Thursday, April 3, 2008

ORTHODOX STUDY BIBLE REDUX

My Orthodox brothers Felix Culpa and Esteban will both be commenting on the Orthodox Study Bible in coming days. I recommend you to check their blogs for their insightful critiques. I think this will be the last post of mine dealing more than in passing with the new Orthodox Study Bible. I’ve noted a few more problems with this Bible, two of which are “deal breakers” which, for me, means it will join its predecessor and various other study Bibles to collect dust. This is unfortunate, as some of the translated texts are done quite well. The problem is that not all of them are, and that the presentation in this volume inadequately reflects the nobility of the subject matter. Let us cut to the chase!

On Tobit. There are two texts of Tobit, the short text as found in the majority of manuscripts (Hanhart’s GI, found in Codices Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and others, as well as represented in Jerome’s Vulgate translation), and the long text (Hanhart’s GII, found in Codex Sinaiticus with lacunae, and a few fragments otherwise, but well-represented in the Old Latin translation). The GII text is universally recognized to the be the older of the two, with GI representing a later reworking of the text. In such a case, the presentation of both versions or the longer alone (perhaps with an indication of which passages are lacking in the shorter version) would be preferable. While it is known that the text of Codex Alexandrinus is the Old Testament in favor on Mount Athos, and so the shorter version of Tobit will be preferred there, there is no canonical statement finding for either ancient text. The fuller text does tell the story better, however, and for that reason alone it might be preferred. But it appears that the Revised Standard Version was the boilerplate in the books called anaginĊskomena (”readable”) among the Orthodox and “apocrypha” generally, and the RSV used the shorter text. Again, the NETS actually provides translations of both texts in parallel, as it does for the case of all such divergent texts in the Septuagint tradition: in Iesous (Joshua), Judges, Esther (giving the Old Greek and the Alpha text, which is a bonus!), Tobit (the GII and GI texts), Sousanna, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon (all three have both Old Greek and Theodotion). The approach of NETS is preferable.

Regarding the notes in the OSB, I thought I’d take a look at something which would naturally have occurred to a good editor: to make certain that the points made in the articles about various texts were also included in the notes to those texts. Here too the OSB makes a failing grade. Take, for example, the article “Types of Mary in the Old Testament.” Firstly, why just “Mary” and not a properly Orthodox reference to the Champion of the Faithful like “The Virgin Mary Theotokos”? How about even “Mary, Mother of God”? Oh, that’s right, I forgot that this OSB is actually directed at Protestants, not Orthodox, so we couldn’t possibly call her what we actually call her in what is supposed to be our own Bible! Secondly, of the eighteen Scriptural references given in the article, ten are not represented in the notes to those texts. That is, at those points in the notes, where a reader is most likely to be looking for information on how the Orthodox Church reads the verse, there is no notice that these various ten verses are read to reflect the Theotokos. Even aside from this, and it really is unforgivable, Isaiah 7 and 9 are not included in the article! How can the primary prophecy of the Theotokos in Isaiah 7.14, recognized even in the Gospels, not be included in an article on the subject? That’s laughable! Likewise, there are many other references which were not included. The author of the article could simply have sat down with an annotated copy of the services for the Church’s Feasts, like The Festal Menaion put together by Bishop Kallistos, and made a list of all the Scripture readings and allusions therein and made sure the editor would ensure appropriate commentary in the notes for each. This would’ve taken mere minutes, not hours or days. In addition to this shortcoming in this particular article, there is another shortcoming, a more literal one: the text of no article fills the page dedicated to it. It appears that the font of the articles was changed along the line somewhere so that it is smaller and no longer fills the page. This is sloppy. The extra space could’ve been used to better the articles.

Randomly flipping through the OSB, I found that a number of notes are problematic in historical or factual matters. A note to Isaiah 22.1-5 indicates “Jerusalem fell to the Assyrians.” This is not the case. A note to 2 Kingdoms 15.7-12 (the text of 15.7 begins “Four years later…”) reads “After four years (the LXX has “forty”)….” So, this quite apparently answers our question as to whether this is a translation of the Septuagint or not. Clearly it is not! It is guided by other motivations, which allowed some of the translators to adjust their text toward the Hebrew. This is not in itself a bad idea, but it is not what the Old Testaement of the OSB (or rather the “St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint™” [sic and barf]) proclaims itself to be. The note to Judith 1.1 places the entire book in the wrong light: “This opening verse is anachronistic in that the father of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebopolassar, destroyed Nineveh in about 607 BC.” Aside from the error that Nineveh was not destroyed in “about 607″ but 612 BC, with no “about” about it, and the oddly spelled Nebopolassar rather than the standard Nabopolassar, this misses the entire point of the book in its parabolic masking of various historical characters with names drawn from the rest of the Old Testament, of which Judith is a part. Nineveh represents Seleucia, and Nebuchadnezzar the Seleucid king, and so on. Reading this as a straight historical account is as much a mistake as reading it as an entirely allegorical one. Bad form! A relatively good note appears at Daniel 5.2: “St. Jerome remarks that ‘vice always glories in defiling what is noble.’ He sees in Belshazzar’s blatant misuse of the holy vessels a type of the misuse and twisting of Scripture by heretics for the purpose of drawing others into false doctrine and worship.” Now that is on the right track, at least. Yet there is no way to find out where St Jerome elaborates on this, as there is no reference to his undoubtedly pithy statement on the matter. It would perhaps have been preferable to leave out the vast number of inane notes in preference for more substantial patristic quotations which included references to the works (at the very least!) in which they appear. But I tire of this.

There are some very good translations in the OSB Old Testament. Isaiah and Job are quite well done, as is Jeremiah. I haven’t delved too much into others, as this edition is not conducive to reading. Most of the Prophets suffer from the serious drawback that their texts are not presented (I kid you not) in poetic scansion. The lines are all run together as though everything in them were prose. And the density of this font in combination with the close line spacing and the thin paper (with its subsequent bleedthrough) makes for very uncomfortable reading indeed. For me, this is one of the “deal breakers” I mentioned above. For whatever reason the verses weren’t presented in poetic format, the verdict is the same: poorly done indeed!
Add to this the occasion that the very complicated issues of verse numbering in various books have received the least useful solution in this OSB: that of creating a versification unused by anyone else, and probably not even by all the annotators in the volume! This is the other “deal breaker” I mentioned. This is wholly unacceptable and unjustifiable. A better solution, again, is presented in the NETS: the versification of the standard editions is retained, and the versification of the Hebrew text is indicated in small raised parentheses.

Readers will need to follow the progress of the other Orthodox Septuagint translation projects in order to eventually obtain a decent Orthodox translation of the Church’s Old Testament. The OSB is not that. In the meantime, I would continue to recommend the NETS. While it may not be a perfect translation, and it is an academic translation geared toward usefulness as a tool in better understanding the underlying Greek texts, it is still of a higher consistent quality than is the OSB. If a reader wants to read a contemporary English translation of the Septuagint, then the NETS edition is the one to read.

- Kevin P. Edgecomb, posted at http://www.bombaxo.com/blog/?p=527

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