Thursday, January 25, 2018

Plan to Review and Revise the New Revised Standard Version

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News from the SBL annual report this week is that SBL is planning to oversee a review and revision of the NRSV translation. What really surprised me about this was how prominently textual criticism is in the explanation. From the report:

SBL to Provide a Review and Update to the New Revised Standard Version

At the 2017 SBL-AAR Annual Meeting, the National Council of Churches (NCC) announced an update of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), an English translation of the Bible owned and licensed by the NCC. This update will be managed by the Society for Biblical Literature, following a partnership approved by Council earlier in 2017. Scholars have produced a considerable amount of work in text criticism since 1989, the year the NRSV was published. The last three decades have provided significant new discoveries, including new manuscript witnesses, developments in textcritical methodology, and philological insights. A thirty-year review is not only necessary in the light of this scholarly work but will result in an English translation that is based, without exception, on the most up-to-date textual analysis. The update will focus on three areas:
  • Text-Critical and Philological Advances: The primary focus of the thirty-year review is on new text-critical and philological considerations that affect the English translation. The philological review will draw upon the fruits of historical-critical scholarship that affect expressions in English. For the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, text-critical developments in the last thirty years have been especially significant. The publication of the Judean Desert biblical texts and fragments has revealed a number of readings that differ from the medieval Hebrew traditions in the Masoretic Text, which was the basis of the NRSV.
  • Textual Notes: SBL’s initial review of the NRSV suggested that the current text-critical footnotes are neither complete nor consistent. There are cases when the translation silently adds words not conspicuously in the sources or does not indicate when a reading is not following the sources. To address this deficiency, reviewers will be asked to identify text-critical issues that should have been documented in the notes but were not.
  • Style and Rendering: The translation philosophy of the NRSV will be maintained, including its overarching commitment to being “‘as literal as possible’ in adhering to the ancient texts and only ‘as free as necessary’ to make the meaning clear in graceful, understandable English.” That being said, when a reviewer judges a particular translation awkward, inaccurate, or difficult for general readers to understand, the reviewer may suggest a more elegant rendering.
The SBL editorial board includes Sidnie White Crawford (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), Ronald Hendel (University of California-Berkeley), Michael W. Holmes (Bethel University), Robert S. Kawashima (University of Florida), Jennifer W. Knust (Boston University), Judith H. Newman (University of Toronto), and Eugene Ulrich (University of Notre Dame). In addition to the editorial board, more than fifty scholars will contribute to the review, which will be conducted over the next three years.

Participants will draw upon new tools developed after the NRSV was published, including The SBL Greek New Testament, edited by Michael W. Holmes (2010); SBL Press’s The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition, edited by Ronald Hendel (2015–); and the German Bible Society’s Biblia Hebraica Quinta (2004–), The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (2014), and twenty-eighth edition of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece, as well as volumes from GBS’s Editio Critica Minor [sic] produced by the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung and based on recent New Testament methodological developments reflected in the INTF’s Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (see Tommy Wasserman and Peter J. Gurry, A New Approach to Textual Criticism: An Introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method [SBL Press, 2017]).

27 comments :

  1. Joel Eidsath1/25/2018 1:50 pm

    I hope they fix Ezekiel 3:18, revised to mean its opposite by a mechanical removal of the word "nor":

    RSV: If I say to the wicked, `You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.

    NRSV: If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand.

    They could almost fix it by removing the comma, but "give" is too far apart from "speak" for that to work. The NIV is the only translation that is really successful at avoiding "nor" here, and it does so by shortening the phrases to get the verbs close together: "and you do not warn them or speak out."

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    1. I hope they fix Ezek 1:27 by ditching that ridiculous expression "enclosing it all around" regurgitated by English translations for five centuries now, for no apparent reason, for the simple and straightforward Hebrew phrase בית־לה.

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  2. I hope they fix the parts where stylists overrode translators and neutered language that was clearly masculine in the manuscripts. Neutral where the manuscripts are neutral or intend neutrality is fine, but neutering masculine or feminine language where it is very clear can be problematic.

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    1. Like, say, Deuteronomy 23:1?

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    2. And especially texts like Ps 19:12 "who can detect their errors", with the faux inclusive pronoun's grammatical antecedent being "the precepts of the Lord". I have a 1992 letter from Bruce Metzger responding to my critique on this point and assuring me that this would be "drawn to the attention" of a future revision committee. It's been quite a wait...

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    3. Amen. Render masculine pronouns as masculine per the Hebrew or Greek, and do not go the way of the updated NIV or NLT. I have painstakingly crossed through mistranslated passages in my NLT because of their penchant for neutralizing gender. Shame..

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  3. I really don't see the point to this. The NRSV is such a niche, dead-in-the-water version as it is. An update to it will simply further divide an already shrinking market. Why not just let the NRSV die in peace and use one of the other various modern versions like the NIV, NET, ESV, or NABRE? We have so many as it is. Why invest millions of dollars into a translation that will certainly flop and definitely not compete with the NIV? I do like the NRSV a lot, but nobody outside of a few academic and clerical circles actually uses it.

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    1. You're kidding right? NRSV is the primary American translation in both mainstream & liberal denominations. Evangelicaland goes back & forth with NIV, NET, & ESV; but not the rest of the Church.

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    2. I have almost never see someone actually use the NRSV, and polls and sales figures support that. I have seen lectionaries use it, some pastors, some academics, etc., but I have never seen general audiences use that version. If I take the NRSV to church, it may line up with the lectionary, but it will likely not match what actual Bible readers are using. The NRSV is the Bible of the 1% essentially. Meanwhile, the KJV and NIV are all commonly found in Protestant churches, and the NABRE in Catholic ones (though most Catholics I have come across do not read the Bible regularly).

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    3. Lance is right Kevin. In the Church of England it is the nearest thing to a default there is. Those who use the morning prayer app all read it etc. An upadate, then, is of great significance to Anglican circles at least.

      I don't think Anglicans are quite dead in the water yet!

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    4. Paul Stevens1/26/2018 11:41 am

      Wonderful news. Let us hope those with a social agenda are out in the back seat this time and this is about biblical scholarship.

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    5. “Mainline” is probably the more accurate word—it’s conventionally used to refer to the Protestant denominations (UCC, ELCA, PCUSA, UMC, DoC, TEC) that at one point held a dominant position in American religious culture.

      Nowadays, of course, evangelicals and Catholics are pretty much neck-and-neck (depending on which polls you consult) for the “Mainstream” designation. “Nones” are gaining fast, though.

      Nevertheless, it certainly is true that the NRSV is the standard among the mainline and in non-evangelical academia. Which means that even though it gets fewer eyeballs on a weekly basis than, say, the NIV, there’s enough institutional support for it that it’ll find an adequate market in its current spheres of influence.

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  4. "I have almost never see someone actually use the NRSV, and polls and sales figures support that."

    I agree. We should measure the value of all texts by their sales figures.

    Eric

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  5. Evangelicalism’s marketing wing can distort the market.

    I have frequently found that the “Religion” and “Christianity” sections of mainstream secular bookstores are dominated by evangelical and prosperity gospel twaddle, and the Bibles for sale range all the way from NIV (girls edition with pink cover) to NIV boys edition (with camo cover) to NIV random niche edition (with random niche specific cover), plus one or two copies of the AV.

    But no mainstream scholarly translations at all.

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  6. Malcolm, one can obviously look at facts in various ways. I too bemoan the dominance of marketing over principle within evangelicalism. However, I think that there is a lot of ideological loading in the term 'mainstream' which you use. If one does not use numbers (and I'm not suggesting we should), who decides what's mainstream? There's plenty of marketing that goes into promoting ideas about the Bible by those other than evangelicals and there are plenty of ideas promoted by those who self-designate as 'mainstream' which are decidedly odd from the perspective of beliefs Christians have held over a long period. I also think that there's danger of guilt by association when you write 'evangelical and prosperity gospel twaddle'. Evangelicalism as a movement has more than enough fluff, but I think that some of the contributors to this blog are part of the testimony that there are more weighty intellectual perspectives within the movement too.

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  7. What will it be called, RNRSV!? :)

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    1. I like "N2RSV" for New Newly Revised Standard Version....

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    2. They should drop that entirely and just use SBL or something in the title. Like their Greek and Hebrew SBL source texts. In addition, the Hsrper Collins Study Bible is already written by the SBL. Might as well call that the SBL study bible too. That's just my 2c.

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  8. The vast majority of parishes in The Episcopal Church (USA) use the NRSV, as does the Church of England in its Common Worship lectionary. I'd daresay (and I admit this is a guess) that NRSV is the standard English translation in mainstream seminaries at least in the US. As of today (1/27/2018) the Oxford Annotated NRSV is #4 and beats out, for example, the ESV Study Bible, for most copies sold. So it's a but much to claim this revision is to a text that is a "niche."

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  9. I'm not sure that being "up-to-date" on textual criticism will necessarily help the NRSV.

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  10. Now if only the revision of the NRSV might remove some of the ridiculous redundancies, improper pluralizations, and bad grammatical contrivances that were created solely to avoid gender-specific language (even within a patriarchal society context!), and if it thereby could move away from a style of writing that generally would not be approved within student papers....

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  11. The context doesn't matter. We have to speak or hear of the "brave men and women who fought to preserve freedom" in WWI and WWII, just because the military is now co-ed. Anachronism is, it appears, ubiquitous to every age.

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  12. If they fix the problems introduced by the editorial board and stylists of the NRSV, it will be worth an update.

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  13. I loved the RSV and was very disappointed to see what the PC NRSV had done to such a majestic and accurate text. So I just couldn't bring myself to use it even though most of the verses I had committed to memory were from the RSV. Then Ignatius Press came to the rescue with the RSV Catholic Edition, which updated the RSV and eliminated archaic language in the NT. Now Ignatius has the entire RSV-CE2, which includes an archaism-free and textually updated OT. I bought the large-print edition and had it rebound in leather sans Apocrypha to relieve it of some of its unwieldy bulk. The cost was worth it to me.

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  14. I hope the committee change the words of sheol and hades to either hell or the grave. Also change the measurements to English standard rather than metric. Also add forever at the end of Psalm 23; add Christ to Phillipians 4:13 instead of him.

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  15. I'll stick to my King James

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  16. King James died in March of 1625. Hard to stick to a dead guy.

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