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Oxford University Press to Catholics: “Drop Dead”

September 4, 2011

fordtonycWell, no, OUP did not actually write that.  But in the interest of making a fast buck, OUP has badly corrupted the integrity of its leading Catholic study Bible.

As part of their line of academic study Bibles (which include the New Oxford Annotated Bible and The Jewish Study Bible), OUP publishes The Catholic Study Bible.  This edition has long had a special status, because its editors include a number of shakers and movers in the Catholic Biblical Association, the very organization that is primarily responsible the underlying translation, the New American Bible.  This year, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and CBA released a badly needed update to this translation:  NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition).

As part of this update, OUP reissued The Catholic Study Bible in an updated edition with a new translation.  However, OUP did not bother to update the 525-page “Reading Guide” that forms the core of this volume.  (Since the NAB already includes annotations as an integral part of its text, each biblical chapter in the The Catholic Study Bible has a page reference to the Reading Guide, where the additional study material is contained.)

csb-nabreThis leads to all sorts of absurdities.  For example, on page 70, we learn that the latest update to the NAB was in 1991 – even though the reader of this volume holds in her hands a 2011-updated edition.  On page 75 we read about a “proposed Old Testament of the revised NAB” – namely the NABRE which the reader holds in her hands.

One of the most celebrated changes in the NABRE was to Isaiah 7:14 which now reads (on page 999):

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.  [Note:  Isaiah’s sign seeks to reassure Ahaz that he need not fear the invading armies of Syria and Israel in the light of God’s promise to David (2 Sm 7:1216). The oracle follows a traditional announcement formula by which the birth and sometimes naming of a child is promised to particular individuals (Gn 16:11; Jgs 13:3). The young woman: Hebrew ‘almah designates a young woman of marriageable age without specific reference to virginity. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew term as parthenos, which normally does mean virgin, and this translation underlies Mt 1:23. Emmanuel: the name means “with us is God.” Since for the Christian the incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s willingness to “be with us,” it is understandable that this text was interpreted to refer to the birth of Christ.]

But next to this chapter is a pointer to the Reading Guide, which reads on p. 285:

The historical context is the attempt by the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and Damascus to force Ahab, king of Judah, to fight with them against Assyria.  Isaiah, who opposed this alliance, challenges Ahab to place his trust in the promise of divine protection made to his ancestor David and not to fear “these two stumps of smoldering brands.”  When Ahab refuses to ask for a sign confirming the promise, Isaiah gives him one:  :”Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

In other words, the Bible prints the 2011 translation but includes commentary to the 1970 translation, just creating confusion.  With this volume, the more closely the reader follows the words, the less likely she is to understand.  (Other examples are noted in the comments to Timothy’s post here.)  (One especially strange aspect of this study Bible is that OUP did take the time to update the Concordance and Glossary at the back of this 2011 study Bible.)

What is OUP’s excuse for this Frankenstein Study Bible – with the text from one translation and the commentary quoting from a different translation?  According to Timothy, “The reason it wasn’t updated was that they wanted to move early to have the text available for fall classes.”

The real tragedy is that this volume appeared so late (not even starting to shipp on August 29th – so it won’t show up in college bookstores until mid-September) that most American colleges that follow a semester system (where classes typically start in the second half of August) that OUP both failed its readership and failed to get the volume out in time for fall classes.

It seems pretty clear that in this case, OUP has decided that the dollar is more important than quality or accuracy.  What a disservice.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 2:46 pm

    I might have more sympathy for Oxford’s explanation, except for the fact that Oxford released the bonded leather edition at the same time. Presumably, the bonded leather edition — unlike the hardcover edition — is not intended for “fall classes.” In fact, in the past Oxford has sometimes only released a single run of leather printings.

    If Oxford were being honest, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold off on the bonded leather edition until the second printing?

  2. May 25, 2015 11:50 am


    I have recently been told by a reader in my blog that the reading guides have been updated. He mentioned: For example, the “cereal offering” you mentioned on pg. 128 is “grain offering” for me. I wonder if you have heard or can verify this? I don’t have a contact at Oxford.


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