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Twenty translations of Job part 1: introducing the versions

January 9, 2012

2011 was an extraordinarily rich year for new Bible translations.  Several major new translations of the Bible and of books of the Bible appeared in the last year, and it was the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible following hard on the 450th anniversary of the 1560 Geneva Bible.

I have wanted to do a review of several of the new versions, but I am somewhat overwhelmed because a number of the versions (such as the NABRE and CEB, discussed below) have different stylistic features in different books that they include.  So, I have decided to focus on a single book of the Bible, arguably, the most linguistically difficult book of the Bible in the original:  the book of Job.  Job incredibly difficult in the original Hebrew; it contains a large proportion of hapax legomena [unique words not found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible]:  145 of which 60 have no derivation from known biblical roots.  It is also widely proclaimed to be one of the most literary books, capturing the attention of writers from Milton to Dostoyevsky,  and one of the most difficult theologically.

The majority of the book is poetry, and poetry places special demands on the translators.  I also chose Job because the book is relatively free of issues of gender, sectarian beliefs, and Jewish law (halacha) that tend to derail other discussions.  Job has been interpreted Christologically (particularly at Job 19:25-27 – the “I know my redeemer liveth” speech) but in general has fewer of the translation battles that cause  egalitarians to face off against complementarians, of Jews to face off against Christians, of Protestants to face off against Catholics, of liberals to face off against conservatives.  Since such battles tend to quickly degenerate (as anyone who has browsed “Bible blogs” can attest), studying Job can give us insights into translation philosophy with less initial political baggage.

I also think it is worth reading an entire book of the Bible, and not just brief passages, when comparing translations.  Too often reviewers get hung up on particular verses that are odd or controversial, without taking into account the full context of the translation.  If we demand that each and every verse be perfectly translated, we are demanding too high a price of our Bibles.  I think that by reading through multiple translations, we are more likely to make insightful comparisons.

Here are the contenders that I will compare:

Alter:  Robert Alter’s translation of the Book of Job appeared in late 2010, in his Wisdom Books volume, along with his translation of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  The book, published by Norton, is in print in hardcover and softcover.  Alter’s translation philosophy is to write in a formal style, attempting to capture literary aspects of the original.  Alter also includes extensive footnotes and commentary; approximately half of his book is annotations.  Alter belongs to a Conservative Jewish synagogue and is a professor at UC Berkeley, with a long interest in the Hebrew Bible.  Robert Alter has written widely on the Bible, English literature, and Hebrew literature; I will mention only a few of his related publications:  The Art of Biblical Poetry and The Art of Biblical Narrative (both of which I highly recommend) and, together with Frank Kermode, he edited the standard text on the Bible as literature.  Alter has previously published translations (with commentary) of the Pentateuch, Samuel, and Psalms.

CEB:  The full edition of the Common English Bible appeared in 2011.  The Common English Bible is an ecumenical translation “committed to the whole church of Jesus Christ. To achieve this, the CEB represents the work of a diverse team with broad scholarship, including the work of over one hundred and twenty scholars—men and women from twenty-four faith traditions in American, African, Asian, European and Latino communities.”  (There were also some Jewish translators.)  The CEB is sponsored by “denominational publishers from the following denominations: Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press); Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (Westminster John Knox Press); Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc); United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press); and United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press).”  The main goal of the CEB “is to make the Bible accessible to a broad range of people; it’s written at a comfortable level for nearly all English readers…. Easy readability can enhance church worship and participation, and personal Bible study. It also encourages children and youth to discover the Bible for themselves.”  (The quotes above were taken from here.) The CEB contains no commentary (although it does contain individual headings for pericopes) and minimal textual notes.  The CEB claims to have been put together very quickly using innovative collaboration software designed for Abingdon’s New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.   A study edition of the CEB is expected in 2013; since that is not out, I used the “Thinline” with Apocrypha.  (A copy of the volume was proved by B&B Media Group as part of a CEB “blog tour,” however, this gift did not influence the writing of these reviews.)  The CEB is available online here and here.

Driver:  The famous Biblical scholar Samuel Rolles Driver (Oxford) began writing a commentary for the International Critical Commentary series in 1912 Job in 1912, but Driver died in February 1914, and the volume was completed by George Buchanan Gray (Oxford).  Driver was one of the translators of the Revised Version, and the translation in this volume is heavily modified from the RV.   This volume contains extensive commentary, especially using the Septuagint as a resource.  His book is in the public domain.

Eisemann:  Moshe Eisemann (former head [rosh yeshiva] of Ner Yisrael, a well-known Jewish Orthodox seminary [yeshiva]) translated this version in 1994 for ArtScroll.  It features extensive theological commentary which claims to be “anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources.”  Moshe Eisemann has been at the center of allegations regarding inappropriate behavior.  He has retired from Ner Yisrael and is still actively writing.   It is in print.

GordisRobert Gordis translated Job twice in his lifetime, the first time in his Book of God and Man:  A Study of Job (University of Chicago Press, 1965) and the second time in his monumental The Book of Job:  Commentary, New Translation and Special Studies (Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1978).  Gordis’s book is a full bilingual and demanding commentary, which analytically attempts to identify terms and literary allusions in the text.   Gordis’s Wikipedia entry gives a thumbnail biography:  “Robert Gordis (1908–1992) was a leading Conservative rabbi. He founded the first Conservative Jewish day school, served as President of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Synagogue Council of America, and was a professor at Jewish Theological Seminary of America from 1940 to 1992. He wrote one of the first pamphlets explaining Conservative ideology in 1946, and in 1988 he chaired the Commission on the Philosophy of Conservative Judaism which produced the official statement of Conservative ideology ‘Emet Ve-Emunah.’  Gordis was the founding editor in 1951 of the quarterly journal Judaism.”  Some of Gordis’s relevant other books (some of which include biblical translations) include Poets, Prophets and Sages:  Essays in Biblical Interpretation; The Word and the Book:  Studies in Biblical Language and Literature; Koheleth:  The Man and His World:  A Study of Ecclesiastes; and The Song of Song and Lamentations:  A Study, Modern Translation and Commentary.

IBFET:  The Inclusive Bible First English Translation was primarily translated by Craig Smith, a co-blogger at BLT (see his posts here).  It features some commentary and textual footnotes, and is a fresh rendering of the Hebrew while taking a fully inclusive approach.  It was translated over several years, with a single volume edition appearing in 2007.   It varies in approach to formality of translation, and often brings a fresh rendering of verses.  It is available here.

KJV: The King James Version appeared in 1611 and was an official authorized translation sponsored by the Church of England. It has been by the far the most influential English translation in English and continues to be one of the most popular translations 400 years later. Since it was so early, and since Job is so difficult, it is challenged frequently by the Hebrew in Job. A scholarly annotated edition of the KJV is forthcoming from Norton. There are many slight variations on the KJV, but the recent New Cambridge Paragraph Bible is a solid critical edition, and is available in an inexpensive paperback. The KJV is widely available in a number of different versions online.

MessageThe Message is a 2002 paraphrase by Eugene Peterson.   It aims to use highly contemporary language to convey the Bible’s sensibility, although it takes extraordinary liberties with the actual original text.   Peterson’s goal was reportedly to produce a translation “designed to be read by contemporary people in the same way as the original koiné Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were savored by people thousands of years ago.  Some people like to read the Bible in Elizabethan English. Others want to read a version that gives a close word-for-word correspondence between the original languages and English. Eugene Peterson recognized that the original sentence structure is very different from that of contemporary English. He decided to strive for the spirit of the original manuscripts to express the rhythm of the voices, the flavor of the idiomatic expressions, the subtle connotations of meaning that are often lost in English translations.”  It is available online here.

MitchellStephen Mitchell’s unusual translation philosophy has been widely discussed on this blog.  Here, in his 1987 revision of his 1979 translations, he makes a highly interpretive translation, omitting large parts of the Hebrew text from the Masoretic text.  This is by far the “free-est” translation I will consider here.  It is in print.

NABRE:  The New American Bible Revised Edition appeared in 2011 and was sponsored US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Biblical Association and is a revision of the older New American Bible.  It used both Catholic and non-Catholic (including Protestant and Jewish) translators.  The text is moderately formal, and features and extensive set of integrated notes which are fairly demanding on readers.  Oxford published a study edition of the NABRE, but it was badly flawed and filled with incorrect quotations and references from previous editions of the NAB.    For this comparison, I am using the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible which is  popular, not a scholarly edition.  The NABRE is supposed to be accompanied by a publication called  Textual Notes on the New American Bible, but to the best of knowledge, those Textual Notes  have not yet appeared.  The NABRE is available online here.

NEB:  The New English Bible appeared in 1970 with a corrected version in 1972.  It was sponsored by a wide variety of Christian churches in Britain and Ireland (including Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Congregationalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Quaker participants).  It is a fresh translation of the Bible not depending on the Tyndale-King James tradition.  Especially in the translation of the Hebrew Bible, the NEB often adopted unusual or challenging wording reflecting some of the latest biblical theories.  A study edition with annotations was published as The Oxford Study Edition and that is what I am using for this comparison.

NET:  The New English Translation is a 2005 translation largely completed by faculty and students at the Dallas Theological Seminary, a conservative Evangelical seminary with a strong connection with dispensationalism.  The NET is unusual in that it has relatively unrestrictive terms on its quotation, use, and reproduction.  It is also unusual in that it has extensive annotations that often closely explain and defend its translation choices.  It is available online here.

NETS:  Claude Cox’s (McMaster Divinity) 2007 translation Iob for the New English Translation of the Septuagint is unlike any of the other translations listed here, because it is a translation from a Greek edition of Iob rather than from the Hebrew Iyov (Job).  Cox heavily credits Albert Pietersma as a collaborator on revising the translation.  The translation is primarily made from the Old Greek version, although variations introduction by Theodotion are included (but not integrated) into the text.  Theodotion is a more literal translator (even transliterating words at many points).  Although Greek Iob is entirely a prose work (about 1/6th shorter than Hebrew Job) the NETS translation follows the format of the NRSV and sets the text in verse scansion.  The translation is available online here.

NIV11:  The 2011 revision of the New International Version was a revision of Today’s New International Version (2005) which itself is a revision of earlier NIV editions in 1978 and 1984.  The NIV was sponsored by Biblica (previously known as the International Bible Society and the New York Bible Society) and represents a broad group of Evangelical Christian interests.  The NIV was originally published as a reaction to perceived liberalism in the Revised Standard Version translation, but featured extensively simplified language and Christological interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.  The TNIV and NIV11 itself came under attack from conservative Evangelicals over a number of issues, but the NIV11 (and its predecessors) remain by many accounts remains the single most popular Bible translation in the US.  The NIV11 was published in a study edition with extensive annotation, and that is what I use here.  It can be found online here.

NJB:  The New Jerusalem Bible is a Catholic translations that appeared in 1985, under the editorship of Henry Wansbrough.  It has a complex relationship to an earlier English Jerusalem Bible and French Bible de Jérusalem, and features extensive commentary integrated with the text.  Wansbrough writes, “The Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible, in 1966 [was] the first translation of the whole Bible into fully modern English…. The 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah were translated in two weeks by the actor Robert Speaight, who knew neither Greek nor Hebrew – or so he told me. J.R.R. Tolkien points out that to name him among the principal collaborators of the Jerusalem Bible ‘was an undeserved courtesy,’ since he only translated the Book of Jonah and ‘was consulted on one or two points of style.’… The English Jerusalem Bible, having no basis in traditional English versions, has the freshness of freedom from traditional biblical language. It was basically a translation from the French Bible de Jérusalem, conceived primarily to convey to the English-speaking world the biblical scholarship of this French Bible. The translation of the text was originally no more than a vehicle for the notes. The New Jerusalem Bible, published 1985, was edited by the present writer. The notes and introductions were brought more or less up to that date, and the accuracy of the translation considerably improved. Despite claims to the contrary, it is clear that the Jerusalem Bible was translated from the French, possibly with occasional glances at the Hebrew or Greek, rather than vice versa. For the New Jerusalem Bible the opposite was the case, and some books being translated completely afresh. It was the first complete Bible to make consistent use of inclusive language wherever possible, though without the extreme rigour of the later NRSV.”  A complete edition of the NJB with detailed notes is in print.

NJPS:  The New Jewish Publication Society version; Job was first translated 1980, and revised in 1982, and again in 1985.  The translation was done by Moshe Greenberg (Harvard), Jonas Greenfield (Hebrew University), Nahum Sarna (Brandeis) with Chaim Potok as an editor and several prominent rabbis as assistants.  This translation is moderately dynamic, with frequent textual notes that indicate difficulties with understanding the original text.  This version is widely used by the non-Orthodox English-speaking Jewish community.  An annotated version (with notes by Mayer Gruber [Ben-Gurion University]) appeared as the Oxford Jewish Study Bible in 2004.

NRSV:  The New Revised Standard Version is perhaps the most widely used English translation of the Bible by scholars today.  It appeared in 1989 as a result of an ecumenical group led by Bruce Metzger (Princeton).  It is a revision of the Revised Standard Version, which in turn traces its heritage back to Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and the King James Bible.  It was sponsored by the National Council of Churches.  Metzger explained the translation philosophy thus:  “As for the style of English adopted for the present revision, among the mandates given to the Committee in 1980 by the Division of Education and Ministry of the National Council of Churches of Christ (which now holds the copyright of the RSV Bible) was the directive to continue in the tradition of the King James Bible, but to introduce such changes as are warranted on the basis of accuracy, clarity, euphony, and current English usage. Within the constraints set by the original texts and by the mandates of the Division, the Committee has followed the maxim, ‘As literal as possible, as free as necessary.’ As a consequence, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) remains essentially a literal translation. Paraphrastic renderings have been adopted only sparingly, and then chiefly to compensate for a deficiency in the English language—the lack of a common gender third person singular pronoun…. Another aspect of style will be detected by readers who compare the more stately English rendering of the Old Testament with the less formal rendering adopted for the New Testament. For example, the traditional distinction between shall and will in English has been retained in the Old Testament as appropriate in rendering a document that embodies what may be termed the classic form of Hebrew, while in the New Testament the abandonment of such distinctions in the usage of the future tense in English reflects the more colloquial nature of the koine Greek used by most New Testament authors except when they are quoting the Old Testament.”  The NRSV is available in a wide variety of scholarly and annotated editions, for this comparison I am using the second edition of the HarperCollins Study Bible.  (Another widely used annotated edition is published by Oxford.)  However, despite the general excellence of the NRSV, it has suffered because there has been no mechanism to revise it or update it, and thus errors in the original are uncorrected and improvements cannot be incorporated.  The NRSV has received imprimatur from the US and Canadian Conferences of Catholic Bishops.  The NRSV is available online here.

Pope:  Marvin Pope (Yale) published his commentary and translation in the Anchor Bible series in 1965 with revisions in 1973 and 1974.  This commentary is perhaps second only to Gordis in how frequently it is cited.  It has been republished by Yale University Press.

REB:  The Revised English Bible appeared in 1989 and represented a more conservative revision of the the NEB (described above), again, sponsored by a broadly ecumenical group from Britain and Ireland.  Donald Coogan implies that the translators had not anticipated that the NEB would be read aloud, and they discovered problems:  “the widespread enthusiasm for the New English Bible had resulted in its being frequently used for reading aloud in public worship, the implications of which had not been fully anticipated by the translators.”  On translation philosophy:  “Care has been taken to ensure that the style of English used is fluent and of appropriate dignity for liturgical use, while maintaining intelligibility for worshippers of a wide range of ages and backgrounds.  The revisers have sought to avoid complex or technical terms where possible, and to provide sentence structure and word order … which will facilitate congregational reading but will not misrepresent the meaning of the texts.”  An Oxford Study Bible was produced for the REB, and that is what I am using here.

Scheindlin:  Raymond Scheindlin’s (Jewish Theological Seminary) translation aims to make the work as exciting as possible and has a moderate amount of commentary.  Scheindlin relates his translation to medieval Jewish commentary. It is available here.

The entire series of post can be found here.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2012 11:26 pm

    I look forward to the series. I spent a short time (4 months) with Job in early 2009 – cutting my teeth. I have not put it through my translation sieve on my database – maybe I will as I see where you are going. Key elements of the book for me include:
    1. that the accuser gets no mention in the conclusion.
    2. I have a special fondness for Leviathan and the eyelids of dawn – which I consider a major inclusio. I once wore a poster board on Hallow’een noting the sharpness of his underparts.
    3. the words around referee (KJV daysman, Tur Sinai Umpire, JB arbiter, ‘one who could reprove both of us’.) In this idea I am dependent on Ticciati, Susannah, Job and the Disruption of Identity. There is no translation that I have seen that allows the English reader to hear the role clearly in the three verses it occurs in (9:33, 32:12, 40:2). In this role the friends fail, Elihu is indeterminate, God invites Job to be his own referee and he accepts with his hand over his mouth, and Ticciati puts God in the role as well. There are 15 other occurrences of the root – all concerning reason, reproof etc – at least that’s how I read them.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. January 10, 2012 2:21 pm


    You mention: “However, despite the general excellence of the NRSV, it has suffered because there has been no mechanism to revise it or update it, and thus errors in the original are uncorrected and improvements cannot be incorporated.”

    Is there any possibility that the NCCUSA will ever sponsor an update to the NRSV? We see how a number of major translations have been updated recently, not to mention the seemingly annual update of the ESV.

  3. January 10, 2012 2:36 pm

    That’s a great question.

    My understanding is that because of severe financial troubles in the NCC, because so many congregations have left the NCC, and because the translation committee has not been maintained (and now many members are dead, including Bruce Metzger), that NCC simply lacks the resources to start a new Bible committee. For this reason, it seems that if an update to the NRSV ever comes, it will have to come from some other organization that buys rights to the NRSV (much like Crossway bought rights to the RSV to produced its ESV.) And in the short term, at least, it seems unlikely in the short term because the NRSV is NCC’s sole remaining cash cow.

  4. January 10, 2012 2:59 pm

    I also wonder how this all relates to the NRSV v. Catholic Lectionary decisions that we have have witnessed this past year. Still amazes me that the ESV looks like it will be the basis of various English language lectionaries. And what about Canada? I am not sure an analysis has been done about the modified NRSV being used there.

  5. January 10, 2012 4:22 pm

    I’m glad you include the Pope translation. I think it is a pity that Yale is not doing more with Anchor and is just basically sitting on it.

    As an aside your link on Scheindlin also points Pope.

  6. January 10, 2012 5:30 pm

    This is a rather ambitious post, and you are right to make it into a series! This one post prompts two questions for me:

    1. Do you intend to discuss how the translations of the Jewish texts of the story of Job outside may have influenced the reception of the story in non-Jewish contexts?

    2. I wonder if you won’t consider the Septuagint itself as a 19th translation?

    Yes, I know your 18 are English translations only. And I see that you mention Cox’s “translation Iob for the New English Translation of the Septuagint” as being “unlike any of the other translations listed here, because it is a translation from a Greek edition of Iob rather than from the Hebrew Iyov (Job).” But Cox is only translating the “Old Greek” (OG) into English and not necessarily all of the Joseph Ziegler LXX text upon which it is based. Cox describes the quality of the OG translation as making it “one of a kind in the Septuagint corpus” and its length as suggesting that its parent Hebrew text may be substantially different from the Masoretic Text. And then Cox treats (sometimes translates) “the framents of Theodotion” and discusses Origen’s rich “Hexapla,” parts of which both Ziegler and Alfred Rahlfs’ editions of the Greek reproduce.

    I’m coming to two critical points:

    First, Cox is working with a rather limited version of “Iob,” which is different from Lancelot Brenton’s Greek original and, consequently, his English translation; and thus the Cox NETS is quite a different sort of English translation to compare with your other English translations (of the Hebrew) indeed.

    Second, Robert Alter is mostly translating the Hebrew Masoretic Text into English. And yet he turns frequently to the Greek Septuagint (and I don’t think just the OG) as the prefered Jewish text by which to produce his English version. At 2:12, he even goes so far as to explain what the Septuagint lacks and speculates why the “Greek translators” would decide what they decided. At 8:13, Alter gives the MT reading and goes on to say, “but the reading of the Septuagint [essentially a reversal of the order of Hebrew consonants to change a word] makes more sense” (and so he’s followed the LXX translators there). At 10:8, the footnote reads: “The Masoretic text reads…. [but] This [English] translation follows the reading of the Septuagint, … that makes better sense.” At 17:15, Alter gives the MT reading, which he “suspects [is] dittotography… the inadvertent scribal duplication of a word or of letters in sequence”; and this is suspect because it would form a “[r]epetition … not common in biblical poetry”; thus, he turns to the Greek prose, saying: “This translation follows the Septuagint, which appears to have used a Hebrew text [other than what the MT has].” At 18:11, Alter’s English prefers the reading of the Septuagint’s Greek. At 23:12, Alter suspects another MT scribal error and again follows the LXX. At 33:16, he calls the Hebrew “obscure” and follows the LXX once more. At 34:36, Alter suggests that the LXX is preferable to the MT and that “some Hebrew manuscripts” actually corroborate that the Greek is the better reading. And, at 41:5, Alter calls the LXX Greek reading “more plausible.”

    So there’s this question of which Greek and which Hebrew texts best make the English translation of Job. And the Greek LXX certainly seems (at least for Alter) to be a valid Jewish (or at least Hebraic Hellene) Job text.

  7. January 10, 2012 8:07 pm

    Timothy — my understanding is that the Canadian lectionary consensus is falling apart. I have heard that the Canadian bishops have been told that they will need to change their lectionary in the future. You may have noticed, for example, that the fourth volume of the NRSV liturgy was never printed.

    I have also heard that it was in part because of the situation in Canada that ICPEL decided that it was not possible to broker a compromise between CDW and NCC.

    The part of the ICPEL story that I do not understand is why RSV-2CE was passed over for the ESV. There is a political angle here that I do not understand.

  8. January 10, 2012 8:09 pm

    CD: thanks for catching that mistake. I will fix it immediately. I agree with you that Pope is an important translation.

    The question of the future of the Anchor Yale series is an interesting one — I have a bunch of information that I may be able to share with you (but in a different post).

  9. January 10, 2012 8:30 pm

    Kurk — thanks as always for your challenges. You raise many issues in your post, and I’ll try to answer them in turn.

    I wasn’t planning to analyze reception history over time, except as it is reflected in the translations I am studying. But I can refer you to some studies that you may find interesting. For the Christian context, a particularly well-done study is Susan Schreiner’s Where Shall Wisdom be Found?: Calvin’s Exegesis of Job from Medieval and Modern Perspectives. Something of a similar nature on the Jewish side can be found in Robert Eisen’s wonderful The Book of Job in Medieval Jewish Philosophy. These books may be more much more detailed than what you are looking for, but I think that some readers will find them both of them to be interesting specialist studies.

    I don’t plan to analyze the Septuagint texts per se, but I do plan to study how various translations use Septuagint texts. As you point out, the many variations on Septuagint texts are complex in themselves, and the Old Greek version differs too much from the Hebrew version (it is much shorter) to make a reasonable study.

    In this respect, I think your criticism of Cox is somewhat unfair. Cox does not just limit the analysis to the Old Greek version, but also considers Theodotion, as you note. At the same time, one can hardly expect Cox to translate all of texts in Ziegler (together with emendations suggested by Pietersma and Gentry). You wrote “not necessarily all of the Joseph Ziegler LXX text” in your comment above, but that does not reflect the number of variations in Ziegler — it would be more accurate to say “not necessarily all of the many multifarious texts considered by Ziegler.” (The same problem occurs with modern texts as well. Thus the Arden Shakespeare has published three different versions of Hamlet, we have two different copies of Kerouac’s On the Road, etc.)

    It is for this very reason that I am annoyed whenever someone refers to the “the LXX” as if it were a single, definite object. It is a little bit like saying “the English dictionary.” As we all know, there are many, many English dictionaries and they vary tremendously. The same is true of the many Septuagint texts.

    Further, I think you may have missed one of the points of why I wanted to analyze Cox (and not, for example, Brenton.) The NETS is specifically modeled to be comparable to the NRSV. I mentioned a simple example of this above: the NETS formats the sections corresponding to Hebrew poetic texts in scansion, although the Old Greek source is prose. It is this very feature — that the NETS is patterned on the NRSV, that makes it so good for comparison (and so useful in general.) It makes it easier to see what parts of the Greek source text vary from the Hebrew text; as opposed to just being due to idiosyncratic or personal preferences of the translator.

    You have noted in previous posts the great diversity in translations of the Iliad. This shows clearly that there are many ways to translate Greek. But by patterning the NETS on the NRSV, the translators (at least partially) commit to an interpretation that allows contrast with the NRSV.

    You correctly indicate that Alter leans on the the Septuagint in his translation (more than in his translations of other biblical books). That is even more true of other commentators, especially Driver. The Septuagint text is much more important for Job than for some other books in the Hebrew Bible because so much of the Hebrew in Job is beyond our ability to analyze or understand. In these cases, the extra witness of the Old Greek makes the difference between having a plausible reading and no reading at all. This question of reliance on various source texts is something that I do plan to investigate to a degree, although I’m not sure to the say same extent that you might suggest. So, I’d love it if you’d chime in with additional comments or posts that can help deepen my analysis.

    I should mention that I am also considering adding some more Evangelical texts to the list. I am thinking of also analyzing The Message and the NET Bible. Both are highly innovative editions (which is not the same thing as saying that they are “good.”) The Message takes radical liberties with the text, while attempting to maintain Biblical sensibilities. The NET Bible has an innovative distribution model and is unusual in having detailed notes that clearly explain the translators’ motivations and thoughts.

  10. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    January 10, 2012 8:44 pm

    I am looking forward to this. Thank you in anticipation.

  11. January 10, 2012 10:27 pm

    So Iyov incarnates the inner book, the virtual book, and the collective book in all of our screenings of it. (Thank you Pierre Bayard).

  12. January 11, 2012 12:19 am

    Bob, the difference is that Job is a short book, so we may as well read it!

    (For those who do not follow Bob’s remark, he is referring to an odd little book by Pierre Bayard entitled How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.)

  13. January 11, 2012 11:47 am

    Theophrastus – thanks for your patient reply with this 5 1/2 year old. I found a copy of Cox and as I read his lovely description of the OG, I am struck that we took the same approach to Job at our local study here in 2009. We created a digest version to perform with 8 actors. It changed people’s minds about the book to hear it this way. Similarly this past September at the Cathedral here, a professional group performed the KJV as part of a marathon reading of the whole Bible and Apochrypha. Job is clearly a book that touches a nerve – raising issues about time, space, divinity, light, darkness, law, and self-image. In fact, citing Oscar Wilde and the last chapter of Bayard (which I did not get as many laughs from), Job could be looked upon as a creative act of Literary Criticism of Deuteronomy 28.

    Let me state though that I am not a scholar and I read with a hermeneutic of faith. That doesn’t mean I am uncritical.

  14. Russ permalink
    January 13, 2012 1:45 pm

    I recently read (but I can’t find it now) where you described the NABRE as being “uneven” is some places. Could you give me an example of what you mean by that?

  15. January 13, 2012 5:23 pm

    Hi Russ — thanks for your question!

    The NABRE is uneven, but not as uneven as the previous NAB was! (Also, many translations are somewhat uneven — the NRSV is purposely uneven between the Old and New Testament — as I note above!)

    The most uneven aspect of the NABRE is the notes, which are written to many different audiences and in many different tones.

    Similarly, there is a difference in tone in the introductions to various books.

    For the translated biblical texts, there are natural differences between the New Testament, Psalms, and Old Testament (without the Psalms). Each of these was translated by different people using different translation philosophies at different times, so it is pretty natural that they are uneven. If you compare Psalms with other poetic books, you’ll quickly notice many differences.

    There are also differences between books in the Hebrew Bible (minus the Psalms) and Deuterocanon.

    And even among books translated from the Hebrew Bible (minus the Psalms), there appear to be minor inconsistencies in translation philosophy.

    I know you asked for an example — if you can forgive me for my slow response, I’ll post some examples in a few days if I get a chance!

  16. Russ permalink
    January 13, 2012 6:20 pm

    Hello Theophrastus:

    I understand now. I was wondering if your comment was just about the translation itself, but I see it covers a number of different areas. You provided plenty of examples! Thank you.

  17. January 19, 2022 12:00 am

    Thank you for this review. I’ve read some of them (Alter, NRSV, KJV, NIV, Mitchell) and have little to add to your remarks, but I do want to say the notes in JPS version are outstanding; I consult them constantly.

    Of the new translations made since this post, I’ve enjoyed the one by Edward L. Greenstein.

    I’m very much looking forward to Everett Fox’s translation of Job.


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