War of the Word: top scholars battle over Bible translations

Light of truth

An academic war of words has broken out among leading Catholic scholars over the Revi-sed New Jerusalem (RNJB) translation of the Bible. The world-renowned historian, Professor Eamon Duffy, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, criticised the RNJB as guilty of “flaccid” waffle and “casual inaccuracy” after another senior academic proposed it should be used for a revised lectionary.

Parts of the RNJB were released last year but it was published in full last month by Darton Longman and Todd.

According to Neil Xavier O’Donoghue, lecturer in systematic theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland, writing in The Tablet, many feel that the current Jerusalem Bible (JB) Lectionary, based on a translation of the Bible originally published in 1966, “is no longer fit for purpose.” He says that on many levels the translation still reads smoothly and for most Catholics in the countries that use this lectionary, this is the version of Scripture, the text they have grown up hearing read in church, at school and at home, and “which resonates in their spiritual lives.”

But he adds that  the JB was produced quite hurriedly in the years after the Second Vatican Council and says the translation contains “quite a number of imprecisions,” compounded by a tendency on the part of many of the original team of translators to base their work on the 1956 French La Bible de Jérusalem rather than on the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible.

Dom Henry Wansbrough, translator of the RNJB and of its 1985 predecessor the NJB, him-self wrote in The Tablet last October how the present translations approved for liturgical use in England and Wales – the Revised Standard Version (RSV) (Catholic Edition) and The Jerusalem Bible, the one adopted by most parishes, “both now show their age.”

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