Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Guest Post: The Revised English Bible (Part 3)

Many thanks to Timothy for allowing me to share a review of the Revised English Bible (REB). Almost two years ago, Rolf (a commenter on this blog) piqued my curiosity with his praise for the REB. I asked questions in the comments and discovered other blog readers who are REB fans. I ordered a used, inexpensive, hardcover REB to check it out. It quickly became my favorite translation, and I have used it as my primary bible for well over a year and a half. I'm excited to share it with all of you.

Catholic Involvement and Approval Status
The Catholic approval status of the REB has been an interesting puzzle to solve. The Catholic bishops in the British Isles officially sponsored the translation, Catholic scholars were involved in the translation process, and an auxiliary bishop of Westminster (Bishop Christopher Butler) sat on the joint committee of church representatives which sponsored the translation. In spite of all this, I cannot find any evidence that an imprimatur was ever granted to the REB.

The UK edition of the Divine Office uses excerpts from the NEB (the REB’s direct predecessor) for some scripture readings, even though the Catholic bishops were only observers during the NEB translation process. I also cannot find any evidence that the NEB received an imprimatur.

Trying to make sense of all this, I contacted the Conference of Catholic Bishops for England and Wales to inquire about the approval status of the REB. They assured me that the Catholic Church’s participation in the translation process would have involved a desire for the resulting translation to be acceptable to the Church.  They also pointed me to the Vatican directive Guidelines for Interconfessional Cooperation in Translating the Bible promulgated in 1987. In section 2.8, it states, “In some circumstances, it may be wise to consider a preface including a joint recommendation by ecclesiastical authorities instead of a formal nihil obstat and imprimatur.” In the case of the REB, the translation preface from the Joint Committee of the Churches commending the translation to their readers would certainly satisfy this provision.

Printed Editions of the REB
The Joint Committee of the Churches granted the copyright for the REB jointly to Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press. Since its publication in 1989, the popularity of the REB has been overshadowed by wide acceptance of the NRSV and the NIV for public worship in protestant churches and continued use of the JB, NAB, and NRSV in Catholic churches. As such, demand for the REB has waned since its publication, and very few editions are still in print.

Cambridge University Press no longer publishes any editions of the REB with the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books. They publish a stand-alone hardcover binding of the Apocrypha, along with hardcover and imitation leather bindings of the protestant canon. I had a chance to buy the imitation leather edition at a deep discount on Overstock.com a year ago, and I must say, it’s one of the nicest imitation leather covers I’ve felt:

Out-of-print hardcover editions of the REB with and without the Apocrypha are easy to find used online. My first copy of the REB was a used Cambridge hardcover (shown below). I should note that the REB Apocrypha contains all books in the Catholic canon, as well as a few others that are part of the protestant Apocrypha: 1 and 2 Esdras, The Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. It does not contain 3 and 4 Maccabees.

Oxford University Press publishes only one edition of the REB: a paperback version of the Oxford Study Bible with Apocrypha. This edition contains succinct study notes, similar in scope and detail to the New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV second edition. Hardcover editions of this bible are no longer in print, but they are readily available used on a variety of websites.

It’s also occasionally possible to find out-of-print editions of a pocket-sized REB New Testament (published by Cambridge). These editions have an attractive single-column text layout.


rolf said...

I wish Oxford would 'at least' offer the Oxford Study Bible (REB) in a sewn hardcover, that way people who want a nicer binding could at least have it rebound ever which way they please! Not too much to ask, is it?!?

And Cambridge, at least offer the synthetic cover REB with the deutro-canonical books (apocrypha) in the spirit of the original plan of making it an inter-confessional Bible!!!

Mark D. said...

Yes, I wish that Oxford would publish a hardback edition of the OSB-REB so I could replay my rapidly again OSB-NEB hardback! A leather edition would be best, but that seems to me to be hoping for too much!

BTW, the 1972 corrected edition of the Oxford Study Bible - New English Bible with the Apocrypha does have an imprimatur. On page viii of the introduction to that edition, it states as follows:

"The Bishop of Worcester, Massachusetts, the Most Reverend Bernard J. Flannigan, has graciously given the New English Bible: Oxford Study Edition, his imprimatur."

According to the Preface to the translation include din the OSB-NEB, "The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, and the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland joined as sponsors."

So, the Catholic Church in the UK and Ireland sponsored the NEB translation after it was complete, and the Bishop of Worchester provided it with an imprimatur to the OSB-NEB in accord with the pre-1983 Code of Canon Law.

Robert C. said...

Around the time the REB was first published, there was a genuine leather edition jointly published by Oxford and Cambridge. I also have a copy of Cambridge's REB New Testament. Both books have stiff paste-down bindings, but other wise are quite handsome.

wxmarc said...

Thanks for sharing that info about the NEB, Mark. I had no idea that it was granted an imprimatur. That's very useful to know.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

In this day and age is there any reason to prefer a Bible with an imprimatur over one that doesn't have one? Especially for an educated reader who knows what books are in the particular edition at hand?

CarlHernz said...

Yes, there are very good reasons for Catholics to employ an approved Bible over one that is not.

The first is the most common use of Scripture for Catholics. Like Jews, Catholics use the Scriptures as their main prayer book and hymnal. Most of our prayers come from Scripture, verbatim at times. The Mass is composed of ancient Christan and Jewish prayers from antiquity and a plethora of quotes from Scripture (this is not including the lectionary readings). The Psalter and the various canticles in both the Old and New Testament make up the major part of the official daily prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. And the most common prayers, i.e., the Our Father and Hail Mary are quotes for Scripture.

Therefore the translation has to be suitable at least for private Catholic prayer. While the words can be modernized, such as the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, they must still guarantee to be a source of assured prayer in the words of the Church. This is the main reason a lot of Catholics just don't like the NAB's rendition of Luke 1:28 as it doesn't represent Catholic vocabulary in prayer very well (which may likely be a reason behind the the upcoming NAB NT revision). The Bible has to be suitable for CATHOLIC prayer.

The next is study. Especially in the face of great changes introduced via the abundant discoveries made in the past half of the 20th century in Bible scholarship, and because the Holy See has made it clear that Catholics must have access to some of this, you need to verify that all notations, especially critical ones, aren't outside the realm of Catholic approval.

While this has been the most controversial aspect of the NAB over the years, the USCCB has reassured us that the footnotes in their translation do fit within Catholic standards. Many of the ideas sound new and to some, especially those exposed to the literalist interpretations of American Fundamentalist movements (unfortunately some Catholics have adopted these against Church directives), sound incorrect. The mark of approval guarantees that they are indeed Catholic. (However, it should be remembered that many Catholic readers have been mistakenly reading the NAB footnotes as commentary when in reality they are mostly technical, light on the explanatory and heavy on the philology.) So if someone has a bone to pick with what they are reading or want answers to their questions about what they are reading, the formal approval guarantees that they can approach the Church and USCCB for clarifications. You can't get that from a non-Catholic Bible.

Protestant Bible aren't produced with prayer in mind as much as Catholic and Jewish texts are. They are more designed for study. This is not true of them all, however. The NIV did an excellent job with their psalter, and it has received an imprimatur (the psalter ONLY). While Catholic Bibles are produced with study in mind, the emphasis on accuracy for the sake of using the Bible mainly as a textbook has produced clunky translations like the New American Standard. The formal Church approval also ensures a reader that they don't have to worry that the text is the victim of bias like that found in the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Interconfessional Bibles made with Church cooperation usually have great interest in making a Bible scholarly and suitable for prayer, so they can be a good choice for personal use by Catholics, and sometimes a perfect source for liturgy when approved for that use.

Leighton said...

I purchased the black genuine leather (Berkshire) edition (with deuterocanonical books included) last year on e-bay. It was NOT cheap. It's a beautiful edition, and it's too bad they don't continue to make them. Keep your eyes on e-bay, etc., and maybe another will come up. I had been watching for one for some time.

I have found it to be a brilliantly rendered translation for the most part, though it certainly has its idiosyncratic readings that leave me scratching my head, wondering what the translators were thinking. I don't have it on me or I would give an example, but there are some glaring ones. But it is much less so than the NEB before it.

Isn't it true, though, that there are no perfect translations? Each seems to have its weak spots. Overall, this is a delightful translation. I agree that it has been overshadowed by the NRSV due to the timing, and due to the fact that the NRSV combines a solid, leaning-toward-literal translation method with literary excellence.

Good reviews!

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

CarlHernz thanks for you comments. I recently bought a used Oxford NSRV Bible. It was a matter of cost. This was cheaper and in hard-cover. If I could have found the Oxford Catholic Study bible in hard cover and cheap I would have bought it.

Jason Engel said...

Contact the "Cambridge Bibles" Facebook page via private message and ask them if they have any copies of the REB+A in French Morocco available. They routinely assist buyers who wish to locate books that are out of print that might still be available in a backroom in Cambridge's warehouses. I am aware of at least one person purchasing a brand new copy of the REB+A via this method within the last year or two.

Biblical Catholic said...

The dearth of good editions of the REB is a result of one of my favorite bugaboos that I love to rant about and will rant about right now: copyright law.

It is a regrettable fact, but nevertheless true, that for many reasons which were largely beyond the control of either the translators or the publishers, and despite its overall excellence as a translation, the REB is a failed translation. I don't think there is any getting around that fact.

By calling it a failed translation, I don't mean to demean its quality, but I mean, it failed to capture its market, and it failed in the marketplace.

It is a good translation but failed to find an audience beyond hardcore devotees, and to specialists. It is sad but true, but the fact of the matter is that the REB is a translation that is of primary interest to people like us who like to read different Bible versions, along the way, every Bible translation fanatic finds and reads the REB, but generally only after the well has run dry and he has read every other translation on the market.

But there is one thing that could save the REB: letting it fall into the public domain. If it fell into the public domain, then ANY publisher could print it, any publisher could make their own editions, we could get all sorts of fancy schmancy editions, we could get an Americanized Edition, we could get a Catholic Edition (provided we could find a bishop willing to grant an imprimatur), we could make a lectionary based on the REB, we could release e-book and audiobook editions, we could post the text online at places like BibleGateway.... I could go on and on and on....

We could save the REB, give it very wide distribution, and give it the success it deserves if we weren't hampered by copyright law.

So, you ask, when does the REB enter the public domain?

In the UK and the European Union, as well as in the United States, corporate owned works, that is, works produced by a committee sponsored by a private or publicly owned corporation, are protected by copyright for 95 years.

Which means that, unless the copyright owner suddenly gets a wild hair and decides to renounce the copyright and give it to the public domain.....the REB copyright remains until the year 2084. So, the project to save the REB is dead on arrival.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you could get subsidiary rights from CUP/OUP for the REB for a relatively low price. Then you totally could publish a Catholic Edition, and make it as luxurious as you wish. However, do you really think that you would break even on such a publishing project? If not, then CUP/OUP are simply acting as prudent businesses in letting the REB die a slow death.

If someone here is really thinking about it: one totally can raise over $1 million for publishing a luxury bible edition (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/530877925/bibliotheca) and almost two years back I asked RL Allan about publishing a REB edition. They said they would certainly like to (!), but they don't know how to get their hands on a decent reference edition to join their run on.

So just maybe you could get a luxury REB crowdfunded.

Somewhat related, Daniel Mitsui has just announced that he's going to illustrate the entire bible: http://danielmitsui.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/my-plans-for-future-summula-pictoria.html

Now, a REB Catholic Edition, bound by RL Allen, and illustrated by Mitsui. I would pay a pretty penny for that, I really would...

rolf said...

The Cambridge REB+A reader's edition is a good book block to work on for Allan but unfortunately Cambridge is not publishing them right now. That is why I sent my Cambridge REB+A to Abba to have it rebound in calfskin, because we will probably still be talking about this 5 years from now!

Biblical Catholic said...

"I'm sure you could get subsidiary rights from CUP/OUP for the REB for a relatively low price. Then you totally could publish a Catholic Edition, and make it as luxurious as you wish. However, do you really think that you would break even on such a publishing project? If not, then CUP/OUP are simply acting as prudent businesses in letting the REB die a slow death."

No, they are stupid to allow the REB to wither on the vine.

Look, it is unfortunately not unusual for a quality product to not be successful in the market for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the quality of the product.

Many books and movies that are today considered classics were huge failures when they first came out. Moby Dick, It's A Wonderful Life, the 1939 Wizard of Oz film with Judy Garland, Citizen Kane, all of these things which are today considered classics were huge flops when they were first released. The reason why they are popular today is because the owners of those copyrights didn't let the initial failure stop them and kept looking for ways to promote the project until they made it a hit.

In the case of It's A Wonderful Life, its comeback was due to the fact that the copyright lapsed and it went into the public domain. Lots of things that failed at first have made huge comebacks when it entered the public domain.

Or you can look at something like the original Star Trek series, which was canceled for low ratings TWICE and only became popular in syndication.

Here's a good example of a recent Bible translation that was for years considered a failure that has recently made a comeback: the NRSV.

When the NRSV was originally published in 1989, it got a lot of media attention and it sold well. But after the first few years, the sales dropped off dramatically, by about 1996, it dropped out of public attention, and many bookstores stopped carrying it. For years, just about the only sales that the NRSV generated were from the many lectionaries that were made from it, and from the fact that it is the primary text used in academia and in seminaries. Every college freshman who takes a Bible 101 class uses the NRSV.

Then, around 2005-2006, Harper One purchased the rights to publish the NRSV and they put forth a huge advertising campaign, and starting publishing really good, quality editions of it, and aggressively marketing them to bookstores. Harper One also introduced the e-book and audiobook editions of the NRSV, and they made a very big deal about the Catholic Edition, suddenly, the NRSV, which was for years difficult to find anywhere except in a college bookstore started just showing up everywhere.

The NRSV used to have a reputation for being 'a liberal Bible' and the kind of people who read the NIV or the NASB or the ESV, wouldn't touch the NRSV with a ten-foot pole. But today, if you walk into your local Christian bookstore, you'll likely see at least half a dozen different editions of the NRSV, and it sells about as well as any other translation, frequently appearing in the 'Top 10 Bible Sales' list.

The NRSV is a translation that was brought back from the brink of annihilation by a published that was committed to aggressively promoting it.

The same could be done with the REB.

Timothy said...

The REB needs a champion to take it over and be willing to do the work to get it re-published with decent publicity. I think the what Baronius did with the Knox is an example of it.

Jerry Mc Kenna said...

I don't think that one can say that the Wizard of Oz was not successful on first run.

Anonymous said...

First, it makes very little sense to compare late successes of specific works like "Moby Dick" with potential late successes of "Yet Another Translation" (of the bible). If you want to compare to a secular literature YAT, then you could maybe discuss how you will take the market by storm with YAT of Grimms' fairy tales, or something like that.

Second, you yourself state the likely main reason why Harper One championed the NRSV in the market in spite of being YAT. The NRSV did have a significant and committed following. Being "the" bible of the academe, and in consequence of a good many students, is nothing to be sneezed at. Not only does this provide a good group of buyers to start with, one can also use it to advertise using the prestige that comes with being favoured by academics. (Obviously, in some religious circles academic favour would actually be a demerit, but there are lots of potential buyers who will defer to the "Professors" on what is a good translation.) In addition, the NRSV has an imprimatur in the US and Canada, and there is a Canadian lectionary based on it. This means the Catholic market is wide open, and it is entirely unsurprising that Harper One pushed for it.

On a much smaller scale, similar things could be said about the Knox bible and Baronius. Among Baronius' core customer group, traditional and conservative Catholics, the Knox had status as the last (and hence most modern) "untainted" translation of the "good old days" prior to Vatican II. And of course it had an imprimatur, and was quite familiar at least to an older generation (e.g., through "school bibles"). For the niche market Baronius serves, it was a pretty safe bet.

Thus, if you really think that CUP/OUP are "stupid to allow the REB to wither on the vine," then from a business perspective you have to identify what group of people CUP/OUP are going to use as their solid base for initial sales, and what sort of angle / niche they are going to exploit to drive strong growth.

I'm not sure what could make the REB succeed in the YAT market. Possibly, given that most of the newer YATs seem to compete so strongly for the lowest common denominator in understanding written texts, you could try to push for the "highbrow" market. But how exactly would one do that?

Perhaps a revision of the REB with emphasis on even more sophisticated / beautiful language, say by putting well-known translators of poetry on the team, plus some favourable reviews by some important literature critics could do the trick. But that's a long shot.

The one and only immediate path that I can see would be to use the REB as the basis for "art bibles". That's pretty much what the publisher Pattloch did in Germany with the excellent "Hamp, Stenzel, K├╝rzinger" translation. HSK would likely not have survived as YAT in German, were it not for the continuous stream of "high end art bibles" that Pattloch produced over the years. Basically, if you wanted a fancy (Catholic) bible with beautiful art in German, then the chances were high that you ended up with a HSK bible.

Working the art angle would gel well with being a "highbrow" translation. If you want to see the REB around, perhaps hope / push for something along those lines.

Biblical Catholic said...

I agree that there are difficulties to be overcome if one was to attempt to revive the REB...but I previously mentioned some steps that could be taken almost immediately with very little effort on the part of the copyright owners.

1. Make the REB available in a cheap e-book edition
2. Create an audio book edition and make it available at Audible.com
3. make the text available at Biblegateway
4. Make the text available at Youversion for the Bible app, which is currently on more than 100 million devices worldwide

Those 4 steps right there would cost very little, and the potential return on the investment would be huge.

The other thing they could do, if they aren't interested in trying to make money off it, is they could renounce the copyright entirely and let it enter the public domain. But holding on to a copyright, and doing nothing with it, is dumb. If you aren't going to use the copyright, let the text enter the public domain.

Anonymous said...

1. Anything that is cheap needs to sell in large numbers to make a decent profit. A cheap e-book edition of the REB is almost certainly not going to do that.
2. The bible is a long book. Producing an audio version requires paying a voice professional and an audio team a considerable amount of money. It is entirely unclear what sales could be had from this.
3. This is likely doable with a minor investment. It is however unclear whether this would drive many sales. The only ones who certainly will profit are Zondervan Corp., who run Biblegateway and cash in on the ad revenue and subscription fees.
4. Same comment as for 3., except this benefits somewhat more indirectly Life.Church, which is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church (an American offshoot of Swedish Lutherans).

None of these are likely sources of a huge return of investment for the copyright holder. Interestingly enough, you yourself did not point to anything along these lines when explaining the recent successes of the NRSV (which fulfils all four points). Instead, you pointed to Harper One and its aggressive but basically conventional sales strategy based on selling more paper copies.

CUP/OUP are doing something with their copyright. Both still sell paper copy of the REB with essentially predictable if likely low profit. They will invest into the REB if they think that within a not too long period of time they can profit a lot more if at an increased risk. Cashing in on the REB's slow death is an entirely sensible business proposal.

Biblical Catholic said...

Not only is there no cost in allowing the REB text at both Biblegateway and Youversion, but in fact, they get paid! Both sources pay the licensing and other fees for the right to post them there. And the cost of doing the conversion is borne by the website and not by the publisher. The only possible downside is that sales might diminish if the text is available free online, but since the sales are virtually non-existent anyway, this really shouldn't be a big concern.

And as far as audiobooks are concerned, are you an Audible member? Have you ever looked at their catalog? There are literally dozens of audio Bibles there, including all of the major translations NASB, ESV, NIV, HCSB, KJV, and just the New Testament for the NRSV and NAB.

And you know what would really make the REB stand out at Audible? It would be the only Bible at the site that includes the Apocrypha/deuterocanon. That would make it stand out and be a major selling point.

In fact, I am an Audible member, and for years, every Lent I download a new audio Bible to listen to during Lent. Every year, I try a different translation. Now, I've just about bought all of the ones currently available, I'll be looking forward to some new ones if any are added. I'd also like to see the Knox, Jerusalem and New Jerusalem there on Audible if only they existed in audio form.

But if they don't want to put the entire Bible up there because of the cost, they could do like the NRSV and NAB and post only the New Testament.

My point is that the REB is a fairly obscure version which is hard to find anywhere. If they want to try to revive it, they need to start by making it just as widely available as any other translation. And they need to join the 21st century, paper books are becoming a niche product, e-books and audiobooks are where it's at

rolf said...

The Olive Tree Bible app has the REB with the deutro-canoical books and you can pair it with the New Interpreters Study Bible notes and you have an REB Study Bible!

Jason Prewara said...

Due in large part to this series on the REB, today while at the local library I checked out an Oxford REB W/ Apocrypha...

I gotta say, I am absolutely loving this Bible so far. It reminds me of a hybrid between the NABRE, JB, Knox and RSV...

It's definitely solid as rock, and I would recommend it strongly to anyone looking for a good English Bible.

Christopher Buckley said...

I'm so intrigued by this idea that, due to the 1987 Vatican instruction on Interconfessional Bibles, there may be additional translations like the REB that are in fact approved for Catholic use despite not having a formal imprimatur.

I wanteed to follow up specifically on the CEB. As I haven't actually opened a print edition of that translation, I can't see if it comes with a preface from the Joint Churches that includes the endorsement from the Catholic hierarchy involved in producing the traanslation. I decided to reach out to the USCCB to inquire about the CEB, and was told they were "unaware of the CEB being approved for individual use as described."

So that would seem to rule out the CEB.

wxmarc said...

Christopher: I have a copy of the CEB on my shelf, so I just pulled it down to look. It has a preface signed by "The Editorial Board of the Common English Bible" recommending the translation to readers. In my mind, this is a more ambiguous situation than the REB. The Catholic bishops' conferences in the British Isles were official members of the REB Joint Committee, so the REB preface definitely qualifies as a recommendation by "ecclesiastical authorities," as called for by the Vatican directive.

If the Catholic members of the CEB committee were granted permission to act as official representatives of the Church, then the CEB preface might qualify, as Carl explained in his responses to part 1 of this review. It's highly possible that they participated in their professional capacity as scholars, though, and not as official representatives of the Church. In that case, the statement of the CEB editorial board is in a different category from the REB Joint Committee statement.

Michael Demers said...

The REB with Apocrypha is available on LOGOS for $9.99; check it out.

Michael Demers said...

The New English Bible with the Apocrypha (NEB) is also available on LOGOS for $9.99.