Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Translations

A friend asked me to compare the NASB, MKJV and NKJV. I have to first state that the reason I didn't touch on many of these types of translations is that they weren't released for the Catholic market and don't contain the Deuterocanon. I only included the KJV in the previous post due to its wording's wide familiarity. Anyway, here's my response for my friend:

I'll get the MKJV out of the way, because I know almost nothing about it. I note it uses Jehovah for the name of God, but aside from that I'd have to sit down and flip to different passages to see how it handles this or that Greek phrase.

The NKJV I am more familiar with. I have a Gideon's New Testament and Psalms, and the Gideon's use the NKJV almost exclusively. The NKJV revised much of the spelling and grammar to make it more contemporary while keeping the same flow and as much of the same aesthetic quality as the KJV. This caused some problems, because in correcting they altered some well-loved passages to conservative Protestants. One that immediately comes to mind is Acts 17:22. The KJV says "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious." Whereas the NKJV says "Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;" Conservative Christians balked, thinking this was an error. Actually, the NKJV got it right. The KJV translators couldn't possibly imagine Paul praising the Athenians for paganism, but that is exactly what he was doing. He was getting behind them before he threw a curve at them (he says, mixing his metaphors).


1 A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

My only fault with it is twofold. One ... no apocrypha/deuterocanon ... That is a show-stopper for me. Two, it, like all KJV derivatives, is too slavish to Textus Receptus. At the time of the KJV that was the best text anyone could use. But more recent scholarship, and by recent I mean from the 18th century onward, has shown that Textus Receptus is serious deficient in some areas and has bits and pieces in others that were not in the original. I also find it ironic that so many Conservative Christians cling to TR, when it was largely an invention of a Catholic Priest, Erasmus of Rotterdam ... yes, that Erasmus.

As for the NASB. It's an extremely literal version of Scripture, to the point where it is nearly unreadable at times in English. Indeed, a criticism of an earlier version than the NASB applies also to the NASB itself: Strong in Greek, weak in English. Psalm 23 won't show this very well, and so I will try to hunt down a passage that is so slavish to the older languages' syntax as to be virtually unreadable in English.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Translations Compared

My friend Ros raised the issue of which version of the Bible to buy. Another friend remarked "the one you will read" a la Billy Graham. But I hope to offer some additional guidance.

First, a warning, two of the translations actually spell out the name of God. This might cause offence.

Second, an explanation. I think it makes it easy to see the differences by comparing how each translation treats a common and well-known passage from the Bible: Psalm 23

The King James Version, more properly the Authorised Version, is probably the loveliest of all the translation. It is not without problems. I think of the end of Isaiah 13 almost immediately where the KJV translators translated dragons and satyrs. But for sheer aesthetic value, the 1611 version of the KJV (with Apocrypha) is the pinnacle of aesthetic and literal consideration.


1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

But the KJV, for all its beauty, is not a Catholic translation, per se. For its contemporary we turn to the Douay-Rheims. It is not nearly as lovely all of the time. The below quote is proof. The D-R translators were as slavish to the Latin as the KJV translators could be the to the Greek of the NT. And that's important. The D-R is a translation of the Vulgate, and although Bishop Challoner revised it to be closer to the original languages it still suffers from an over dependence on the Latin.


1 (22-1) A psalm for David. The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. 2 (22-2) He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment: 3 (22-3) He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake. 4 (22-4) For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me. 5 (22-5) Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebreateth me, how goodly is it! 6 (22-6) And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

Many years later the Revised Standard Version, one of a long line of updates to the KJV was produced with a version made available for Catholics. It is among the best permitted for Catholics, and is an even better translation than the Protestant version. The Protestant version has numerous problems in the New Testament (Holy Spirit is an it; the Pericope Auldterae, i.e. John 7:53-8:11 is in a footnote, and so on). The Catholic version could not obtain the imprimatur until these were fixed. It suffers from several problems still though. The RSV still uses thees and thous when referring to God, even though Hebrew does not contain this distinction, and it is one of many translations to not translate Is 7:14 as virgin. Still many conservative Catholics prefer this version or its revision by Ignatius Press for its overall fidelity to the original languages. It also still maintains a high aesthetic style.


1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; 2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

More recently the RSV has been updated with a version again prepared for Catholics and another for Orthodox. The NRSV suffers from a number of translation problems, not least of which is its decision to often impute politically correct and gender neutral readings on a text where to do so obscures the meaning.


1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

The official Catholic Bible in the United States is the New American Bible. This is the version all the readings at Mass are drawn from. So far all the versions I have cited have maintained a high aesthetic style, and the NAB is the first to have very pedestrian and sometimes even ugly lines of text. Psalm 23 is almost not up to the task of showing this. But if you've been reading along then you know this Psalm has a natural rhythm, not unsurprising for poetry. The NAB merely makes these declarative statements with no eye for aesthetics.


1 A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
2 In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
3 you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
4 Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
5 You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Outside the United States, like in Britain and Ireland, the Mass readings are taken from the Jerusalem Bible. While in fresh, modern text, the translators very consciously tried to maintain a literary quality. They retained J.R.R. Tolkien has a translator, although he demurred in later years as to the extent of his contribution. Nevertheless, his influence is clearly evident. This version is still quite controversial for, among other things, deciding to spell out all of God's names. Usually the name of God is obscured by The LORD and so on. Here it is spelled out, although with the popular conjectural pronunciation. Interestingly, in the Mass readings these are returned to The LORD. Also, this version is one of few to split the difference in Is 7:14 by translating almah as "maiden."

Also, its footnotes and introductions were enormously controversial, because they advanced the then still new High Criticism approach. Nowadays you can't actually get the version with those notes. The only version of the JB available is called the "Rearder's Edition."


1 Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 In meadows of green grass he lets me lie. To the waters of repose he leads me;
3 there he revises my soul. He guides me by paths of virtue for the sake of his name.
4 Though I pass through a gloomy valley, I fear no harm; beside me your rod and your staff are there, to hearten me.
5 You prepare a table before me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over.
6 Ah, how goodness and kindness pursue me, every day of my life; my home, the house of Yahweh, as long as I live!

In the 1980s, the JB was revised. The notes were no less controversial, and they joined the chorus of translations that translate almah as "young girl." Moreover, much of the literary quality was sacrificed under the pretense of increasing accuracy. It also introduced more "inclusive language" although not to the extent of the NRSV. The result is a now uglier and less accurate translation of Scripture.


1 [Psalm Of David] Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me
3 to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.
4 Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.
5 You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over.
6 Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come.

The next two translations are firmly in the camp of "thought for thought" translations.

The first one, the Good News Translation, which until the 2000s was called Today's English Version, is very easy to read with simple language. It has a kind of aesthetic quality all its own. The simplistic language is intended for all ages, especially children and people who do not Speak English as a first language. One of the benefits of a version like this is that people who come to it not knowing what predestination or justification mean, are not necessarily going to be put off by these versions. Te Word is thus more accessible. The problem is that the simplicity can also allow the biases of the translators to get in the way. One other thing to note is that the GNT, when they changed the name also introduced inclusive language, abut again, not to the extent of the NRSV.


1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. 2 He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water. 3 He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised. 4 Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me. 5 You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim. 6 I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.

Finally is the Living Bible. I include it because Our Sunday Visitor sells a Catholic version where they received permission from Tyndale to paraphrase the Deuterocanonical books and include them. The Living Bible is not a translation, it's a paraphrase, what one man (in this case) says each line means not what the line says. It too has a style all its own, and was quite controversial in its day, no less because he had an individual in the Old Testament cuss.


Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!
2,3 He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He restores my failing health. He helps me do what honors him the most.
4 Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.
5 You provide delicious food for me in the presence of my enemies. You have welcomed me as your guest; blessings overflow!
6 Your goodness and unfailing kindness shall be with me all of my life, and afterwards I will live with you forever in your home.

As you can see there's a wide variety, but none of them are perfect. Some are much less worthy than others. And I haven't touched on the versions where the Church has given approval to only the New Testament and Psalms versions (which I could have done since my example is Psalm 23).

I hope this helps to give an idea of the ups and downs, and I of course will answer any questions in the combox.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More on the Development of the Canon

Before continuing with my history of the development of the canon, I feel it somewhat important to answer a basic question. If we say that the period of the Councils, like Carthage, Hippo and Rome, defined the OT and NT canons, we do have to answer "which OT canon?" Alexandrian or Palestinian? The Alexandrian canon is also called the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX for the Seventy translators who supposedly translated it) and the Palestinian is the 39 books no one disputes.

This is an important question, because many of the Fathers considered the LXX to be inspired. Justin Martyr and St Cyril of Jerusalem come immediately the mind as advancing this view. St Cyril even goes so far as to say that it was not done by the agency of human wisdom but entirely as inspired by the Holy Ghost. He explicitly says this.

This helps to explain why the Eastern Churches accepted the LXX entirely, including all four Maccabees, all the Esdrases, Odes and so on. The West, as I said, adopted the Alexandrian canon only to an extent. As I said before, they had a two-tiered system. Of the 39 books, they largely accepted those as being canonical without exception. But they also inherited some books from the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers and for this reason called the second tier Ecclesiastical. St Cyril, whom I mentioned before, in saying the LXX was inspired, also tells the people to whom he wrote that not to gainsay the books handed down by the Apostles, because "Children of the Church" should not question their "Fathers." But again, this all had to do with the context of what was read out in the churches. As an aside, and to bring Jerome back into this, he was widely criticised for his new Translation into Modern language. People had gotten to like their old translation that sounded very archaic and could only be appreciated by some, especially those with an education. Sound familiar?

By the time of the aforementioned Councils, things had changed enough that the distinction was dropped.

What resulted was a text that could be used to settle disputes, but the important thing to note is that it wasn't Scripture that ultimately settled the disputes but the Ecumenical Councils making use of Scripture. The Canonisation of Scripture was meant to serve the needs of the Church, not the Church serve Scripture.

This served the Church well for centuries. Scripture inspired a rich prayer-life of recitation of the Psalms, Proverbs, and so on. The pericopes of Scripture became so well known as to inspire art throughout the ages. And of all the books, when the Printing Press came about, what was published first? The Vulgate Bible.

Then came the Reformation and the first challenges to the canon in 1100 years. Why? Well, to an extent there's a very simple and logical reason. Suppose you have determined that no institution of Man, no matter how Divinely instituted can be free from the Fall. So you decide that something immutable and outside the structure should be the element to which you appeal. Hence sola scriptura. Since Fallen Man could not be trusted, but the Word of God was unchanging, so now it was the Word of God itself that held the final Authority. But if you're going to have a final Authority, you need to decide which one that is.

Now, cynics charge that the Reformers removed the books that they found disagreed with their position. Exploring that charge is another post entirely. But suffice it to say we can presume their sincerity. If they looked back throughout time they found that the only books of the canon that never met with any resistance in the Old Testament was the Palestinian canon. The New Testament is a different and sometimes fascinating story. Suffice it to say, if we went with some of the first reactions, our New Testament would be a lot smaller. But again, another whole post, and one filled with nuance upon nuance.

But this invites the question "Who gets to decide?" In all previous times it was the Church who decided. So Trent took up something never before deemed necessary. See in the Patristic period the Ecumenical Councils thought it went without saying that the Councils of Hippo, Carthage and Rome had sufficiently dealt with the question. Nowadays we'd liken it to the Supreme Court of the US determining that the lower courts got it right and see no need to take up the question. But with Trent it was different. We had a huge portion of North Europe saying that some books were not to be read with equal reverence and accepted as equally inspired. The position since the Patristic period had been, if not de jure, at least de facto the opposite.

So Trent took up what all its predecessors had seen unnecessary to do and it issued its now famous decree that all of the books in the Vulgate were to be accepted as equally inspired etc. In essence the Council of Trent finally put the seal of an Ecumenical Council to decisions taken and accepted in the Patristic period. Although the Vulgate was held in reverence by the Council, what they really said is that it was not the Vulgate for the Vulgate's sake, but the Vulgate because it was a correct representation of the correct canon. And thus the differences today between the Protestant and Catholic Bibles (and indeed the Eastern Bibles which I touched on earlier).

Some of my friends lament the fact that the Apocrypha has been somewhat disregarded nowadays. The Reformers, trying to ape the Fathers, considered the Apocrypha in a high place although not canonical per se. But there was a difference between the Reformers and the Fathers. The Fathers never had sola scriptura. And so their two-tiered approach could survive. But under sola scriptura if it's not canonical it eventually will be excised as "extra-biblical". And thus the eventually leaving behind of the Apocrypha and even the naked hostility to it as a collection of "Romish books" are perfectly understandable. Obviously I don't agree, but it is a logical consequence of what the Reformers did.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Development of the Canon of Scripture

To understand the development of the canon, which I touched on a little in the previous post, we have to understand what the Fathers saw as important and how that changed.

Before the Council of Nicaea, the Fathers (the Ante-Nicene Fathers), especially the Apostolic Fathers (those Fathers who knew the Apostles personally) had an interesting way of approaching this subject. For them, what was important about Scripture was which ones were to be read in church. But what we learn is that many churches allowed a wide variety of works to be read in church that later did not make it into the canon: like the Shepherd by Hermas, Pope Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians, and the Didache to name a few. Some that did make it into the canon of Scripture were contested from the earliest days, this is why some Churches in the East -- to this day -- do not have Revelation in their Bibles. The doctrinal/dogmatic argument-ender for the Ante-Nicene Fathers was "the Apostolic Witness." If anyone could demonstrate conclusively that the Apostles taught X instead of Y ... end of discussion! Scripture was used to corroborate the Apostolic Witness, especially the Pauline Corpus. After all, Paul was an Apostle, and if he taught it, it confirmed the other Apostles taught it, since he learned from them. If Papias or Polycarp claimed that John taught X, that was that. Scripture, while important for educating churchgoers, especially catechumens (they spilled a lot of ink debating which books and which pericopes should be shown to the catechumens) the doctrinal discussion-stoppers were the Apostolic Witness.

But by the time of the Council of Nicaea, indeed the whole reason for it really, the Apostolic Witness was becoming harder to discern from spurious accounts. All of those who knew the apostles and those who knew them were dead. So the Church needed to come up with a way of maintaining right belief (orthodoxia) in union with the Apostolic tradition. This spurred them to determine which Scriptures were canonical and which writings were merely inspired. They would know the canonical Scriptures because they agreed with the Apostolic Witness.

Here are the criteria they used. First and foremost, these Scriptures had to be read by all of the churches and not just some. This seems to affirm a congregationalist polity. But in reality this was a simple, common sense rubric. If all of the churches read these Scriptures it is because they were either taught to do so by the Apostles or they conform to the Apostolic Teaching. The Gospels are a good example of this concept. Not only did they have to deal primarily with Jesus (some contemporary Gospels dealt with other people as well. Luke is the closest to this of the canonical Gospels. He spends quite a bit of time on Jesus' relatives. Other Gospels that did not end up being considered canonical spent more time on others than Luke), and they had to agree completely with what the Apostles taught about Jesus. So the synoptics and John got in, but Gospels were Jesus elevated Mary Magdalene above the Apostles or where Judas was the Good Guy did not, because they disagreed with the Apostolic Teaching.

There was also another consideration that was very important to the Fathers. Nowadays we'd consider this silly superstition, but they took it seriously. Basically, the number of books in the OT had to equal the number of Hebrew letters, and the number of NT books had to equal the number of Greek letters. Here's one example:

There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the Epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.

-St Athanasius, 39th Festal Letter

Indeed, in the same Festal letter, Athanasius describes what then went on in their minds when they realised they had books left over. Essentially, they had three designations: Canonical, Ecclesiastical, and Apocryphal. Nowadays, we'd call them Protocanonical, Deuterocanonical and Pseudopigriphal. In this second category they included the Old Testament Deuterocanon, of course, but they also included a NT variety, which often included the Shepherd, Clement's Epistle, and so on. They called it Ecclesiastical, because the Apostolic Fathers had ordered them to be read in church. This is behind Jerome's remark in his prologue in my previous post.

By the Councils of Hippo, Carthage, Rome etc it was decided, with respect to the OT, to leave off the artificial designation of canonical and ecclesiastical, and instead to include them altogether. The New Testament fared differently. After much debate certain disputed works were excised and others included.

The purpose for doing all of this though was simple. If the Apostles and their immediate successors are not present to ask about certain points, we need a base text upon which we can debate. Then when the Arians and Nestorians make their claim, we'll have one work to consult. If what they claim is not therein, they're wrong.

(continued tomorrow)

Jerome and the Deuterocanon

I have recently been studying Kevin Edgecomb's translation of the Prologues to the Vulgate.

I find these very interesting for a number of reasons. For one, they tell us a little about how Scripture was viewed in the 4th and 5th centuries. We also see the role of Bishops, and what role they played in this, not least of whom was Pope Damasus I. And we also see the role that Council of Nicaea played.

We also learn a lot about Jerome himself and his translation methodology. All of this is very instructive. But the real reason these are so helpful has to do with why I was looking at them in the first place.

Several days ago I spoke to a friend, B.D., and he (a Protestant) repeated to me the oft-repeated line that Jerome disdained the Apocrypha. He can be forgiven for repeating this line, as it is many quite respectable sources. My Good News Bible, the one with the Apocrypha in a middle section, has this in the intro to the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon. And I have seen it elsewhere. Now, the motivation for this line originally (not B.D.'s per se, or the GNB either, but earlier than they) was to sort of poke fun at us Catholics. The Tridentine Council declared the Vulgate the official Catholic Bible. And so, snicker snicker snicker, isn't it funny you Catholics like this Bible's canon when even its translator rejected the Deuterocanon? Snicker, snicker, snicker.

The truth is much more complicated than that when it comes to Jerome's views himself. I wanted to find the actual Latin of his letters, but it seems I'll have to buy the Biblia Sacra Vulgata, 5th Edition myself to get them, but you see how expensive that is. So I stumbled on Kevin's translations. He does a great job, and shows via footnotes where he got certain translations.

If we just read his prologue to the Solomonic literature, we see the famous line, famous to the Reformers anyway: "Therefore, just as the Church also reads the books of Judith, Tobias, and the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so also one may read these two scrolls for the strengthening of the people, (but) not for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas." That would seem to be pretty damning wouldn't it? Kevin, in his introduction to this prologue on his blog points out that you could say the same of many canonical Scriptures too. I would be interested, for example, to see what dogma is served by the genealogies at the beginning of 1 Chronicles. Still, in this we see what might be termed at worst naked hostility and at best ambivalence.

So it is then interesting to read the prologues to other more specific books. In his prologue to Tobit, we see Jerome at his most petulant. He complains to the Bishops that they want Tobit translated, when Jerome reminds them the book is not found among the Hebrew canon. But then he says ""But it is better to be judging the opinion of the Pharisees to displease and to be subject to the commands of bishops" (emphasis mine). We again note his surrender to authority in his prologue to Judith: "But because this book is found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request ..." There are some interesting tidbits in these two prologues. In the Tobit one he notes that "I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words." Quite amazing really. And in Judith he notes "Among the Hebrews the Book of Judith is found among the Hagiographa" which is his word for the Ketuvim, the Writings, the third section of Hebrew Scripture. That's remarkable that Judith was considered canonical by some of the Jews even in Jerome's time.

Some might point to his letter about Daniel, which contains this line "Therefore, I have shown these things to you as a difficulty of Daniel, which among the Hebrews has neither the history of Susanna, nor the hymn of the three young men, nor the fables of Bel and the dragon, which we, because they are spread throughout the whole world, have appended by banishing and placing them after the skewer, so we will not be seen among the unlearned to have cut off a large part of the scroll." (emphasis mine). But what we see here actually is something subtle. I bolded a particular part to show what's going on under the surface. Here Jerome is imitating Origen, who placed bits he couldn't find in the Hebrew after an obelus, a skewer. What he is saying here is that he accepts that since the rest of the Church accepts these, rather than be accused of destroying Daniel altogether, he's imitated Origen and placed these stories after the obelus. This is important because many sources I have read say that Jerome placed Deuterocanonical parts in appendices. But in reality placing them after an obelus in imitation of Origen's Hexapla speaks more for their canonicity than relegating them to an appendix.

One could go on. What is interesting to me is that Jerome never, apparently, took up the issue of the New Testament Antilegomena. These books -- Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and even Revelation -- were all contested in the same way as the Deuterocanon of the OT was contested. I would have been fascinated to see him tackle these and provide his take on them. Jerome's views are often fascinating, like his assertion that Wisdom was written by Philo Judaeus. We do have his prologue to the Gospels, and they are also quite interesting. First, because he admits he's glad the Pope (St Damasus I) was the one to make the request of him, since if anyone objects to his translation, the Big Boss is the one who asked for them: "Against such infamy I am consoled by two causes: that it is you, who are the highest priest, who so orders..." But also for the reverence shown to the Eusebian system of tables for linking all the Gospels together. The Gospels were divided into pericopes, sections intended to be read in Church, and then each pericope was numbered. The tables (ten in number) showed which pericopes are similar to which other pericopes, and which pericopes occur in one, two, three or all four Gospels, and so on. This is due to the fact that the Fathers saw the Gospels are really one interwoven work, and not as four books with no points of intersection as the modern scholars tend to assert (or their common point of intersection is some mythical document named Q. But more on that later).

What this all tells me is that Jerome had very strong personal views about the Deuterocanon. But in the end, he always bowed, sometime petulantly, to higher authority. And my next post will detail why.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's Coming Up

A few posts I am working on are not ready for publication yet, but here is what they will be about:

  1. Jerome on the Deuterocanon (much different from what people have been told).

  2. More from Jerome, this time on Matt 2:23

  3. Some Musings on the Pericope Adulterae

  4. A request from a friend to discuss Qumran

The Long-Awaited Rom 11 Post

First let me apologise for going silent. There have been some crises in my life that left me feeling decidedly unwilling to do much writing. Enough of the crises have subsided that I feel I can finish this post.

In order to understand the eleventh chapter of Romans, it's necessary to understand much of the preceding discussion of Romans. Paul discusses the Law and its inability to save, because, by human nature, we pervert the law such that rather than save it teaches us sin and thereby condemns us. He stresses the Law is not unholy by this, but rather our Fallen nature is to blame for what appears to be the Law's shortcoming. So only the atoning sacrifice of Christ can and does save.

Romans Chapter 11 is a logical following-on from this discussion, and that helps us to understand its tripartite structure. The first part of Romans 11 is a direct answer to the logical question the preceding discussion provokes: namely, if the Law doesn't save but only Faith in Christ, has God then abandoned the Jews? Paul's unequivocal that this is not the case. He says that God has not abandoned anyone he has chosen. Then he gives an example from God's dealing with Elijah in 1 Kings 19. I am actually reminded also of Jeremiah 24, which to me serves as the unwritten segue into the second part of Chapter 11. In Jeremiah 24, God says that it is actually the people punished with Exile whom He will show His favour to and bring back. That seems to play into verses like verse 12 and verse 15, which speak of God returning the Exiled Jews of today. Indeed, Paul exclaims that this act will be more like the resurrection itself than the salvation of the Gentiles.

And that's the heart of the second part ... The salvation of the Gentiles. But it is interesting to note that we are but grafted onto the Jewish tree here. It is Jewish roots and a Jewish foundation upon which our Faith rests. He points this out to remind Gentiles that we have nothing to boast of over our Jewish brothers and sisters, for if God has dealt with His own people in such and such a way, how much more will He deal harshly with us who have been grafted on? And then this segues into a reminder that just as it is joyous for us to be gifted with this act of grafting, how much greater and more natural a gift will it be when God grafts the original branches back onto the tree again.

The third part then transitions from a statement that God will reclaim all of the Jews once He has claimed all of the Gentiles to an explication of the a paradox, what Paul calls a "mystery." That on the one hand, by rejection they seem to be enemies, but by virtue of God's "irreovocable call" they are still beloved "for the sake of the Patriarchs" (It is not lost that God always described Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Something Jesus noted points to the fact that God is a God of the living. Paul's mentioning of the patriarchs is almost certainly an allusion to this).

But the paradox is beyond even Paul's abilities to understand, so just when you'd expect him to land the coup de grace, he actually appends an epilogue to the 11th Chapter that is a hymn to the Sublime, Ineffable Mind of God. In other words, Paul doesn't know how this will all work out, but He is overcome with expressing His joy and trust in this Sublime Will.

So, Chapter 11 should stand as a warning to us, that in reality we have nothing to boast about, and God's plan for the Jews, far from one of rejection, is one instead of future grafting back onto the tree, a tree that has not withered or died. Indeed, it is still very Jewish. But like Paul I don't have any answers as to how or when, only trust. And that should be enough.