Saturday, April 18, 2009

REB / NRSV review

I ran across a little gem on the web today. The October 1990 edition of Theology Today is online. This issue contained a symposium on the (then) recently released NRSV and REB bibles. Both are all purpose bibles (liturgical, bible study, regular reading) which I think is a bad idea because what is needed for one use is often the opposite of what is needed for another, the tension is unresolvable. The NRSV is an excellent formal translation and my recommendation for people who currently use the ESV who don't want Calvinism and sexism read into the text. It has my favorite all purpose study bible the NISB, If I were to have to recommend a single all purpose translation the REB would be it, and the NEB (its predecessor) is my strong recommendation as a second translation for readers. So I was excited lets dig in.

The NSRV and The REB: A New Testament Critique By Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr.
He starts off by commenting that the NRSV left behind the KJV cadences, which allowed for a translation that sounds much more modern. He is very complementery on how well the NRSV handled the gender inclusion issue, feeling they got the balance right. He is harsh in their handling of verb tense, feeling they stayed much to close to the KJV/RSV (which obliterates the subtles of tense in the Greek).
On the REB he felt they took Dodd's paraphrases from the NEB that worked well and kept them while returning to more traditional translation when they didn't work out. He feels their handling of gender neutral is haphazard doing it in entirely inconsistent ways. He also lists about a dozen common words: wrath, sinners, flesh that the REB is completely inconsistent of its treatment of. He comments that the REB inhereted from the NEB the excellent handling of durative verbs. He closes with commenting (as do many others) on how well the REB captures the literary aspects of the Hebrew and Greek.

Translating For The Reader By Robert G. Bratcher
This is a negative review of both translations and very well written. He attacks both translations for failing to be either faithful to the text or clearly understandable, and both for being far too constrained by tradition. It is hard to summarize because he jumps from verse to verse presenting examples.
He opens with a complex passage showing how the two translation handle a metaphor that assumes cultural knowledge. The KJV captures the original, "And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil". A methaphor that is unclear to most readers. The CEV translates this by dropping the metaphor and just interpreting (the NLT uses a similar approach), "I'll search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those people who sit there unworried while thinking, 'The LORD won't do anything, good or bad'." The NIV/TNIV handles this in an interesting way by just translating it twice. So the TNIV has, "At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, 'The LORD will do nothing, either good or bad.'" With that background here is what Bratcher wrote,
Zeph. 1:12 is a case in point. RSV had "I will punish the men who are thickening upon their lees." What in the world does that mean? NRSV has "I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs." This is a bit more intelligible but is liable to be understood quite literally of derelicts on Skid Row. Was the prophet denouncing drunkenness? That is what NEB would have made us believe: "I will … punish all who sit in stupor over the dregs of their wine." REB, however, by introducing a simile to clarify the Hebrew metaphor, says: "I shall punish … all who are ruined by complacency like wine left on its lees." This is certainly an improvement and gives the reader a hint as to what the prophet was talking about.
The NRSV and The REB: A Feminist Critique By Carole R. Fontaine
Her phrasing of the problem with gender neutral bibles is excellent, "Translation committees are charged with the faithful transmission of a text in which a male god relates primarily to his male followers." She spends the majority of the article looking at how they handle various verses related to male imagery of God and even Deut. 32:18 (where there is female imagery of God used). She advocates the REB for public reading and the NRSV for formal study.

Musings of a Translator By Patrick D. Miller
He contrasts the gender neutral work on this mainstream translation with his earlier work on the Inclusive Language Lectionary. A few interesting comments, for example he is worried that the trend towards translation flipping (in this case moving from the RSV to the NRSV) would result in more biblical illiteracy. He also talks about the change in the NRSV committee, the original members wanted to be very conservative in changing the RSV while near the end the newer members wanted to strike off aggressively.

Translators and The Gender Gap By Herbert G. Grether
This article is a statisical analysis of the gender inclusive issue.
I'm reproducing the results here. These are a series of contrasts between versions from a generation early vs. "recent" (80s-90) versions:

Occurrences of "anthropos" (men/humanity) in the New Testament 100 instances unquestionable gender inclusive, when they translated gender inclusive:
  • Jerusalem Bible (1966)-48%; New Jerusalem Bible (1985)-93%
  • New American Bible (1970)-40%; New American Bible (1986)-95%
  • New English Bible(1970)-31%; Revised English Bible (1989)-69%
  • Revised Standard Version (N.T., Second Edition, 1971)-14%; New Revised Standard Version (1990)-100%.
Sampling 50 instances of such gender inclusive uses of huioi (sons/children) unquestionable gender inclusive in original:
  • JB-38%; NJB-72%
  • NAB-44%; NAB Revised N.T.-88%
  • NEB-52%; REB-64%
  • RSV-4%; NRSV- 100%
Sampling of 50 instances of adelphos (brothers/christian community) referring to whole Christian community:
  • JB-O%; NJB-O%
  • NAB-O%; NAB Revised N.T.- 0%
  • NEB-26%; REB-66%
  • RSV-O%; NRSV-100%
He applauds that with these hundreds of changes in new version "Women are more clearly seen in the New Testament as joint heirs of the grace of life under God, and as full partners in the human adventure."


Anonymous said...

I love the REB. I use it everyday along with my KJV. I've never liked the NRSV, thoughI'm a fan of moderate incluisve language when the audience is of mixed gender. I think, however, that the NRSV distorts certain passages of the Psalms. I prefer the old RSV in place of the NRSV, but not on the same level of my REB/KJV.

CD-Host said...

Hi Zach, welcome to the blog! I agree with you on the REB over the NRSV.