My Bibles (A Topical Introduction)
I thought I’d introduce myself a little further, by telling you about my bibles.
I expect my very first bible is somewhere in this house, but I couldn’t find it when I went looking. It was an illustrated children’s bible, a somewhat oversized hardback with a blue cover, that must have contained only a selection of bible stories.
In junior high, I got the Catholic edition of this bible, called The Way — mine looks just like this one except the soft cover is bright blue, not dark green, and it says “Catholic” on the cover. I loved this Bible. It was very readable (unlike my mother’s Douay-Rheims that lived up on the top shelf of her bookcase), and its brief introductions to each book talked about biblical themes in terms that were relevant to young people.
But best of all, it had a chart: roughly in the middle of the bible, there was this chart that suggested bible passages. “If you feel…” or “If you’re wondering about..” this or that emotion or question, down the rows, “then try reading…” this or that bible passage, across the columns. What a terrific way to start to read the Bible! So much better than the linear approach of starting from the beginning and read till the end, or the bibliomantic approach of opening the book at random and putting your finger down on a passage to see what God might want to say to you today. And especially, what a great way to encourage young people to consider what’s going on in their lives in the light of the scriptural witness: it’s something you could do (and I did) in the privacy of your own room, without the embarrassment of actually asking somebody, a parent or a priest or a teacher. The chart wasn’t just about difficult teenager-troubles, either; it included entries for if you feel happy, or thankful, too, and pointed you to rejoicing and praise texts. I don’t know why all devotional bibles don’t come with charts like that!
When I was confirmed, in high school, we were each given a paperback copy of the Good News for Modern Man New Testament that was signed with a short personal note by everyone on our confirmation prep team; and then we all signed each other’s, as well. I don’t much care for this translation, but the connection to my confirmation makes this special to me.
In college, I went on several retreats to the Abbey of the Genesee, in Rochester, NY. This was my first encounter with the Liturgy of the Hours (morning prayer, or lauds; evening prayer, or vespers; night prayer, or compline; and others). Retreatants and other visitors were welcome to participate with the monks in the chapel there, using the Abbey Psalter, which you could also buy at the gift shop there. At some point, I did that, and have used it enough over the years that it’s gotten a bit worn and dog-eared.
When I graduated from college, my namesake cousin sent me a Bible as a graduation present. This one is the NAB, paperback-sized, bound in black leather, with small print on thin pages.
I think I was in my late 30s when I first bought a bible for myself. I remember standing in Barnes & Noble looking over the shelves of bibles, trying to choose. I wanted a Catholic bible, of course; and I wanted a study bible, with footnotes to explain things. I finally chose the New Jerusalem Bible. This is far and away my favorite bible for personal use: its language is beautiful, a functional translation with a poetic sensibility; its poetry is typeset as poetry; it has both scholarly footnotes at the bottom of the page, and cross-references to other biblical texts down the side margins.
When I started grad school, I was a bit dismayed to find out that this was not considered an acceptable translation for serious exegetical work: we were told to use a formal translation, either the NRSV, the NIV, or the NAB. So I picked up the NAB Catholic Study Bible from the seminary bookstore. I figured this one would need to stand up to some hard use, so I chose the hardcover. As I paid for my purchase, a professor in line behind me commended my choice, saying it was the best study bible he’d ever seen and he used his all the time. Encouraging!
I also discovered the blueletterbible.com website that semester, which I love for its variety of translations (although not the NAB) including the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint, and its built-in concordance.
For my course on the Hebrew Bible (not actually in Hebrew, though), we used the Jewish Study Bible , the JPS translation of the Tanakh. I really like this Bible. Its footnotes and essays are very informative, and of course, informed by a purely Jewish faith perspective, as is the translation itself. This is probably the Bible I reach for most often after the NJB, when I want to understand how a text from the Shared Scriptures might have been understood by Jesus’ hearers.
During this class, I encountered the work of Robert Alter, who made me laugh out loud at bits of his really excellent Art of Biblical Narrative. So when I found he had put out a translation of the Book of Psalms, I snapped that up too.
For my course on the Gospels and Jesus, we were encouraged to bring any translation to class, even free or paraphrased translations – my professor wanted to have as many different translations of the text available to us as possible. Well, that was all the excuse I needed to finally pick up a copy of the Inclusive New Testament. We also used a parallel synopsis of the gospels, which is a very different and interesting way to approach the text.
When I got a Kindle a couple years ago, I downloaded a version of the KJV onto it, because it was the only free e-version I could find for the Kindle and I wanted to have some version of the Bible on it. I know people rave about the beauty of the King James, but I don’t hear it at all: it thuds on my ear and is hard to understand. When I’m subjected to a reading from the KJV in some worship service or other, I always have to go home and check the NJB or NAB to find out what it really said.
And most recently, I acquired a copy of the Common English Bible, that I won in a giveaway by Brant Clements over at Both Saint And Cynic. (Thanks, Brant!) It arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I’m quite favorably impressed. It’s not too heavy, sized to be easily portable, but still laid out to be very nicely readable. It’s not a study bible, so it’s missing the footnotes and cross-references I’ve become used to — and it’s a Protestant bible, so it’s missing a few books as well ;) — but it may still become the bible I carry around to classes and discussions when I just want to have a basic bible to refer to.
So there we go: I’ve got four Catholic Bibles, one Protestant Bible, one Jewish Bible, two New Testaments, one Gospel synopsis, and two Psalters. Is that a lot? It seems like a lot. It’s certainly way more than I ever expected to have!
So how many Bibles (or other sacred scriptures) do you have? Which are your favorites, and why? Are there stories attached to any of them?