Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bible Squee

Translations and commentaries are important to me no matter what I'm reading, and I'm oh-so-picky.

Odyssy and Iliad: Robert Fagles.
Shakespeare: The Arden editions, period, and Harold Bloom commentary. (Harold Bloom commentary makes anything worth reading. It's like marinara sauce. Add it, and I'll eat anything).
Tao Te Ching: Witter Bynner or Stephen Mitchell (I also like Stephen Mitchell's Rumi)
Sherlock Holmes: I have the nine-volume hardcover annotated Oxford edition.
Darwin: still torn between the Wilson and Watson commentaries.

I get very excited about nifty editions of the Bible. Today I dug up a 1966 Jerusalem Bible at my parents' house, which they let me keep.

The Jerusalem Bible was translated by Dominican monks in the first half of the 20th century. They tried to be relatively literal, yet write in 'modern' English, yet stay true to the flavor of each book. Thus the Psalms read like songs, the Epistles read like letters, etc. It's a single-column Bible, which I prefer, and it's not a red-letter Bible (I hate red-letter Bibles). It's a Catholic Bible, which also pleases me, and the books of the Apocrypha are in their proper places, not squished between the Old and New Testaments. There's a fairly substantial essay of commentary before each book, as well as extensive discursive footnotes at the bottom of each right-hand page. The verse numbers are in the inside margins, not in the text, which makes everything flow better. Plus, just as the corners of a page in a dictionary reference the first and last words found therein, the chapter and verse are referenced here.

I'm most excited about the outside margins. They contain what is essentially a running concordance- alongside each line of text are the citations for verses which allude to/refer back to/are parallel to the verse in question. This is wonderful. When a verse is directly quoting another verse, it's placed in italics. Even better.

The language of this translation is spare and elegant. Yes, it's a modern translation, and the Psalms sound nothing like the KJV, but it's not flat and ugly like so many of the 'contemporary' Bibles out there. Yay.

And the icing on the cake? Well, I have an affection for the KJV because so many writers of the time came together to complete it, and it's suspected Shakespeare was among them. You know who was a major contributor to the Jerusalem Bible?

J.R.R. Tolkien.

Oh, yes. Oh yes indeed.


Amanda said...

Sounds poifect!

I'm with you on all the translators, AND Harold Bloom. He'd laugh to hear it, but it was Harold Bloom (Where Shall Wisdom Be Found) that got me looking at the bible again at all.

Nancy A said...

My bible is the Jerusalem Bible. There's a simple, honest quality about it that appeals to me. It's the only bible I've ever had.

I sometimes have wondered if anyone else on the planet read it, or if I was the only one. Except those Dominicans.

onionboy said...

Actually, Tolkein was by his own admission a very minor player in the JB:

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, letter 294, includes the following text: "Naming me among the 'principal collaborators' was an undeserved courtesy on the part of the editor of the Jerusalem Bible. I was consulted on one or two points of style, and criticized some contributions of others. I was originally assigned a large amount of text to translate, but after doing some necessary preliminary work I was obliged to resign owing to pressure of other work, and only completed 'Jonah', one of the shortest books.

Otherwise, I agree and enthuse with you over this wonderful translation and particularly so in it's OP 1966 Regular edition with the marvelous study notes.

Yvonne said...

Squee indeed - I may have to get one of those!