Monday, December 6, 2010

An Interesting Perspective on the NAB

Follow this link for an interesting post about the NAB translation. It was posted on the Political Jesus blog, but it is written by Jeremy Thompson. It makes some really interesting points, particularly in regards to using a translation even though one knows its not the best one out there. What do you think of his argument? Is there a case for using the NAB? (I think there is, but I know some of you really dislike it!.) ;)


Diakonos said...

First let me say that my problem with the NAB is NOT so much the translation (the Revised NT was a huge improvement and I am hoping the Revised OT will be as well...the My BIG issue with ALL versions/editions of the NAB to date lied with the introductions and footnotes. I wish they were much more authentically Catholic.

With that said I agree with Jeremy on ALL points: deuterocanonical books, unity of translation, and liturgical use. The last two are the main reasons why I always have some edition of the NAB with me in classes, CCD, retreats, etc.

And yes when the Revised-Revised NAB comes out next year I will get a copy...or else some good old fashioned Catholic guilt might not leave me in peace. :)

rolf said...

Yeah I agree with Jeremy on all points. I lead a Bible study class, and everyone but one person has an NAB Bible. I also need the NAB for my RCIA sessions, because most of the RCIA materials come in the NAB because it is the translation used in the Lectionary. So this is a translation I have to spend a lot of time with.

Timothy said...

Rolf and Diakonos,

So I would imagine that you two are very much looking forward to the revised NABRE? Do you tend to use it for personal reading as well? The reason I ask this is that I have always felt what Jeremy articulated in the review, but have really never given it a fair read through. I tend to see the NT to be much superior to the OT, thus I am very intrigued with the upcoming revision.

Anonymous said...

I understand Jeremy's points and think them valid but not compelling for the followiig reasons:

1. Why waiste time with a mediocre translation you have to always apologize for and could never love?

2. The Catechism, many Bible studies and resources including the youth materials in use at my parish all quote from the RSVce / NRSVce line.

3. If teaching from the NAB requires time to explain its deficiencies and errors, why not go ahead and teach from a superior translation and introduce people to a resource they might enjoy using?

4. My RSVce has all the books, a lectionary printed in the back, and there are websites and software that will match the Catholic Lectionary to several other versions - RSVce (for wierdos like me), NRSV (for Canadians) or Jerusalem Bible (for just about every other English speaker on earth.) to name three options.

And I get to use translations that inspire me to confidence and enthusiastic reading.

How's that for a strong opinion?


Francesco said...

Hi Rolf,

Do you foresee issues with the NABRE as it replaces the NAB? Starting next year the OT used in the lectionary will only be available in used book stores.


Diakonos said...

I am not a Bible scholar nor do I know Greek, etc. But I think I know enough about what a Catholic guy needs to know to be confident that while NO translsation is perfect, neither will any of the approved translations lead someone away from Christ or holiness. Thus I really have no significant issue with the revised or former NAB translation as it applies to the everyday Catholic guy.

With that said, Timothy, to answer your question. If the NABRE has faithful footnotes or an edition without any footnotes and introductions I would have no problem using it and would indeed purchase a copy for daily use (I am thinking here of the lectionary as reading guide). When it comes to commentary for daily reading i typically turn to devotional type commentaries anyway (such as those by NT Wright or Christophe Schornbon).

Shazamaholic said...

As I explained in my blog post on Scripture and Liturgy, which also got picked up by Catholic Tide (end of cheap plug), the altered NAB NT approved for Mass is very similar to the Confraternity Version NT. In fact, although I myself haven't done this, I bet if you followed along with the NT readings in Mass, they would match closer to the Confraternity NT than the standard 1986 NAB NT. I truely hope that not only does the revised NAB OT match the quality of the Liturgical NT, but when the NABRE is published, it will include the Liturgical NT instead of the standard '86 NT. There really shoud be some kind of petition drive to let the bishops know that this is what many of us want.

But otherwise I find the '86 NT to be quite good itself, as it is the only translation outside of the Douay Rhiems and Confraternity to use "amen I say to you". The only really big problem I have with the '86 NT is it does not use "hail full of grace". As others have said, it's more the footnotes that are troubling, having taken a somewhat leftist POV.

Shazamaholic said...

Two other problems I have with the NAB NT (both the '86 and altered Liturgical version):
It has our Blessed Mother ask "how can this be?" (instead of "shall" or "will") implying she has doubt.
It does not use "gates of hell", although "gates of the netherworld" is probably a little more accurate than "powers of death".

Timothy said...

I am thinking of starting a series of posts concerning tr NAB NT as we prepare for the NABRE next year.
I think we could analyze both the positive and negative elements of it. I have the feeling that many people who dislike the NAB have really not taken the time to examine it or compare it to other translations. Of course I speak of the NAB NT.

Carl Hernz said...

If I may say something in support of the NAB, in particular in reference to its Revised New Testament: I know why a lot of people dislike it and consider it atrocious. It is for the same reasons that when push comes to shove I have to insist that American Catholics take a closer look at what a generation from now will likely be considered a gem, even though I know that no translation can be called prefect.

While it was due to the Jerusalem Bible and the original Grail Psalter’s popularity at the time of Vatican II that dynamic equivalence became all the rage for tanslating things for American Catholics, our current Catholic generation has known practically nothing more but the eloquence of the Douay-Rheims or the smooth renditions of thought-for-thought translations of Bible texts and the Liturgy until recently.

This had not always been the case. In fact what today many hold to as the “original” Catholic Bible in English is due to the bishop Challoner’s revision of the text, which stylized it due to the fact that many found the original unreadable. Why? The same reason people dislike the NAB Revised NT.

The original Douay-Rheims was considered so obscure due to its attempt to capture the Latin with such accuracy that it was formally challenged and presented as inaccurate by Protestants at the time of its original release. The Catholic public found little reason to embrace it then too until Challoner’s revision which offered English glosses for the obscurities of rendering the Latin text by means of such a formal word-for-word approach.

The same can be said about the NAB’s Revised New Testament. Despite claims by some that its use of inclusive language keeps them away (which by the way the NAB has never qualified as being considered by those who politically advanced the idea, such as in the mostly gay UFMCC denomination)—claims which are generally connected to confusing the incipits added by the Lectionary as reflective of the new NAB NT but not found anywhere in its actual text—it is actually the same Douay-Rheims history repeating itself.

Take it from somebody who is used to reading the New Testament in its original koine Greek, the NAB Revised New Testament is so accurate in its word-for-word approach that it preserves what I call the “taste” of the Greek idiom in its translation. It does this so well that I can use the text to remind me of the Greek reading. I cannot do that very well with the RSV or the NRSV, and definitely not with either Jerusalem Bible or the much-beloved Douay-Rheims. Again I can do it was the NAB Revised New Testament. The only other version on the market I can do that with is the New American Standard Bible, 1995 update.

What does this mean? It means that the NAB NT reads a bit odd, even awkward. But this is because it is copying the word structure of the original Greek language. Little gloss for American English idiom is offered—in fact only when really necessary, and never without footnotes to explain the original reading. When we read the NAB Revised New Testament we are reading as close as possible to the original inspired text that our English idiom allows. It is made a little simpler that the NASB (that version sometimes dispenses with the fact that it is translating for American readers altogether, and it has been criticized for doing that, thus the reason for the NRSV). There is a lot of attempt to get the American reader to comprehend that he or she is encountering this different culture in its version by leaning on the English idiom when such freedom is necessary. For those of us who can read the original Greek, the NAB is quite beautiful, almost poetic, in what is basically a very technical approach.

Okay, it's likely because I'm a geek who wants to read the Bible in the way it was written by those who wrote it. but only because I want to understand that culture to understand the Word better.

Anonymous said...

I'll stick w my JB till the NAB footnotes are revised :)
I use the NAB for catechism class and lector readings, the text is great but those footnotes are for scholars who agree w the historical critical method, we need footnotes for laymen not scholars

Diakonos said...

I would clarify that the footnotes are written for those espoused to the more radical expression of the historico-critical method. And for so many of us therein lies the problem. I do not think the regular guy-in-the-pew would have any issue with the translation itself...but if he reads (for example) that the infancy narratives are a fabrication he may start to wonder why read this book at all? Though the translation carries the imprimatur of the USCCB, do you think that the body of bishops really have read all the footnotes/introductions and agree with them? I cannot imagine USCCB figures such as Dolan, Chaput, Olmstead or Carlson (to name just a few) are hearty proponents of such scholarship.

Carl Hernz said...

You’re not alone, of course, if you don’t like the NAB footnotes. But I’ve discovered this is less due to their content than it is what we perceive about them.

To illustrate: Now, of course I am sure that those who make such comments not in favor with the NAB footnotes understand that the footnotes are meant to be understood as expressing only the academia behind the renditions, the methodology of popular scholarship. Am I right?

No? Well, no one explained that to me either. Had someone done this a little more clearly, I would have understood why the footnotes sound so “anti-biblical” and “anti-Catholic.”

This is the work of translators, people who deal with language, and not in particular that of the catechist. You see, if you are a translator, then you are a language scientist, so to speak. In the world of the scholar you can only deal with one discipline or one science at a time, unless you make it very clear that you are switching hats. The translators of the NAB decided to wear just one hat to avoid confusion…but they didn’t tell the average Catholic reader what hat this was (the hat of a translator, for the most part).

The academic translator must rely on the science of etymology and textual transmission history and cannot, therefore, exit this sphere to give religious exegesis when adding any footnotes. If the translator does this, then (according to "the rules") he or she is no longer giving a technical explanation of his or her work. They are now offering a commentary. And if what is being offered is commentary, then they are no longer considered to be doing the work of a translator. And when this happens, the validity of the entire work comes under suspicion from the scholarly world.

The footnotes are indeed very striking and sound like they are anti-Biblical at times, but this is only because the translators, in dealing with the science of their work, have to explain things using the scientific method. That being the case they cannot express any support for that which cannot be addressed by this procedure. All sciences, from biology to language, deal in a method wherein there are only hypothesis and theories. They don’t have the liberty of axiomatic objectives as the faith of a Catholic does.

It is outside the realm of any science, save theology (which some consider a “discipline” and not a science), to address the validity of Apostolic Tradition. So the translator stays within his boundaries as best she or he can, and at first blush such comments might seem to be contradictory of our faith. But that is not what is meant to be taken from them. Human reason based on physical data can only give us so much, and therefore only as far as this science goes can the footnote ftechinically ollow.

The gap that exists is that the scholar presumes we are reading these footnotes like this.

"Uh, hello, but we haven’t been!"

Therein we find the reason for the confusion. The science of language transmission and the catechesis of Apostolic Tradition are oil and water. We are just not taught much in our own catechesis about the critical sciences (“critical” means to come to conclusion based on examinations).

For those unfamiliar with the other side of the picture, there has been much accusation from academics that the footnotes in the NAB make the entire translation unsuitable for Protestants because of its ‘constant slant’ in the footnotes in favor of Catholicism. Can you believe that?

From the academic’s viewpoint, it is too Catholic. From many of the laypeople, its heretical. What needs to be taught first is what the footnotes mean and what they don’t mean, and then how this affects what we believe as Catholics. The scientific method of any discipline cannot prove at present certain things we believe about the Bible as Catholics, and the footnotes will reflect only what the methodology employed can offer. This sometimes does not see eye-to-eye with Tradition, but the end result of one method is not meant to ever supplant the method of the other.

rolf said...

I agree that most people's problems with the NAB arise more from the historical-critical notes that are in it than the text itself. The notes don't bother me personally and I can always counter them with the Navarre Bible commentary or Ignatius Study Bible. But I understand the point, that for the average person in the pews who doesn't read their Bible very often, some of their content could confuse them and their beliefs.

My hopes for the 'new' NAB is that the Old Testament will strive for accuracy as well as smooth readability (for the liturgy). I would like to see more extensive notes in the O.T. I'm sure the O.T. is going to be more inclusive in its language (to match that of the N.T.). I don't have a problem with that if it is done with moderation. And I hope that the new Psalms will read smoothly (although they will not be used in the Mass) and will using only moderate inclusive language instead of the current horizontal inclusive language in the 1991 version (removing 'he' when referring to God in many case). This is the reason that we are still using the 1970 Psalms in the Mass, which is kind of sad. It is too bad that the Psalms in the the new NAB will not match those being used in the Liturgy.

I am not an NAB hater, it has it good points, there are times when I compare readings in the NAB with that of the RSV-2CE, that the NAB will read smoother. I hope for the future because as I posted earlier, I use the NAB a lot at Church and that will not change.

Jeremy said...

Hi Timothy,
Thanks for linking to my post on Rodney's site. Unfortunately, I wrote it just before a deadline for turning in my dissertation. And, I think that sapped just about all of my energy at the time. So, I wasn't checking links or anything shortly after I wrote it. I just saw this link in wordpress.
As for those who have commented here, I appreciate that many of us are in agreement, at least on some core issues. For those who have commented on the footnotes, I must say I am in agreement. I am an academic, and I find them helpful to a certain degree. But, for the lay person, I doubt very seriously they followed the best route. Academics should know where to find all of that information anyway.
In my experience teaching Bible studies in my parish, I think that some lay people find some of the information in the notes interesting. But, they are not coming to Bible study simply as a matter of interest, rather for spiritual benefit. I think that some notes bridging the gap between the ancient world and how to apply lessons gained from these ancient texts in day to day life would have been more appreciated, at least from my Bible study participants.