Thursday, May 28, 2009

Interjection on Footnotes and Introductions

I'm sorry for the lack of blog posts recently. I was ill. It's no excuse though. I should push myself. So enough about that, and onto the post itself.

In talking about translating, it occurred to me to discuss one of the more controversial "helps for the reader:" footnotes and introductions. Most modern Bibles have them to one extent or another. General Bibles in the Protestant tradition have very few footnotes, and these only show variant readings like "Cn. Hbr rejoice" to indicate that the text has been corrected, because the underlying Hebrew word would be nonsensical or at least not be as good a choice. I'll discuss that whole issue in another blog post. For now, the question is about the utility and efficacy of footnotes. Protestant Bibles tend to keep footnotes to a minimum for a variety of reasons. One is that they don't want to push a Calvinist or Arminian interpretation on the reader (this was one of the criticisms of the Living Bible, which has extensive footnotes. Calvinists objected to Kenneth Taylor's Arminian take.) There is also a fear of trying to do too much of the Holy Ghost's work for the reader. And there is also the issue of the trouble history that Protestant translations have had with footnotes. The Authorized Version (aka the KJV) was, in part, created because the Geneva Bible (the popular version at the time) had extensive notes of a staunch Calvinist bent that offended many of the high church types in the CofE. There was a huge bust up over the notes, and one of the goal King Jimmy had was to create a Bible translation that wasn't encumbered by the notes. Thus, most translations in the AV tradition (e.g. RV, NASB, RSV, NRSV etc) have very few footnotes to speak of.

Bibles in the Catholic tradition tend to have more footnotes, and often more detailed. This is due to long history of requiring the notes (I'm currently looking for the exact reference, but I don't have it at my finger tips). These notes range from the highly polemical of Bishop Challoner's 18th century notes to the more "higher critical" of the New American Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible. A good blend of the two approaches can be seen with the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. The footnotes on the pages are the sparse footnotes about translation issues, and relegated to end notes at the end of each testament are longer explanatory notes about the theological significance of certain passages. Relegating them to endnotes is not ideal and flipping to the back certainly disrupts the flow of the reading. Still, when compared to other modern translations they are much more orthodox.

Introductions are more common among both traditions. The Good New Bible, the New Living Translation and other Protestant translations have them, and of course the major modern Catholic Translations have them too (as did Bishop Challoner's revision of the Douay-Rheims). Introductions can have many of the same pitfalls and benefits as footnotes. Sometimes they can be used to advance a polemical or doctrinal understanding of the whole book or groups of books. And just like footnotes they can be used to push the higher-critical stance as being the only stance. Ideally, introductions should guide the reader to seeing an overall structure to the book under review and point out major themes. When one is used, as many Christians are, to quoting various Scriptures out of context, it can be valuable to call the reader's attention to work as a whole from which these verses have been excerpted.

Of the Bibles to which I have ready and frequent access, the New American Bible's introductions and footnotes are generally poor. It is clear to me that there were several footnotists, a few seem to have been closet orthodox Catholics, but for the most part the introductions and the footnotes portray Seventies higher critical scholarship as definitive and authoritative. Of course, that also betrays one of the pitfalls of footnotes and introductions, especially that try to shill for the higher critical side: they become hopelessly dated. Also rather than being faith-affirming, they can be faith-denying. One of the footnotes that caused my palm to impact my forehead each and every time I read it is, is the footnote to Jhn 15:26. The footnote rather amazingly reads "Whom I will send: in ⇒ John 14:16, ⇒ 26 the Paraclete is to be sent by the Father, at the request of Jesus. Here the Spirit comes from both Jesus and the Father in mission; there is no reference here to the eternal procession of the Spirit." Alas for the translators, but this is not how this verse has been understood by the Fathers up until the present day. It is true that it does speak of the granting of the Paraclete at Pentacost, but that does not mean it has zero reference to the eternal procession, because specific instance can be done with reference to, in accord with, or because of the more general instance. In his masterly treatment of Pneumatology, St Thomas Aquinas frequently quotes the Fathers who in turn frequently quote this verse (among others) to show the eternal procession. A better footnote might have been to the effect "While this certainly is Christ's promise of the Paraclete on Pentacost, it has also been seen by the Fathers and others as affirming the eternal procession." And then perhaps some salient quotes from the Fathers would be helpful too. The NAB is also too easily enamoured of the documentary hypothesis with respect to the Torah. They also are enamoured of a similar approach to Samuel and Kings.

A better system, but by no means perfect, can be found in the New Jerusalem Bible. They are also somewhat enamoured of these approaches, particularly the documentary hypothesis, but they generally do a much better job of acknowledging that this or that approach us not the only, and that other solutions to, for example, the synoptic problem exist. Unlike the NAB, the NJB doesn't seem to think that much of the evidence for Luke and Acts being of late authorship is any stronger than early authorship. The NAB takes Christ's references to the Temple's Destruction as proof positive that the books had to be after the Seventies AD. But the NJB points out that there's no detail in the predictions that could not have been seen in the Thirties with even a modicum of historical awareness. The footnotes and introductions though still do try to present a higher critical approach, although not as stridently and not as if it is the only approach. The NJB is better in regard over all other translations: explaining the translation choices. They discuss the problems with the Masoretic text and discuss many of the main variants, and usually show by means if vowel changes or different division of words how they arrived at their translation choice.

Of particular note, when it comes to introductions, is the Oxford Catholic Study Bible. I admit I have not yet seen the Second Edition, but I found the first edition to be of mixed blessing. For really exploring things like the structure of the Pentateuch and such it was fantastic. But it was even more deficient in "faith destroying" ways too. For example, there was an article in it about the need to revise the Scriptures and the Lectionary to excise troubling passages from a Feminist and Marxist perspective (e.g. Eph 5:22 and its ilk). Again, palm intercepts forehead.

As I stated earlier, the RSV-CE has generally orthodox notes, but they are too few in my opinion and relegated to the end. As I said, endnotes are not ideal as they disturb the flow of reading. Still, of all of the footnotes, they are the best.

Of the more Protestant translations, the GNT is decent when it comes to introductions. Although I often detect a subtle phenomenon. The sort of .... "I am being diplomatic here about higher criticism; in reality, I believe it, but I am going to couch my words so as not to upset you."

As a segue into my next post, I will do a little aside about the penchant in some translations to move bits of scripture around. I will discuss this a bit more in the next post, hence the segue. But take Job 24:18-24. I'll discuss the passage more in the next post, but the NJB moves this passage into Bildad's speech (placing it at the end of Job 25). I find this very annoying, because it is not always clear where various sections came from or why they were put there. The footnotes are spotty at addressing this. The GNT does a better job by putting a little note and saying "the text isn't clear who is speaking in this section, but it is often assigned to Bildad."

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