjoyed this status of "official" text, at least as the common understanding was concerned. That ended when the Church directives instructed that translations be made from the original language texts. Nothing holds the status that the original language texts do in the eyes of the Church, and she is handling the Latin texts to reflect this.

The Holy See had already begun the process of correcting the Latin text to match the originals more closely before the current era of Vernacular Bibles, and the results have been considerably advantageous, The Neo-Vulgate itself was a bit ahead of its time as it is quite a critical reworking of the text into Latin. But, as Timothy points out, there are notable problems. The last discussions I heard regarding this involved plans by the Vatican to investigate and likely produce an even better and more precise Latin text for future generations.

Since the Mass is a prayer written in Latin, and the Scriptural portions therein come directly from the Latin text, the Vulgate (which ever version we will use) will always have a place in being a unifying factor. The USCCB's plans to revise the NABRE so that there will be 'one text for liturgy, catechesis, and private use' that all can be familiar with relies on a settled text. The latest Italian CEI already does this, and personally I am envious of having the "one text" approach to aid in memorization. Without the central Latin text this won't be possible.

But there will be a balance as the future unfolds. With whatever recension the Latin text undergoes for the future, what has been learned from the various Catholic translating teams in the production of their vernacular Bibles should, to some degree, improve the current Vulgate. While you won't see expressions like "full of grace" disappear, a more standardized text that matches what many Catholics and Protestants (and Jews) are used to seeing should begin to appear within.

Some have been critical of the fact that while the Church has instructed vernacular translations to take heed of the latest in Bible scholarship, the Vatican has been slow to incorporate these into the traditional Latin text. But while this point may be conceded, as mentioned above many of the changes necessary are minute, may have to do more with verse order and numbering, and therefore change little the overall integrity of the text at large. The Church may be like a large tanker on the ocean that does not make sharp turns quickly, but the general direction is always reliable. Adjustments are necessary at times, do get made, but follow a pace that ensures the safety of the precious cargo on board as well. You can't shake it up with jolts and bumps without causing unneeded damage.

There will always be improvements needed to all Biblical transmission traditions, that is my personal opinion. We will never arrive at a perfect text before the end of history. I think that is part of the mystery of life and the revelation of God. I think the "fuzziness" of deciphering the exact reading of the text is part of the reality mentioned by St. Paul who wrote: "For we know partially...At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror....At present I know partially; then I shall know fully."--1 Corinthians 14.9-12.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

The Vulgate certainly was a unifying test in the Latin west for many centuries, but, this overstates the case and leads to a mythical imagined past where everyone used the Vulgate. It should be remembered that the Vulgate was used primarily as the Liturgical text for the Lectionary. In fact, the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, in its liturgical propers, often makes use of the Vetus Latin, as did the Roman Breviary of 1960 and the old Monastic Breviary. In fact, the old office of the Dead in the 1960 Roman Breviary makes a reference that is drawn from the Gospel of Nicodemus!

The Neo-Vulgate, a modern creation, has actually caused some consternation as its texts in the Office of Readings, when translated into English do not match the scripture text (usually Vulgate, but also Vetus Latin) in the non-biblical reading! Thus, for some liturgical and patristic scholars, it is considered a dead letter. But, until the Neo-Vulgate is replaced, it is still considered the normative text for liturgical texts (propers) in the Roman Rite, in accord with Liturgiam Authenticam. Thus when the new mass translations were done in 2008 and 2011, the propers had to be translations from the Neo-Vulgate, not the NAB, even though the NAB was the Approved Lectionary for the U.S.A. In that sense, the Neo-Vulgate is an official text.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

You just gotta love this website - abundant spiritual blessing to all and a Happy Pascha - may all say on Easter Sunday the Paschal Troparion, "Christ is risen from the Dead!"

Steve Molitor said...

I'm not a bible scholar, just a bible reader. I appreciate all the learned comments. I love this blog!

Transposition of versus is probably a moot point for now as Mark points out.

But to answer whether it is ever acceptable, one first has to answer what one means when one says the bible is the inspired word of God. As Gerard alludes to, the more towards the "verbal plenary inspiration" side of the spectrum one is, the less acceptable transposition of verses is. As Catholics however that's not what we believe. Again as Gerard shows, many Catholic bibles drop the additions to Daniel right into the middle of the book, transposing entire manuscripts, a practice that started with Jerome in the Vulgate!

Lurking behind all of this I think is a tacit assumption that there is one canonical text that we just need to find, fix minor typos in, and then translate from. This could be the Masoretic text, the Vulgate, the LXX, even the KJ if you're a KJ onlyist. But like the highlander, there can only be one! If you believe in verbal plenary inspiration, and believe that God would not leave us without is plenary inspiration, then naturally one is inclined towards this viewpoint, and would be opposed to transposition of versus. We have God's word pretty much exactly in manuscript xxx (pick your favorite), why dare change it!

But again, that's not what we believe as catholics. There are a plurality of bible traditions, each having profound influence on the development of church tradition and doctrine in different regions, as James alludes to. For example if we picked either the Masoretic or the Vulgate as our only text, we'd cut ourselves off from the riches of the LXX that influence the Eastern church fathers. That's part of our heritage too.

All of this may seem a bit far afield from the original question, but I think it's necessary to hash through some of this, otherwise we're arguing from fundamentally different premises. If one believes that there is one inspired word of God that we have direct access to, then transposition is verboten. But if there are multiple traditions, then one might choose to mash them together, as Jerome did with Daniel, resulting in transpositions.

So from my point of view, given the wonderfully jumbled state of OT manuscripts, transposition of versus is not inherently wrong.

Christopher Buckley said...

I think it's important to understand precisely what we teach canonically about canon in the first place. It's easy to fall back into this unquestioned assumption that The Council of Trent codified the Vulgate so that's what we use forever, Amen.

But, as I understand it, the declaration is a bit more specific than that, and it combines with later Church documents to guide our Biblical canon.

Again, as I understand it and in broadest terms:

-The Council of Trent declared that the Biblical canon consists not of the TEXT of the Vulgate, but those BOOKS of the OT and NT the Vulgate contains

-Divino afflante spiritu declared that the TEXT of Catholic Bibles now need to rely on the best copies in the original languages available to translators

-Pope St. John Paul II began a revision of the Neo-Vulgate for a Latin text that conformed better to modern scholarship in the original languages, for use in preparing standardized liturgical texts

-Liturgiam authenticum declares that when scripture is quoted in liturgical texts it must conform to the reading captured in the Neo-Vulgate

-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared that, inkeeping with Jewish and Christian reverence for the Divine Name, the Tetragrammaton must be rendered the equivalent of "Lord" in any vernacular translation

So to put it even more briefly:

-Catholic Bibles must work from the best copies of the original languages, contain the books (in the same order?) of the Vulgate

-When that Bible (like the NABRE) is also to be the basis of texts in a lectionary or other liturgical texts, then it needs to capture the reading preferred by the Latin of the Neo Vulgate (at least in those portions that are actually used liturgically)

If I've captured those general guidelines with any accuracy, then that may have something to say about transposition:

-If Trent's catalog of books comprising Scripture define our canon, does that dictate their ORDER as well?

-If Divino afflante spiritu gives precedence to best copies in original languages, then are we now bound to follow the internal ORDER of those books as preserved in those source texts?

James Ignatius McAuley said...


Strange to say, Trent's list of books only applies to Roman Catholics, this may cause consternation to some, but in the unons of Brest (1596) the Melkites and others, they were allowed, as part and part of the restoration of communion, to keep their biblical canons. Rome has never overruled this, nor can Rome, without breaking faith. So, depending on the jurisdiction, a Byzantine Catholic bible will have the remaining book of the Septuagint, 4 Esdras, 3 Esdras, 3 Machabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151. Liturgically, Psalm 151 is never used in the public chanting od the Kathismas, but the Prayer of Manesseh is part of Great Compline during Lent, which ended last Friday for the Byzantines. I do not believe the remainder are liturgically read, though my former byzantine parish had St. Uriel from 4 Esdras on the ceiling of the great dome next to Our Lady and St. Michael.

In any event, no matter what Jimmy Akin or anyone says, the Canon of Trent I for Roman Catholics in reaction to the Protestant rejection of the Books. It essentially declares the books the Protestant's dispute to be canonical. However, Trent, whether anyone likes to see it or not was breached in 1596 when the Union of Brest took place.

Both the Melkite Horologion and the Melkite Prayer Book have the Prayer of Mannesseh as a liturgical prayer. It is a lovely penitential prayer, clearly Jewish and
pre-Christian, but full of love for God.

Mark D. said...
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James Ignatius McAuley said...

Mark D., context, dude, context. Remember, this is a penitential prayer. The sinner, a pious Jew before the advent of Mary or Jesus. is treating Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as saints in this pre-Christian era. Further, the author of the prayer is stating he is such a dreadful, wretched sinner, that Abraham Isaac and Jacob are sinless compared to him.

As a Latin (Roman) Catholic you have no obligation to pray this prayer, so no worries for you. Since great devotees of Mary such as Gregory Palamas, Maximus the Confessor, Germanus of Constantinople, Theodore the Studite all prayed this prayer, it certainly did not lead them on the path to denying our Lady's purity.

Finally, as one who has studied the Liturgy for years, Liturgy does have the effect of Canonization of Texts, but it may not mean the whole Text. Analogously, think of the Letter of Jude quoting the Book of 1 Enoch.

Happy Pascha, Mark D.!

Mark D. said...
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CarlHernz said...

If I might help clear something up about the Prayer of Manasseh.

This prayer is a product not of Christian theology but a composition reflecting Jewish theology. As such, one cannot read the reference to "sin" in this prayer as if the Jews, generations prior to the birth of Christ, had somehow been enlightened to the doctrine of Original Sin before the Apsotels were even born. That is what is happening here by reading the text as if it is saying that the Patriarchs were without Original Sin. The text doesn't say that.

In Judaism, prior to Christ and still to this day, "sin" is not understood to be an inherit facet of humanity. There is no doctrine or even a concept of Original Sin in Judaism. That revelation was unique to Christ and central to the Gospel our Savior brought to the world. It is a Christian revelation, not a Jewish one.

The Hebrew word for "sin" is CHET. It is the word used to describe what happens when someone shoots an arrow that misses its mark. To "sin" is to go astray, either by active disobedience or failure to act as expected. As such a person who lived a faithful life was spoken of us as someone who did not sin against God becuase they did no go astray from serving the Creator. "Sinners" were people who lived a life course considered an active straying from serving God. Remember how many Jews in Jesus' day considered tax collectors and harlots "sinners" but not themselves? "Sin" is only a choice in Jewish theology. There is no other concept, no Original Sin, and thus there is no "salvation from sin" in all the religion of the Jews up to this day,

Without Christ and the Gospel we would never have learned about Original Sin and how saving us from sin releases us from death. Only through Christ is the concept of inherit sin a concept. The author of the above prayer was Jewish. Christ had not come, and the writer was bound by their limited theological understanding. All references to "sin" in Hebrew are composed with such a limited view. We who are Christian see a facet in "sin" others do not, not because it is clearly apparent in an immediate reading of Scripture and we are wise enough to see it, but becuase Christ has enlightened us to see it and without Him we would be ignorant.

The author of the prayer saw himself living a path that was not as faithful when compared to the Patriarchs. He felt God 'provided repentance' as a means of turning him around from his current course and live as faithfully as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. "Sin" was limited to such an understanding of what one performed or did. Judaism does not allow for the belief that sin can be inherited. As such the prayer is not stating that the writer believed that Original Sin didn't touch the Patriarchs. He knew nothing of Original Sin. He was merely speaking of their general faithful course of life.

CarlHernz said...

Oh, and please forgive spellcheck on my iPad, as it does not believe I am smart enough to use theological terminology.

You will notice the word "inherit" above in reference to sin. The word I kept trying to type was "inherent," but as my iPad does on a regular basis, it obviously fought this and won. It took many tries to write this post here just to get this correction correct. Attempting to write a comment on this blog via an iPad (as all my computers recently died in a freak accident) has left me fighting an ongoing battle with an iPad that believes I should be writing about pop culture instead of religion.

Dear Makers of Technology, some of us are not talking about the latest cat video, rap artist, or fabulous self-promoting reality star when we type. (Yes, I am typing not texting.) Our beloved brother Timothy daily elevates our minds and spirits with worthwhile pursuits of a spiritual nature, and this means that sometimes I purposefully intend to write words like "laborious" and do not need you to try to correct this word five or six times to "Lady Gaga."

God bless you, Timothy and all my fellow readers this Good Friday and Easter. You are greatly appreciated by me and I am grateful that I have you to "blame" for having to fight my iPad to use the correct word.

Mark D. said...
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Timothy said...

It is interesting that it was placed in the appendix of the Vulgate.

Mark D. said...
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Mark D. said...
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Filipino Catholic said...

In the matter of verse transposition, it would probably be wise not to disturb the text *too* much (a value judgment that is best left to the translator, q.v. St. Jerome's treatment of Esther and Daniel).

On the related matter of textual traditions and the Vulgate, don't be fooled into thinking the Vulgate has faded into irrelevance now that the original texts are accessible, "...for the Council of Trent decreed that 'in public lectures, disputations, preaching, and exposition,' the Vulgate is the 'authentic' version; and this is the existing custom of the Church." (Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus)

Last I checked P.D. could still be squared with Divino Afflante Spiritu because "At the same time, the other versions which Christian antiquity has approved, should not be neglected, more especially the more ancient MSS. For although the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek is substantially rendered by the Vulgate, nevertheless wherever there may be ambiguity or want of clearness, the 'examination of older tongues,' ... will be useful and advantageous."