By Fr. R. C. Fuller, DX., L.S.S.
VEEN satisfaction at the
appearance of the complete New English Bible after nearly twenty-five years' preparation must be tinged with regret that Catholics did not take part in what is perhaps the greatest ecumenical project of the post-war era.
It was not for lack of an invitation to participate — but in those days the climate was different. The whole translation. including the "Apocrypha" or deuterocanonical books, is now in our hands. It is a totally new version in the language of today, and in its production the best scholars—Driver, Dodd, MeHardy—indeed, nearly all those prominent in the field of O.T. and N.T. studies— have collaborated.
The publication of the N.T. in 1961 has already made us familiar with the aims of the translators. The enormous advance in our knowledge of the Biblical text and of Semitic philology in recent times made a new translation very desirable.
Besides this, it was widely felt that nothing less than an entirely new translation in the language of today was needed in order to make the Bible a live issue for the modern reader, especially for those without any church allegiance.
The time had come for a fresh start. Not that one lacked translations of this kind, e.g.. Goodspeed, Knox, Phillips. But such versions, it was thought. remained rather personal and lacked authority. A committee could perhaps be more objective and interpose less of an obstacle between the reader and the divine message of the Bible.
How far have they succeeded in realising their aim? Our comments will concern mainly the O.T. and the "Apocrypha" since the N.T,,
apart from some minor revisions, is as it was published in 1961. Obviously, any expression of view after a necessarily short study must be tentative; but given that caveat, let us say at once that the new version seetns strikingly successful. A translation in modern icliOrn conk SO easily be flat
and pedestrian. The N.E.B. is Certainly not that. Indeed, coupled with its up-to-date speech, there is aLso a literary quality and essential coherence that make it a pleasure to read. Apart from the contents it also inoks like a book to be read.
Columns have been abolished, a clear, legible, and not-too-small type has been used, and yet by some miracle the volume is of convenient size and easy to handle. The
favourable impression is completed by the fact that verse numbers have been relegated' to the margin where they are unobtrusive.
Space does not allow of actual quotation at any length, but I give some references to passages by way of illustrating both the prose and poetry (which is printed, as such). For poetry reed Psalms 23, 51 and, Isaiah 40: 18ff.
Incidentally one notices that Ecclesiasticus is printed as poetry while Wisdom is not, although in Rahlfs Septuagint and in R.S.V. the two books are printed, alike as poetry. For examples of prose style read Genesis 37 to 45, 2 Sam. 15 and 2 Mac. 6.
The N.E.B. retains the second person singular when man addresses God in prayer, in spite of the very pronounced• movement today, more noticeabk among
Catholics, towards the adoption of the second person plural throughout. "It was thought," write the translators, "that the public for whom the N.E.B. was intended was not generally ready for the use of `you' in address to God with all the overtones of familiarity and casual speech that this would
bring with it." Thus the
N.E.B. follows the same usage as R.S.V. in this, except that in conversation with God as distinct from prayer (e.g., Gen. 3) N.E.B. retains the second person plural,.
From the point of view of doctrine or denominational differences there is nothing in the text that I have noticed, to which a Catholic might feel obliged to take exception. Genesis 1: 1 of course at once catches the eye: "In the
beginning of creation when God made heaven and earth . ." The traditional translation is relegated to a footnote as an alternative.
Creation out of nothing is not excluded, if not explicitly stated, in the new translation. Isaiah 7: 14 has "young woman" in place of the "virgin" of the older translations. This is now generally accepted as the correct rendering of the Hebrew in this text, notwithstanding the fact that the Greek Septuagint translation of this passage has parthenos "virgin" which is quoted in Matt. 1: 23. The Greek rendering would thus represent a later development of revelation on the subject. The deutero canonical books ("Apocrypha") are placed in this version "between the Testaments" as one would expect. The N.E.B. translators recognise that this arrangement dates back no further than the time of the Reformers (1520), Before that time the unir versal custom was to. distribute these books throughout
the Old Testament as in the
Vulgate and Septuagint. Today, in cases where Protes
tants and Catholics wish to make use of the same translation, Catholics may accept the arrangement as in N.E.B. without sacrifice of principle and as a purely practical measure.
Indeed, N.E.B. says that this arrangement implies no view as to the canonical char
acter of the books. The whole of Esther is printed out ac cording to the Greek with indications of those portions which appear only in Greek.
This. of course, is in addition to the whole of Esther according to the Hebrew. The arrangement seems immensely superior to the usual one, dating from St. Jerome, of simply stringing together these detached portions regardless of their context.
The overriding aim of the translators to "get across" the Bible message to every man of goodwill, irrespective of religious affiliation is pal pably evident. While many
churchgoers will regret and perhaps even resent the dis appearance of familiar and 'hallowed. phrases, others, less committed, may find in this translation fresh and striking meanings where before they had seen, only a hieratic and u n,mea n ingf u I text.
Moreover, it is not improbable that the churchgoer, too, after serious reading of the new version, will find himself acquiring new insights in to the perennial message of the Bible.