Monday, April 30, 2018

Fr. Henry Wansbrough Answers Your Questions

Henry Wansbrough, O.S.B., M.A., S.T.L., L.S.S., is an eminent biblical scholar and the General Editor of The New Jerusalem Bible and Revised New Jerusalem Bible. A Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey in northern England, he received an M.A. from the University of Oxford, a Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the University of Fribourg, and a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture in Rome. A member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission from 1997 to 2007, he has published more than twenty books, numerous scholarly articles, and more than a thousand book reviews.

The NJB came about after the 1973 revision of the French JB. The French was revised again in 1998 but never addressed in a corresponding English revision. Does that edition serve as a reference for the RNJB now? If so how? 

I did not make any use of or reference to the 1998 French edition. For the translation I used Nestle-Aland 27 as a basis, and the Stuttgartensia, but not slavishly. In cases of doubt I used the apparatus criticus of these two editions, and in a few cases departed from those editions – not many. For the introductions and notes I simply used my judgment, right or wrong. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I did my best, and still listen attentively to many sources and try to keep up with current scholarship.

Does the RNJB Old Testament more closely follow the Masoretic text than the Jerusalem and New Jerusalem Bible?

I treated the Masoretic Text with great reverence, but kept constantly in mind that the LXX was the original Bible of the Christian Church  

You position the RNJB as a Bible for proclamation. Does that mean you adhere to the Nova Vulgata, per Liturgiam authenticum? If so, how and where does that affect the text away from the witness of the original languages?   

I am not sure that I adhered to the Nova Vulgata as closely as LA would like (certainly on the later books of the OT), but I bore in mind that it was an edition made by serious scholars. The RNJB is not a translation from Latin, but the scholars who toiled over the Nova Vulgata deserve respect, and their decisions are often worth considering. I had constantly in mind that the text should be proudly proclaimed.

Could you comment on the differences between translating by committee, versus working as an individual translator? What advantages or disadvantages might the RNJB enjoy over committee-based translations? 

A major advantage is consistency throughout the volume. Amusingly, despite Alec Jones’ list of contributors, I found many tricks of style constant throughout the original JB, which clearly stemmed from Alec. An individual does at least get the work done! For a committee you need either a brilliant group of dedicated friends (like the three editors of the Jerome Commentary) or unlimited funds and an outstanding chairman (like Bruce Metzger, who, incidentally, took the trouble to thank me for the NJB which was used for the NRSV). Do such Titans still exist?

What is the connection of the RNJB with the Ecole Biblique's "Bible in its Traditions" text (if any)? What is the role of the Ecole with the Jerusalem Bible tradition, at this point? Is the RNJB still a product of the Ecole, or have the two gone their own ways now?  

The RNJB has grown out of the Ecole, not least from my period of study there under such great scholars as Benoit and Boismard, not to mention Barthelemy, under whom I also studied, but it is more through the skills and ways of working acquired at that great institution (building on my Oxford training) than any actual theories. I have differed from all these three scholars just mentioned.

Why did you decide to prefer a formal equivalence style of translation over the more dynamic equivalence style of the original Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible?  

I was persuaded to it partly by the Australian Bishops, especially Mark Coleridge, for whose scholarship I have a high respect. It also shows that the RNJB stands in a great tradition, going back to Wm Tyndale.

Will the Old Testament continue to spell out the Divine Name, or follow the tradition of LORD?  

I don’t know what you mean by ‘spell out the Divine Name’, but we have kept to ‘Lord’ (small caps). I was on the Papal Biblical Commission when it was chaired by Ratzinger. One of his early acts as Pope was to ask us what we would do about this, and we made this decision as a body. I think it is the right decision, and I also have unlimited respect for Benedict XVI as a scholar and as a listener.

If this is essentially a whole new translation then why use “Jerusalem bible” in the title? Why not just give it a completely new translation name? 

1.     It is not wholly new.
2.     I have great respect for the Ecole and a great love for Jerusalem.
3.     Loyalty to DLT
4.     I am, after all, a Jew by birth.

Are discussions underway to revise the British lectionary around this translation? If so, how does Magnum Principiam change the process for approval? Did it allow you any greater freedom in your chosen rendering (vis a vis the preference for the Nova Vulgata mentioned above)? 

I am not party to the discussions of the EW Bishops’ Conference. If they ask me, I shall recommend that they adopt the RNJB. I was consistently conscious of the need for a revised lectionary, and hoped that the RNJB would be judged suitable. Many of the decisions were made with this possibility in mind.

If lectionary use was in mind during the revision process for the RNJB, were you able to consult with any representatives from the bishops' conference concerning the types of translation choices that would be needed to gain final approval? In the same vain, did you have any formal or informal access to information concerning the attempts of adapting the NRSV or the ESV by the ICPELL? 

I was, of course, Executive Secretary of ICPEL, but all our efforts were stymied by the working-methods of the Vatican. That Congregation is now under new management, Archbishop Arthur Roche! But the Congregation can act only on what is submitted to them by the local hierarchy.

Father Wansborough -- you have had a long and splendid career, and have touched many people with your writings and Bible translations. Looking beyond 2019, will you nominate a body or a person to manage future revisions or changes to the English Jerusalem Bible family of translations, or will the RNJB be the final word under the title of the "Jerusalem Bible"?

Thanks for the kind endorsement! I guess that the Lord will provide a scholar or scholars in due time with the necessary skill and enthusiasm to keep the tradition of translation and commentary going. I would not like to predict whether they will feel close enough to the tradition to continue to use the name. 

A big thank you, first of all, to Fr. Henry Wansbrough OSB for taking the time to answer these questions.  In addition, a special thanks to Chris Buckley for helping to facilitate this interview with David Moloney, Editorial Director at Darton, Longman & Todd.   


Jim said...

I have found on the Cokesbury website that (at this time) the release date of the RNJB Bible in the US is April 9, 2019.

The publication date is also noted on the Amazon Canada site. The posted CDN cost is $66.00 for the hardcover and $18.99 for the Kindle edition.

On the Amazon US site, currently the pre-order is only for the Kindle edition at $19.99.

On Bigger Books, a pre-order cost for the hardcover is $41.65.

On the Cokesbury site, the retail cost is listed as $50.00 (hardcover) and a pre-release cost of $35.99


rolf said...

Thanks Timothy, I just saw a five part video interview with Fr. Wansbrough on you tube and enjoyed reading these questions and answers!
I think if there is anyone who is qualified to pull off a revision of the JB/NJB Bibles it is Fr. Wansbrough! Not just because of his education and work in scholarship at Ecole Biblique, Oxford and the Pontifical Biblical Commission, but also the fact that he has already been the general editor of a major Bible revision (NJB)!
I am impressed (so far) with the comparisons of NT readings I have been doing! The RNJB is clear, formal and uses a neutral English that can appeal to the UK, US and other English speaking countries.
I am looking forward to the whole Bible to be released at the end of the year!
Maybe we can question that representative of DLT in the future about what editions of the RNJB will be released?

Unknown said...

I would have preferred if this Bible had been named the Wansbrough Version. It is only faintly associated with the Jerusalem Bible tradition.

rolf said...

It is a revision of the NJB. I have been going through the first chapter of the Gospel of John today comparing the RNJB with the NJB and this is definitely a revision (for the better in my opinion)!

Fr. Neil Xavier O'Donoghue said...

Hi Timothy,

I think that the RNJB is more than "faintly associated" with the Jerusalem Bible tradition. Obviously, it is in English and published in this millennium, unlike the original which is quite old now and was published in French.

It is in clear continuity with the JB and NJB. I invite you to look at the comparisons of the Lectionary passages that I have prepared for the Sundays of Easter. I believe the link between the RNJB and the JB is indisputable, and that the RNJB is simply a better edition for general use today. The original English JB is still in print (I have no idea if the original French edition is still in print).

There is no formal link with the Ecole Biblique or its Bible in its Traditions project (which for some reason is using the New King James Version in English). But given that the original Jerusalem Bible tradition has been replaced with the new digital project. The RNJB is the only serious contender for the legacy of the JB as an actually printed and published Bible in English today

Unknown said...

One senses in Father's words both a deep humility and commitment to his work... He's done much for the Church with his work on the NJB, CTS JB, and RNJB Bible's, let alone everything else he's done.

IMO, he's on a level with Msgr. Ronald Knox and Fr. Raymond Brown as a "Titan" of Biblical scholarship.

Timothy said...

Well said.

rolf said...

Michael I agree!

Unknown said...

I'm certainly going to give this version a chance, but I can wait until the entire Bible is available in hardcover. There's no rush. My skepticism comes from having read so many versions - both Protestant and Catholic - and fallen somewhat for the giddy "talk" about them. For example, if you read the introductory materials accompanying the Jerusalem Bibles (such as the large heavy shell that protects the original Jerusalem Bible), you'll see the same claims made: 'Translated from the original languages using the best manuscripts available, with strict fidelity to the text.' And then, with the appearance of the next version: 'It is apparent that the previous version was not faithful enough nor maintain a consistent vocabulary'. The same is true with the New American Bible line. In the sixties and seventies, cholars jumped to a dynamic equivalence principle in translating, and ever since they've been walking it back to a formal equivalence. My response to this is basically, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've hard it all before." So, contrary to folks on this blog, I definitely do not have a fawning enthusiasm for our translating scholars. I prefer to follow a school of thought, rather than a school of fish.

So, my excitement over the NRJB is rather cool because I know the claim will eventually be made that this new version, too, was not faithful enough, nor did it satisfactorily keep a consistent vocabulary. I do hope it's superb, because I'm always searching and hoping for a fine new version for praying, studying, and teaching purposes. But I'm not a sucker for the claims of scholars.

Carl Hernz said...

The following is my last comment on this site on this issue:

I have official news and evidence from the liturgy office of England and Wales regarding the new Lectionary. As this PDF capture from their new Lectionary shows ( they have already finalized the use of the Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition as the Bible translation for the UK. The RNJB is not going to be used. The finalization of incorporating the RSV-CE 2nd Edition has occurred.--For more information, see

I love the Catholic Church very much and have worked and continue to work alongside the Church in many of its official projects. I know how exciting a new translation can be for Catholic readers, and the work of Wansbrough should not be minimized. I am not against the RNJB in any way.

But never forget that only completed and approved translations would ever be used for liturgical needs. You have excellent, loving, trustworthy scholarship in the CBA, the USCCB and various bishop conferences around the globe that carefully entrust the work of liturgical Biblical transmission to the best in critical scholarship for the Catholic public and world at large. Again, nothing against Wansbrough's work, but there are no plans to incorporate anything into the Catholic liturgy which is not a direct product of Ecole, namely The Bible in It's Traditions.--Adieu.

CWBuckley said...

Well even that's good news. I'm not especially concerned about whether RNJB is adopted for lectionary use.

But I'm confused about your last sentence, Carl:

"There are no plans to incorporate anything into the Catholic liturgy which is not a direct product of Ecole, namely The Bible in It's Traditions"

It sounds like you're equating the RNJB with the Ecole's Bible in Its Traditions. It's not the same text, and it's not connected in any way except through Wansborough's ties to that organization.

May not have been your point, but that's how I read it. So, in case anyone's wondering for the record:

Wansborough's RNJB ≠ Ecole Biblique's Bible In Its Traditions

Two separate texts and projects :-)

Carl Hernz said...


You merely read it incorrectly. I know there are no connections, and I have repeatedly stated such in all my comments regarding the RNJB up to this latest.

Michael Demers said...

If the Canadians can use the NRSV, why can't the British?