THIS MONTH THE Catho lic edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is published. October will see the appearance of the longawaited Jerusalem Bible and the New English Bible. a joint
enterprise of all the major
churches, is scheduled for 1970.
Until recently, Catholics in this country had only one version of the Bible, the Douai. Then appeared the Knox, and now a whole rash of translations.
In his foreword to the RSV Bible Cardinal Heenan says: "Despite the decline of religious practice, the appetite of English people for new versions of Scripture is, paradoxically, greater than ever."
I set out this week to find out whether the old cliche of the Bible being "the world's best-seller" still holds true.
Bible literature, I found, is distributed in two ways. One is through the Bible Societies and the other through commercial publishers.
Last year the United Bible Society distributed 4,457,355 English Bibles all over the world. These are sold at cost price or by means of a subsidy. In addition the Society publishes selections from the Bible and sales of these run into millions.
On the commercial side, Bible publishing is fairly big business. Eyre and Spottiswoode, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and a number of other publisher all find a ready sale for the Authorised Version. Penguin Books were able to sell 100,000 copies of the paperback edition of the New Testament New English Bible within 18 months of publication.
Burns Oates told me that so far as Catholic Bibles are concerned they sell around 55,000 copies a year of the Knox Version to Commonwealth countries and further considerable sales are made in the United States. Among several publishers of the Douai Version, Catholic Truth Society alone sell some 50,000 a year of their 7s. 6d. edition. Nelsons, who are publishing the new RSV this month, at 25s. a copy have already gone into a second printing and experts in the book trade estimate that this will bring the total print to around 100,000.
Darton, Longman and Todd have scheduled the new Jerusalem Bible for October with a 50,000 first print for United Kingdom market at 84/a copy. The American print of this has not yet been settled but is expected to be at least twice the British one.
Publishers are reticent about giving their profit margins on Bibles, but they point out that these may not be as great as some might think because so many years of preparation have to go into a new version and this is a costly business, they say.
Quite apart from the publishers, there is no doubt that if Mathew, Mark, Luke and John—and the other great Biblical writers — were alive today, their royalties would make Ian Fleming's "Bond" income look like pin money.