The New Jerusalem Bible

The New Jerusalem Bible

Darton, Longman & Todd

I have been using a Jerusalem Bible translation since 1971. The (non New) Jerusalem Bible translation was first published in 1968. It was since I first realised that God did not write the King James version and that the Bible is a collection of various authors, sourced from traditional stories and earlier writings, and its contents defined by (horror!) various councils.

I have since undertaken some formal theological education and know some of the problems of translation. Culture, language, knowledge and development all need to be taken into account. Archaeology, linguistics, and the discovery of further source texts, older scripts, and non-canonical texts all add to translator’s resources. The culture and ethos of the author’s community colour the material they chose and the way they use it, and then the wisdom of God in that much is intentionally counter-cultural can also create confusion.

Not least in the equation is the bias of the translators and their sponsors, and let’s not pretend that it does not colour the outcome. All said there is a case for not attempting translation at all.

There are also different approaches to translations. For instance a direct substitution of words, where for example the Hebrew “qal” might mean kill, murder, slaughter, or execute. So that, “Thou shalt not ‘qal’” has resulted in ongoing discussion. Other words may not have a suitable English substitute. Grammatical order is also often confusing: have a look at an interlinear version of the scriptures. Other styles might take the overall meaning of a passage and try to express it in English words and concepts. Then assume the English remains constant, e.g. love/charity. Most translations are a mixture of many styles and none can be totally “accurate”.

The Jerusalem version is in the Roman Catholic tradition hence includes the Apocryphal books. And be aware that some of the verse numbering, and some parts of some books vary from some other (protestant) versions.

So why do I like the Jerusalem? I moved from “King Jim” because of the dated English, and the inaccuracies of their sources (mainly the Latin scripts — translations of translations). Moved through the New English Version but found the language lacking in grandeur and timbre. Same for Good News: I find it easy to read though limited in vocabulary. Tried the NIV and Phillips but found they have a strong evangelical bias, not that I mind that but it certainly colours the translation (in my opinion) in a way that restricts some meaning and deeper study.

The Jerusalem is clear in its bias, scholarly in its research and selection of sources, but more importantly (again a personal preference) restores some of the grandeur and poetry to the English. The translators have attempted to retain/restore some of the metre and poetry to the various songs and psalms throughout the scriptures. The contemporary English makes it easier to read in public, especially for the non-churchified, and the scholastic integrity and consistency make it easier to use for study. Though I still admit to comparing several versions and stretch my mind with the original Hebrew and Greek in many questionable or difficult passages.

Rob Dummermuth

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