Monday, August 7, 2017

Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators

It is not often that I receive a book for review that really excites me and has me hoping that there will be more volumes like it in the future.  Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators by Bray and Hobbins is one of them.  Of all the books I have read over the past few years, this one I found to be the clearest and most helpful in showing the true art of translation.  This blog came into existence to provide a place to discuss Catholic translations, and if you were to look back at the various posts over the years, the ones that discussed the "good" and "bad" of the various Catholic translations have always been the most popular and engaging in the comments.  And that is all a very good thing, particularly with the interactions from the various people who have provided helpful insight over the years in the comboxes.  Yet, it is not often that a book comes out that tackles all those issues we have discuss here.  

Well, what does this book do?

Book description: This translation of Genesis 1-11 follows the Hebrew text closely and leaves in what many translations leave out: physicality, ambiguity, repetition, even puns. Bray and Hobbins also draw deeply from the long history of Jewish and Christian interpretation. Their translation and notes offer the reader wisdom and delight.

Before I explain, I'd encourage you to read (or re-read) my recent interview with Samuel Bray.  He goes over, in detail and with examples, what the book description says.  Their motivation for writing this book should be encouragement enough for you to consider purchasing it.  In addition, you will discover that the authors, who are both Protestant, are very ecumenical.  There are references to the Douay, Knox, JB, NJB, and NABRE throughout.  There is a great appreciation for Catholic biblical contributions within this book.

The book, itself, is divided into two distinct parts.  The first part is the authors translation of Genesis 1-11 (although they include 12:1-9 as well).   The translation is presented in a single column, paragraph style, with the chapter and verse numbering on the margins.  Much like the Knox or Jerusalem Bible editions, this allows the text to flow very freely and encourage long chunks of reading.  There are no paragraph headings, which is a good thing.  The translation gives you a real flavor of the importance of repetition in the Hebrew text.  The toledot formula ("These are the generations of....) is a clear example
of this.  How often do we find it translated with some variation within the same translation?  Many translations do not keep a consistency here, even though the formula appears six times in the first eleven chapters of Genesis (2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 27).  It is examples like this which make this volume so very helpful.

Notice the clear page layout and references at the bottom
The second part of the book consists of almost 150 pages of notes/annotations, along with a number of extensive indexes, a glossary, and a 30+ page work cited section.  The notes are the real jewel here.  The translation, found in the first half of the book, is examined (almost) verse by verse, looking at the Hebrew and comparing it to other ancient translations (like the LXX and Vulgate) as well as dozens of older and modern English translations, including Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish ones.  Because the indexes are so extensive, you can look up your favorite translation to see where it is commented on.

In conclusion, get this book.  It contains both a ton of insights about the Hebrew of Genesis 1-11 and enough translation comparison information to keep you occupied for weeks, if not months.  It is a great tool for your study of Genesis 1-11, which should be used beside your favorite translation and commentaries.  Support this book so that more volumes will come out in the future.

Thank you Sam Bray, John Hobbins, and Glossahouse for providing me a copy for this book for an honest review.


Steve Molitor said...

I took a look at the sample page and references in the pic: wow! Gonna order today!

Devin said...

I am convinced and ordering it as well.

Anonymous said...

I picked this up a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. I like the translation and find the notes very insightful. I hope to see more volumes in the future!


Anonymous said...

I am also convinced. In a way, this book sounds like a broadside against dynamic equivalence translation, or against the whole idea that the cadence and structure and idioms of Hebrew and Greek can't legitimately be preserved in English (or else it's "really just a transliteration" or "it's not good English" or some such). It sounds like the authors demonstrate, in painstaking and persuasive detail, just how much is lost when you "translate" all the idioms and generally crush all the life out of the text by over-adapting it to English. Though the authors sound too nice to ever put it that way.