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Crossway lays an egg: remarks on the ESV–Hebrew diglot

March 28, 2012

I received today Crossway’s new ESV-Hebrew diglot.  The Hebrew text is the standard fifth edition of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS).  The English text is the English Standard Version (ESV).

The book is mediocre in every sense.  Here is the obvious shortcoming of the book – it was issued in a single volume, with approximately 3200 pages.  This means that the pages bleed through to an extreme extent – not only showing the text on the back of the page, but on several page.  The effect is that when one reads one page, one actually sees through at four-sides of pages of text superimposed.

The actual quality of the book is incredibly sloppy.  For example, on page xi, entitled “explanations of features included in this edition begins by explaining that it is specifically directed to the “Old Testament”:

The Hebrew English Old Testament Edition of the ESV Bible includes a number of valuable feature [….]

However, the editors seem to have a strange idea of what features are necessary for an “Old Testament.”  Thus in the same page, on point (2d), the text amazingly explains:

Notes that indicate the specialized use of a Greek word, such as: “brothers,” translating the Greek word adelphoi (see, e.g., the extended note on Rom. 1:13, corresponding to the first occurrence of adelphoi in any New Testament book, and the abbreviated note, e.g., on Rom. 7:1, corresponding to subsequent occurrences of adelphoi in any New Testament book); and “sons,” translating the Greek word huioi (see, e.g., Rom. 8:14). See also the discussion of adelphoi and huioi in the Preface.

The mind boggles.  Even the most dimwitted resident of Wheaton, Illinois should have been able to catch this boo-boo.  Has Crossway now completely abandoned proofreading? 

There is then a tedious page entitled “Explanation of Page of Breaks” which give elaborate rules on how the English text was broken between pages to match the Hebrew, although the word order of these two languages is necessarily different.   (This edition so sloppily executed that it is easy to find many counter-examples to these elaborately stated rules, however.)

However, the editors of the ESV text made no effort at all to make the English text match the Hebrew.  For example, as is well-known, the Hebrew verse numbering in the BHS is different from the traditional “English verse numbering” as found in editions such as the King James or ESV.  Now, if one really wanted to make a useful edition, one would expect that this edition would include verse numberings in the English translation that match the Hebrew verse numbering.  At least, one would expect that both verse numberings would be used.  But this edition offers no such help to reader.  Someone who reads the Hebrew verse Psalm 30:13, for example, and goes to look for the corresponding English verse Psalm 30:13 will be plain out of luck.  One needs to instead use a table that  that maps Hebrew verse numbering to English verse numbering.  No such table is to be found in this volume, however.

Worse, the ESV includes “section headings” that “identify and interpret important themes and topics throughout the Bible.”  The problem is that there nothing at all on the BHS page that matches these section headings. 

The value of the BHS, of course, lies in its extensive apparatus, and its reproduction of Masoretic notes.  These notes are not translated or indicated.

In fact, the editors of this edition even force a different paragraph structure in the English than the “pei” and “samech” divisions of the Hebrew.  Similarly, in the Torah, the BHS carefully notes parshah divisions, which are not at all indicated in the English.

The English text text itself seems to be the standard ESV text without modification.  Now, most readers of this blog probably already have formed their own opinions of this translation.  The ESV slavishly translates the Hebrew in a Christological fashion; that is, it uses the New Testament quotations of the Hebrew Bible to “correct” the Hebrew.  There are no special notations or footnotes that alert the reader to this changes in the text.  Instead, a reader will need to read the text critical notes in the BHS (which are not translated), figure out that an alternate translation has been used, and make her own note in the text (however, I must point out that the pages are far too thin and fragile to take notes.)

As for the setting of the text itself – it is so ugly as to defy the imagination.  To reduce costs, the paper is not wide.  However, the designer still decided to layout the English text in double column (although the Hebrew is in single column).  Worse, the English text is all crammed together – almost always at the top of the page.  The inner margins fall into the gutter of the book, so one needs to break the binding to read the complete text.  This problem could have been easily solved by applying the most basic principles of page layout.  Sadly, this work did not apply them.

The pagination of all BHS volumes of a given edition are similar – except for this edition.  Rather than using the standard BHS page numbering (so that the Hebrew went from page 78 to page 79 to page 80, with the English having a matching page number) for some bizarre reason the editors decided to repaginate this edition.  (Thus the Hebrew goes from page 78 to page 80 to page 82.)  This means that if one is attempting to follow a reference with people using  a standard BHS, page number references will not be useful.  Indeed, page numbering is only useful to people having this exact ESV-BHS edition.

This is among the worse Bibles I have seen.  It is simply not useful for serious work.  Rather than having the English explain the Hebrew, the Bible is set out in such a way that a reader will need to play hide-and-seek just to find a matching translation of a Hebrew verse. The physical book itself is of such poor quality that it is likely to fail after a few months of use.  I would recommend that readers requiring both Hebrew and a translation use a different diglot, use two volumes, or use an electronic edition.  Crossway laid an egg in this edition.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2012 8:53 am

    Thanks, Crossway, for furthering the stereotype that Christians can’t handle Hebrew.


  2. March 29, 2012 8:35 pm

    It is a disappointment, particularly when contrasted with the NET/Nestle-Aland diglot. The English notes in that diglot actually shed light on at least some of the apparatus issues raised in the Nestle-Aland.


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