Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB, the editor of the new version, examines the need for a fresh translation (left), while Conrad Pepler (right) reviews the text
IT IS forty years this October since the publication of RA Knox's translation of the Bible, and all but 20 since the Jerusalem Bible appeared. In these two decades the Jerusalem Bible has won itself a dominant position in England, both in the liturgy and in private reading. Rarely is another translation heard in Catholic churches, and in many non-Catholic denominations it is the preferred translation. But the passage of 20 years is hardly sufficient reason for a new Jerusalem Bible. Why then a new edition? How great are the changes? What have been the principles behind the revision?
To many it come as a surprise that the Jerusalem Bible, like its parent publication the Bible de Jerusalem, was conceived first and foremost as a study Bible, whose notes and introductions are quite as important as the biblical text itself. The purpose of the publication was to make easily available in one volume the yield of biblical research and discovery.
The widek-known Readers' and School 'Editions are only shortened versions of a full (or Standard) Edition from which it is often said that the student can do a full biblical course. It is this aspect which primarily makes a new edition imperative.
The French edition began appearing in 1948, at a time when Catholics were still bound to teach that Adam and Eve were historical figUres. Although there was certainly some revision when the whole Bible was published in 1956, traces of outdated attitudes and apologetics still remained in this Bible which was the basis of Alexander Jones fine work. When the French Bible de Jerusalem was revised in 1972
great advances had been made, both in historical and archaeological research and in awareness of literary studies. Even so, there was clear evidence of a conservative frame of mind, particularly in the New Testament, which was less thoroughly revised than the Old. There were still references in the notes to specifically Catholic liturgy ("this text is used in the Common of Virgins") and glances — often apologetic — at the Council of Trent, which made narrowly and even irksomely Catholic reading.
Even in the translation features remained which fought shy of the assured results of biblical scholarship. The introductions remained similarly notably dated, not only in their rhetorical or even bombastic style, but in the views maintained: battles long ago fought and won were still refought, and newly-established positions were disregarded on such topics as the exact historical reliability of Acts and the authorship of the Pauline letters.
If scholarship had advanced so much since the second French edition of 1972 was prepared, it was only to be expected that a thorough revision of the 1966 English edition, based on a French version elaborated in 1946-56, should be long overdue. It was made all the more imperative by the very wide use made of the Jerusalem Bible for study purposes in seminaries and by the clergy.
Besides the need for modernisation there were features of the 1966 edition which could reduce the zealous student to frustrated fury: the index to the crucial theological keynotes (the basis of many a rich sermon on hope of the Spirit or the Body of Christ) had been compiled with more enthusiasm than discernment; some entries contain over 100 undifferentiated references, plus 40 or more cross-references to other entries. Pruning and organisation could only increase the serviceability of the index. The maps had been somewhat artlessly transferred from the cheap and garish French originals, and besides numerous inaccuracies, needed to be brought into line not only with modern map-making techniques but also with the discoveries of, for instance, the 30 years of continuous excavation at Jerusalem which have revolutionarised our knowledge of the ancient shape of the city.
All these matters concern the full or "standard" edition alone, and it is by the translation of the biblical text that the Jerusalem Bible has become so widely known and valued. Uncommon is the opinion of one English-speaking Cardinal who said that the notes were invaluable but that the text ought to be burnt.
But here again there was room for some technical and some stylistic improvements. Because of the variety of translators for the 1966 edition there was little uniformity: quotations of the Old Testament in the New were often in a quite different form from that found in the book from which they were drawn: it was puzzling to be told that the quotation was from Jeremiah 5:1, and then find that Jeremiah 5:1 looked quite different. Parallel passages in the gospels were translated with a variety which quite disguised their similarity, and certainly made it impossible to discern — or follow arguments about — those tell-tale little variations between the gospels which show the theology and particular message of each evangelist. Important theological terms were translated quite differently in one book and in another, so that it was difficult to follow through such a particular idea as God's faithful love or his trustworthiness.
Advances in biblical scholarship over 30 years or so have made quite some differences in understanding of the text. Scholars are now clear that the manuscripts of John 1:13 refer to Christians "who were born not from human stock" rather than to Jesus "who was born not from human stock". Similarly the phrase in Philippians (2:6), wildly paraphrased in the 1966 edition as "His state was divine", is now translated "Who, being in the form of God,"; this is a great deal more exact, and shows that Paul is not writing about the divinity of Jesus but is comparing, Jesus to the First Adam, created in the image of God. Each of these small improvements in accuracy carries momentuous implications for the understanding of Christ.
Such technical and theological details will, however, be of minor importance in winning general approval for the New Jerusalem Bible. The real need was to make an attractive text even better. Some of the translations could hardly be improved, for instance the captivating Book of Jonah translated by J R Tolkien. In other instances the desire for modern and simple English has failed to convey the dignity of the original. Thus "with a sigh that came straight from the heart" (Mk 8:12) has become the simpler and accurate "with a profound sigh". The frequentlyrepeated fussy interjection in the Prophets "It is the Lord who speaks" becomes "the Lord declares".
Some modernisation may be more controversial. Biblical "leprosy" refers to a far wider range of skin-disease than the ailment now called leprosy, and this is accordingly reflected in the translation "virulent skindisease". A certain regard nowadays needs to be paid to broadening out the uncompromising masculinity of some expressions. Few will be offended by Jesus proclaiming "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me!" (Jn 7:37) instead of "If any man is thirsty, let him come to me", and "man's desire" may give way without a tremor to "human inclination".
Hopefully not many will regret the unfamiliar news that
human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4). THE NEWS that JB has become NJB is particularly welcome. If we had not expected it we ought to have done so. Most other versions of the Bible were intended to be permanent. It is reported that Ronald Knox saw his translation as permanently replacing the Douai if not the Authorised.
But if permanent then dead. But that was before Vatican II. Then some years later the Bible de Jerusalem appeared and the vernacular had come to life. That translation really seemed to live, so that it was not surprising that soon the Jerusalem Bible appeared in England, perhaps not quite so lively but very much alive.
That was 20 years ago. We may have thought it destined to join the corps of the dead language versions, Septuagint, Vulgate, Authorised, Douai. But no, it is designed to remain a version in a living language; so that we should expect a NNJB in another 20 years.
The JB was translated from the French with an eye on the original languages. This time NJB has reversed that order direct from the originals with an eye on the French. And what a colossal task it is to remain among the living. We used to find some of the colloquialisms of JB rather jarring; but were they part of the growing language?
The Editor of NJB, Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB, says that the translators have taken trouble to reproduce the dignity of the originals by a certain measured phrasing and avoidance of the colloquial. Colloquialisms remain, but perhaps they will become part of polite English in another 20 years?
There have, however, been an infinite number of other problems to face. How far arc contemporary fads and fancies to be conciliated? "Efforts have been made," writes the Editor, "to soften or avoid the inbuilt preference of the English language . . . now found so offensive by some people for the masculine."
How far then is the translation into the modern living language to represent the primative? The original text was composed centuries ago in an ancient, sometimes prehistoric, culture whose images and terms of reference were not always polite. Trying to he kind to the reader might give him/her the wrong impression of what the text is about.
Or again as the phrases find their way into the Prayer of the Church, how far may they rest there, gradually to enter the archaic world? The translator must keep his eye not only on Fowler's Modern English Usage but also on Philip Howard in The Times.
Not only has the translator to maintain the flow of accurate, modern and comfortable English, for the JB is designed as a "Study Bible", with notes, cross references and the whole armoury of modern scholarship which are of immense importance. In the last 20 years the Church has begun to release the brakes on freedom in scripture studies which has resulted in a great increase of relevant work on the Bible. All those notes and references of JB have therefore been revised and edited.
Reviewers of the first JB hoped earnestly that the people of God for whom it was designed would not be deterred by its price of four guineas. Today, while they may groan at having to fork out £25 it is unlikely that they will protest. After all the volume comprises 2110 well printed pages together with coloured maps. I believed our sensibilities have altered in financial matters in 20 years.
It may be of interest finally to compare very briefly some entirely random examples of the two editions with the Revised Standard Version. This may give some impression of the detailed work that has gone into the revision. Ezechiel's allegory of the eagle. 17.3:
JB: "A large eagle with large wings and a wide span covered with spotted feathers came to Lebanon".
NJB: "A great eagle with great wings, long pinioned rich with many coloured plumage, came to Lebanon".
RSV "A great eagle with great wings and long pinions rich in plumage of many colours came to Lebanon".
Luke Zacchaeus. 19.3: JB: "He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was".
NJB: "He kept trying to see which Jesus was".
RSV: "And he sought to see who Jesus was".