Thursday, November 29, 2012

7 Questions: Dr. John Newton of Baronius Press

A special thanks to Dr. John Newton, Editor-in-Chief of Baronius Press, for responding to my questions about their new edition of the Knox Bible.  You can also search the Knox Bible at Bible Gateway

1)  First off, thank you for taking the time to answer the following questions.  I wanted to start off with a question about your involvement with Sacred Scripture. How has Scripture played an important role in your spiritual life?  Has it always been that way?

I have grown in my appreciation of the divine text over the years, and two incidents stand out in particular. The first is the advice of my parish priest during my late teens. At the end of a chat with him he advised me to read the Bible, beginning with the Gospel of John, as that described Our Lord’s incarnation and then to go back to the Old Testament and discover not only the prophecies of Jesus, but also the inheritance we share with the Jewish faith.

The second was during a period I spent working with the Sion Community, which is the biggest provider of Home Missions in the UK. At the time they were running a course in praying the Scriptures, which involved reading and reflecting on the Gospel of Mark. When it came to choosing a version of the Bible I went into the library and saw a copy of Monsignor Knox’s translation. It was a version I had heard lots about, but never actually read, so I selected that one. Knox’s description of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel brought him alive to me in a way no other text has done before or since. Knox’s prose conjured up the events so vividly in my mind that it was like seeing the stories for the first time.

2) How long have you been involved with Baronius Press?  Could you talk a little bit about the history and mission of Baronius Press?

Baronius was set up in 2003 by a gentleman I was at university with – Ashley Paver. He had previously worked in Catholic publishing and had a personal vision of seeing the Douay-Rheims Bible available in a format that was worthy of its venerable text. For Ashley that meant digitally re-typesetting it – which was highly novel when all other versions of the Douay available were facsimiles – and using the highest quality materials: leather for the cover; gilt-edged pages; and so forth. It then expanded into publishing classics of spirituality and liturgical books for the extraordinary form of the Mass and Office – and it was as they were expanding in these areas that I first became involved.

I started working with Baronius Press back in early 2006 doing a bit of part-time writing and editing alongside another post and within a few months I had become Editor-in-Chief, Ashley having moved on from that position sometime before.

In all of its publications the goal was to ensure that books were made to the highest quality – and even Baronius’ paperbacks are smyth sewn.

3) This past month, Baronius Press published the Knox Holy Bible, which hasn’t been done in over fifty years.  Could you talk a little bit about the process by which the Knox Bible was produced?  How long of a project was it?  Who were your main collaborators in this project?

The project was quite a lengthy one. To start with we had to find the right edition - as Knox also published a couple of early drafts before it was approved by the hierarchy – and then we had to convert the text from hard copy into digital format. This was perhaps one of the longest tasks; it meant scanning the entire Knox Bible, and then painstakingly checking and correcting any errors. We had a number of people working on this to ensure the accuracy of the text.

 The project took over four years, but not all of this time was spent on the Knox by any means, our small team was working on several other projects at the same time, including our 1961 Breviary which consumed an awful lot of our time.

The Diocese of Westminster was extremely helpful in getting Mons. Knox’s translation back into print, and we were especially grateful that Archbishop Nichols granted a new imprimatur before we went to press.

4) One of the best features of the Knox Bible is its outstanding look and readability of the text, along with the quality production value.  Could you talk a little bit about how Baronius Press went about producing such a beautiful volume?  Also, are there any plans in the future to have the Knox Bible come in a flexible leather edition?  Compact edition?
We have always been keen with any title we do to ensure that it is beautiful and readable.  We still aim to produce books of the very highest quality that befit the texts inside.

I’m not too familiar with the actual binding process – as we contract skilled craftsmen to do that, it’s not something we do ourselves – so I’d hesitate to say too much about that.

At the moment there are no plans to produce the Knox in any other editions, but I’m sure we’ll be looking at how sales go and listening to feedback from our customers.

5) Dr. Scott Hahn wrote the foreword to this volume.  How did this come about? 

We wanted to get a foreword to this volume by a leading biblical scholar. As Dr. Hahn is a convert, as  Mons. Knox was, we thought he would be ideal for the job. He is rather tricky to get hold of, but we knew a close associate of his, who put us in contact with him. He was delighted to be able to contribute this foreword and somehow managed to fit it in with his large number of commitments.

6) In general, is there anything else that you would like to tell my readers about the Knox Bible or Baronius Press?

In my personal opinion the Knox is one of the best translations of the Scriptures. Bringing it back into print has been a bit of a personal quest. When I first floated the idea most people at Baronius thought it was a crazy idea – as we were publishing the Douay-Rheims and they couldn’t see the logic in publishing two translations from the Vulgate. But to give the others their due they did take soundings from other people who worked with us and Robert Asch was so overwhelmingly enthusiastic that they decided that the project might have possibilities after all. So they asked a number of priests around the world, and were surprised to find that everyone they spoke to in the UK and the USA was strongly in favour of bringing the Knox back into print.

We also decided to use the one column layout that was used in early versions of the Knox Bible. This is how the original Rheims New Testament was laid out back in the sixteenth century and so typesetting it this was reflects a very old Catholic practice – as well as making the text easier to read in many people’s opinion.

Enthusiasm for the Knox Bible has been widespread – and the enthusiasm has come from some unexpected quarters, such as Bible Gateway, who we worked with to provide an electronic, searchable form of the text on their website.

7) Finally, do you have a favorite passage or verse from the Knox version of the Bible?

Just one passage or verse? That’s a tricky question. If forced to choose just one I think I’d select Mark 1:19-39 which was the passage that really brought it all to life for me back when I was living with the Sion Community:

As soon as they had left the synagogue, they came into Simon and Andrew’s house; James and John were with them. The mother of Simon’s wife was lying sick there, with a fever, and they made haste to tell him of her; whereupon he went close and took her by the hand, and lifted her up. And all at once the fever left her, and she began ministering to them. And when it was evening and the sun went down, they brought to him all those who were afflicted, and those who were possessed by devils; so that the whole city stood crowding there at the door. And he healed many that were afflicted with diseases of every sort, and cast out many devils; to the devils he would give no leave to speak, because they recognized him. Then, at very early dawn, he left them, and went away to a lonely place, and began praying there. Simon and his companions went in search of him: and when they found him, they told him, All men are looking for thee. And he said to them, Let us go to the next country-towns, so that I can preach there too; it is for this I have come. So he continued to preach in their synagogues, all through Galilee, and cast the devils out.


Anonymous said...

Being off topic, I would suppose that the biblical style and parlance of KJV can be considered as the gold standard in English Bible translation. How did I say so?

Protestants: They have great esteem for the KJV itself, while modern man has respect for the NASB and ESV, which stands in the lineage of KJV.

Catholics: We Catholics consider great respect for RSV-CE, being the version used by the Pope, used in the Catechism, and I suppose the only version somehow the most compliant to Liturgiam Authenticam as regards to other Catholic versions.

Orthodox: They have chosen the NKJV as basis for the New Testament of the Orthodox Study Bible.

It follows then, that the style of KJV is the gold standard of Biblical parlance. Maybe in a production of an ecumenical Bible, a Bible from the lineage of KJV would be best.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know about Knox's version of Ecclesiasticus 51:18-37? Look at the text and you'll see that Knox began each sentence with an initial word following the sequence of the alphabet. Each incipit to each sentence is in bold as well. "A...Before...Came...Down...Ear...Further...Good...Hardily...I...Kept...Long...Much...Never...O...Parley...Rather...Suffice...To...Unlaborious...Would...Your"

Anyone know if Knox discussed this anywhere?


Timothy said...


You should see what he does in the Book of Lamentations. I'll see if I can find a quote from Knox about he handled these acrostics.

Biblical Catholic said...

So...they got the Knox Bible on Bible Gateway, that's good, very good, getting the text on Bible Gateway will go a long way towards establishing the Knox Bible as a mainstream modern Bible...I would also like to see e-book and audio book editions as well....

Leonardo said...


After observing the book of Lamentations in the Knox version and the other versions, including the Bible in the Vatican page, I think that Knox intended to translate also the style. But, If one compares what one verse says with another version, there is no much in common.

Jonny said...

I am siding with Msgr. Knox on the issue of the King James Bible being the “gold standard” of english. He says in chapter 2 in “On Englishing the Bible”: “The Authorized Version is good English only because English writers, for centuries, have treated it as the standard for good English. In itself, it is no better English than the Douay […] Only the Douay was written in the language of exiles, which became, with time, an exiled language.”

The modern versions that are supposedly “official” or “authorized” revisions of the KJV are really a far cry from the KJV itself. The RSV, as the prime example, is closer to the Douay version in many cases, resulting from the critical text behind it and more accurate language choices in interpretation. The RSV was an attempt to supplant the KJV in mainstream Protestant Christianity with a much more accurate and readable english Bible without totally divorcing the Protestant heritage behind it. Obviously, that did not, nor cannot happen as long as there are denominations that have a private interpretation of “the infallible King James Bible” as the core of their theology!

Perhaps it also needs to be stated that the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, was not an attempt by the Catholic Church to declare the english of the KJV superior to that of the Douay. It was actually done in the spirit of Christian unity, so all Christians could have in the “Word of God [...] common heritage and unifying link […] and those engaged in theological discussion could appeal to the same authoritative text.” (From the RSV-CE introduction.) Well, that went over poorly as most (if not all) Protestant denominations have abandoned the RSV in favor of many, many, other versions that have yielded little substantial positive change.

At this time, an official Catholic “ecumenical Bible” seems neither desired nor possible. What seems desirable now are Bible translations that are more faithful to Catholic interpretation and tradition, hence the RSV-2CE Study Bible and the forthcoming Re-revised New American Bible and revised notes! It is my opinion that the RSV-2CE, especially the study Bible edition, will have a preeminent place among Bible reading Catholics for a very long time. Yes, the textual basis of the RSV-2CE is technically the KJV, but really what it did was preserve many good things about the KJV and the Douay in language that is modern enough to read easily, yet still retaining its classic “style”, which I think is preferable to the NRSV, ESV and other spin-offs.

So what then, of the Knox Bible? It is a good alternate version of the Vulgate, although I wish Knox would have kept traditional phrases whenever possible. I like the RSV-2CE better in places, and the Knox in others. But in the never ending search for the perfect modern english Catholic Bible, it looks quite unlikely that the Douay or the RSV-(1 or 2)CE will ever be far from the focal point… however I am not quite that confident about the Knox. I am confident that Baronius Press would do very well to reformat the Douay-Rheims text. If the paragraphing and punctuation alone were updated, it would be incredibly easier to read, and promote much new appreciation for this sadly neglected translation. I will save my biggest thank you to Baronius press if they can pull that off. In the meantime, here is my big thank you to Dr. Newton for commenting on the Catholic Bibles Blog, and to Baronius Press for everything else, and in addition: here is my official request to see to see the Catechism of the Council of Trent back in hardcover.

ThisVivian said...

Hear, hear.

Biblical Catholic said...

The RSV wasn't an attempt to 'supplant' the KJV, if anything it was an attempt to supplant the ASV, which it effectively did, as the 1901 ASV is long out of print and basically irrelevant. But even then, it wasn't intended to simply eliminate it.

Although, if the goal had been to eliminate the KJV, the RSV actually did a pretty good job of moving towards that goal. When initially published, and for the first 10 years or so of its publication, it outsold the KJV by more than 2 to 1. It is difficult to find sales figures for the RSV or any other book, but I have seen estimates that by the time a revision of the RSV was ordered (in 1974, 22 years after its publication) the RSV had sold more than 215 million copies, just in the United States. That was actually higher than the US population at the time. By 1974, the RSV was no longer the best selling Bible by any means, by that time the RSV had already been itself outsold by The Living Bible, and then the #1 spot was taken up in the early 80's by the NIV, and the NIV has been #1 since then.

The RSV did kick the KJV out of the top spot in 1952, and the KJV has never returned to that position since, usually falling to #3 or #4 in most years (although on places like it is actually much, much lower than that) often falling out of the top 10 altogether. that sense, the RSV actually did remove the, of the top 10 best selling Bibles, the KJV is the only one that has not had a new edition or major revision in the last 30 years. The preference today is clearly for modern language Bibles, and the KJV has been reduced to a niche product. Indeed, I do wonder where the KJV would be on the sales list if not for all the 'KJV Only' churches out there boosting the sales.

ThisVivian said...

I really think KJV-O is more of a fringe phenomenon than people give it credit for - I doubt there are enough KJV-Os in the USA to shift the sales figures significantly, though I could be wrong.

I think most of the sales, as much as I would hope come from men like myself, who believe it to be a somewhat superior and undoubtedly more-beautiful Bible, do not - they likely come from older people who grew up with the KJV, since it's been well-established that 1) older people are more religious, on the whole, 2) women tend to be more religious than men, and 3) women live marginally longer than men.

Biblical Catholic said...

Well...given that the KJV is just about the only Bible sold at places like Walmart (well, the KJV and the NIV) and Target I have to think that most KJV sales are probably by people who say 'hey, let's buy a Bible' and just grab whatever is available off of the shelf....

I don't think most people actually know all that much about the Bible, and they likely don't even know that there are different versions....The Bible is simply 'the Bible' a very large extent, the KJV is simply 'the default' rather than something buy because they put a lot of thought and consideration into it.

I do wonder however what the KJV's long term prospects its 300th anniversary in 1911, the KJV made up about 60-70% or more of all Bible sales and was #1 by a large margin, at its 400th anniversary it was in 3rd or 4th place in most years and declining in sales.....where will it be by it's 500th anniversary? Probably out of the top 10, if not out of the top 20.

ThisVivian said...

But, in 1911, there was only one true competitor: the ERV and its spin-off the ASV, which were used, as the NRSV is today, almost solely in seminaries (remember that most denominations had not yet abandoned Christianity in 1911: that would come during J Greshen Machen's era a decade later).

Now, even if KJVs only have 20% of the market, they have at least forty competitors, of which five to ten are well-known and popular (ESV, NIV, NLT, NASB, NKJV, MSG, etc.; leaving out the RSV because no one but Catholics use it any more, and the NRSV because it's used mainly in academia, whether undergraduate or graduate, as the sideline Protestant groups are small enough so as to not be able to heavily influence sales figures, I believe: NCC near bankruptcy is a point-in-case).

Biblical Catholic said...

It is true that the KJV faces a lot more competition today, but a large part of the reason why it faces more competition is the widespread success of the RSV.

There were alternatives to the KJV in 1911, but the only people interested in them were scholars. The common people wanted the KJV. And most Protestant denominations in the United States used the KJV in church, and using anything else was unthinkable for most. Catholics didn't use any English Bible in Mass because the readings were in Latin from the Vilgate. To the extent that Catholics used an English Bible it would be the Douay Rheims.

Then came the RSV in 1952, and it knocked the KJV out of the top spot. It was widely adopted by most mainline Protestant churches as 'official' and became popular with the people in the pews. It faced some opposition from fundamentalist and conservative Protestants, but for the most part it was very well received, even in the more conservative circles. In many of the more conservative Protestant churches, the KJV may have been used 'officially' but unofficially most of the laity used the RSV. This was definitely the case in the Lutheran churches, the Lutheran church Missouri Synod didn't officially drop the KJV until 1982, but by the mid 50's, most of the laity used the RSV for private reading and study. Indeed, the popularity of the RSV within Lutheranism is still so strong that the LCMS switched to the ESV in 2001, because it was a conservative revision of the RSV, which is the Bible most Lutherans had been REALLY using the 50's.

The enthusiasm and excitement which greeted the RSV was quite different from its predecessor the ASV, which was used in seminaries and universities, but not used in church and about which there was very little excitement even at its first printing.

Because the RSV became such a big hit right out of the gate, it was for most American Protestants the first Bible in modern English that they had ever read, lot alone bought, that it opened the floodgates. Because of the success of the RSV, suddenly many more modern translations started to appear. And eventually, the RSV started to be destroyed by the very phenomenon it unleashed. Due both to the conservative criticism of the RSV as 'a liberal Bible' and also due to the increased competition from other versions, by 1977 the RSV had fallen to only 5% market share, a victim of its own success, everybody who wanted one bought one when it came out, and it couldn't build on top of that.

By 1989 with the release of the NRSV, the panache of the RSV had passed, and the NRSV stoked little excitement or curiosity and quickly became a niche item that became increasingly difficult to find, until it was revived by a great marketing campaign by Harper One in 2007-2008.

But my point is that, the KJV has fallen BECAUSE of the success of the RSV. It's like the 3 minute mile, no one could do it for years, then Roger Bannister does it, and suddenly everyone can do it. In the same way, no Bible could crack the dominance of the KJV, then the RSV did, now everyone can do it.