Monday, June 26, 2017

New Release: Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation

Recently I became aware of a new text that has recently been released released by Samuel L. Bray and John Hobbins.  You may know John from his bible-blog site Ancient Hebrew Poetry.   (If you have not, I'd encourage you to head over there and read some of the fine articles on translation.)  I was recently contacted by Samuel Bray alerting me to a new book that the two of them had authored and released in May.  Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation is a "translation of Genesis 1-11 that follows the Hebrew text closely and leaves in what many translations leave out: physicality, ambiguity, repetition, even puns. The authors draw deeply from the long history of Jewish and Christian interpretation. Their translation and notes offer the reader wisdom and delight."

In a recent email, I asked Samuel Bray about his new book and what they were trying to accomplish with its publication.  I think you will find his response very intriguing:


There are so many Bibles now, that it would seem like another one could not possibly be needed. But compared to the vast number of new Bibles, the older translations were often closer to the original, carrying over more of its physicality and imagery. And the older translations were better suited to reading aloud. I had been dissatisfied with the new ones, and in early 2015 started working on a translation that would be traditional (in the sense of the Tyndale-KJV tradition), close, and suited to reading aloud. I sent a rough initial draft to John, whom I knew from his blogging on Hebrew grammar and poetry. John and I started working together on the project, and in late 2015, with a draft of the translation and notes in hand, we signed a contract with our publisher, GlossaHouse. Since then we've been able to refine and polish the book.

We have a number of aims in this translation, and as we freely admit in the introductory essay, "To the Reader," there are other good aims that a translation could have. One translation can't do everything. What we offer is a very close translation--one that is sensitive not just to semantic content, but to what might be called the rhetoric or stylistics of the text. This includes its physicality, metaphors, the level of diction, the repetitions, and the puns.

We also are self-consciously in the Tyndale-KJV tradition (a tradition that includes Douai-Rheims). That means that where it's possible, while still sticking close to the original, we want to keep the diction and phrases that connect the English Bible with a vast network of hymns, proverbial expressions, and literary allusions.

And we have given close attention to how the translation sounds when read aloud. That means we care about pacing, rhythm, euphony, even onomatopoeia.

There are a lot of Bible translations, and there are many good ones. We recommend some in our notes (including NABRE). But there is still room for a closer translation in vigorous and rhythmic English. Tyndale did it in the sixteenth century, and there is no reason to think it's impossible in the twenty-first.

One last thing I should mention. We include 135 pages of notes explaining our translation decisions. These notes will help the reader go "behind the camera" and see the kinds of decisions translators have to make. A reader will understand and gain new appreciation for the translation he reads, no matter which one it is.

I will be receiving a review copy soon, which I will report back to you about once I get a chance to examine it.  However, I'd encourage you to check out the publisher's site and the Amazon listing, which has some sample pages.  While it seems crazy that we have to wait around for decades, it seems, for some of our favorite Catholic Bible-related projects to be completed, it is important to note that there are a number of other interesting projects that are going on.  This volume looks like it will be an incredible resource and something that should be supported.  

The Naked Bible podcast has a helpful interview with the authors posted.  It is worth a listen.

6 comments:

Jason said...

It would be very nice if they could release a sample - say maybe Genesis 1:1-20 and Genesis 2:1-20 ?

I like this project though - very innovative.

Ted said...

You have to go to the GlossaHouse link to see a translation sample
(the last three pages). I hate those amazon 'Look Inside' pages
that only show the intro and index and never show the heart of the book.

Timothy said...

Thanks Ted!

rolf said...

Nice to see that they recommend the NABRE!

Matthew Doe said...

A new translation of the bible is always interesting. A new translation of the OT is somewhat less interesting (unless it is by/for Jews...). A new translation of some parts of the OT is rather less interesting. A new translation of a single book of the OT is still less interesting (unless liturgically relevant, i.e., Psalms). A new translation of part of a single book of the OT typically holds no interest other than as marker of a work in progress. A translation of part of a single book of the OT that is consciously yet another variant of the dominant translation tradition of the English language requires quite some justification to not be judged as a waste of ink and paper.

Is the translation of bibles now following the "publish or perish" model for some reason? How about Bray and Hobbins come back to us when they have finished something substantial, like say Genesis entire at least? Given the copious "translation notes" for something intentionally aiming at the most established translation tradition, I also wonder if this is not a bible commentary first and a translation second...

Steve Molitor said...

I skimmed some of the sample. This seems pretty interesting, and I liked the bits of the translation I read. I'm going to come back this this later.

I like the idea of a translation in the Tyndale / KJV tradition, that bypasses the RSV / ESV / NRSV. I love the idea of building on the RSV. I'd like to see an RSV-3CE, along the lines of the ESV but not by Crossways!

But I also think it's cool to start fresh, but in the KJV tradition. The RSV is my daily reading bible, but it does have some oddities.

As far as only doing 11 chapters, that's cool. It's interesting as is, and if they get positive feedback they may continue. We do that in software all the time: get something small out there to see if there's any interest.

They might consider making it available for free online as well. (Maybe they're doing that and I missed it.) We do that in software all the time also. You can still copyright it to prevent it from being used in ways you don't like.