December 27, 2011

What About the Various English Translations of the Bible?

Filed under: Translation Notes — James Tabor @ 8:21 am

BiblesMany have deliberated and discussed the various English Bible translations and which is best in terms of accuracy. Of course they divide themselves quickly into two categories: Jewish and Christian, meaning translations of the Tanakh and translations of the entire standard English Bible including the New Testament. Then there are the various full academic study Bibles such as the Oxford Annotated or Harper Collins Study Bible that include the Apocrypha, which is quite useful to have. Both of those have scholarly notes and are based on the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

In terms of standard English Bibles I prefer the Revised Standard Version (RSV) over the NRSV. The problem is that it is hard to get these days since the NRSV has taken over with most publishers. You can still get the RSV Oxford Annotated edition with the Apocrypha, still in print, and I would suggest it as a basic resource for the “entire” Bible with notes (plus wonderful Oxford maps)–but be careful here not to confuse it with the newer one that is the NRSV.

The Revised Standard Version represents many advances over the King James and American Standard Version tradition. The problem with it is that in many places it incorporates conjectural readings, emendations, and alternative textual traditions like the Septuagint. These are indicated in the footnotes, but one just has to be aware one is not always dealing with just the standard Masoretic text.

The English Standard Version (ESV) attempts to keep all the virtues of the RSV in terms of scholarship and academic integrity, while removing this objection and relying wholly and solely on the Masoretic traditional Hebrew text. It has swept the evangelical Christian market and also attracted the attention of many scholars, on its way to replacing the popular New International Version (NIV) that had once held that market. It comes in many editions but the standard textual edition is reasonable in price and you can get it with the apocrypha on Amazon.

I would recommend either one or both of these as a basic translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament for general reading and reference.

The problem with both the RSV and the ESV is that they still are not as literal and careful with the Hebrew as I would want but on the whole the ESV makes a fair attempt.

In terms of English Bibles though I still favor heavily the 1901 American Standard Version (not to be confused with the New American Standard Version that also can be good), both for its accuracy and literalness as well as its unprecedented use of the Divine Name Jehovah, which few standard translations have ever done. It is basically “out of print” but you can find editions if you want a hard copy. It is easily available in electronic formats, both free on the web and for various devices. I have the ASV on my iPad and computer and often use it as an English parallel to the Hebrew. I find it to be quite accurate, and an advance over the KJV.

In terms of Jewish translations of the Tanakh the choices are much more limited. There are four main ones I would note:

1. The 1985 Jewish Publication Society Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. This one is the most widely available and would be somewhat equivalent to the RSV in terms of its academic approach to the text. However, it does, for the most part, stay with the original Masoretic Hebrew rather than bringing in alternative readings. Its drawback is that it can be very loose with the text and put meanings into the English that are clearly more interpretations, thus closing off to the average reader the more literal or original meaning.

2. The older 1917 Jewish Publication Society Tanakh is now, alas, out of print but it was heavily modeled on the ASV but without, of course, using the Divine Name, but choosing “LORD” for YHVH as most English translations have done. I have one of my own that I bought years ago, back in the 1970s. If you check the used bookstores you can find a copy. You can also get an e-book version for $.99 on Amazon that will download to the Kindle app on any device! There are also numerous web sites that have this 1917 JPS Tanakh on-line. I do recommend it and if I had a parallel version of the Hebrew Bible with this 1917 translation I would consider it the best of all worlds in terms of the Hebrew Bible.

3. The Koren “Jerusalem Bible,” produced in Israel with the traditional Hebrew text and a fairly literal English translation by Harold Fish on facing pages. You can get it at many bookstores but most easily via Amazon. Two disadvantages are the print is small and the binding is not of the highest quality. I have used and worn out about three of these over the years  but have now switched to a Hebrew Bible with no English.

4. The 1996 Stone Edition of the Tanakh. Even though this one is quite popular I find the translation far far from accurate and literal and just as the Christian translations of the Bible have a strong theological slant in many places this translation of the Tanakh has a decidedly Jewish slant that gets in the way of the literal/accurate meaning of the text itself.

So the upshot of this post, depending on your own preferences would be to get:

1. A copy of either the Oxford RSV and ESV with the Apocrypha just so you have a standard full English Bible. Which you chose might depend on whether you want the notes, maps, etc. of the Oxford or just the straight text of the ESV.

2. A copy of the 1917 Jewish Publication Society Tanakh if you can find one through a used book dealer. Otherwise, if you use electronic devices, it is easy to obtain, or, alternatively get a copy of the ASV, which is very similar and has the added bonus of using the Divine Name.

December 26, 2011

When Will the The Transparent English Bible Be Available?

Filed under: News&Updates,Project Information — James Tabor @ 10:00 am

Many who are interested in the Transparent English Bible have often asked when it will be available in print and for purchase. Although we have not yet contracted with a trade publisher, the same agent I have used for my other publishing is very interested in taking on the TEB. When we reach that stage I have no doubt we will be able to secure a major mass market trade publisher that will offer us the kind of wide distribution and publicity that we would want. In 2005 I took on the very demanding full-time, twelve month-a-year position as Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Previously I had had a standard nine-month contract as a regular tenured faculty member with several days a week free for research, plus the three months of summer and a month between Fall and Spring semesters. That was what allowed us to make the progress we did make on the translation in the years 1992-2004. Since Fall 2005 my time for research has been severely restricted and I have had to spend what time I do have for my own academic research and publishing projects. When I finish my current term as Chair in May, 2014, I plan to devote a fair portion of my research time to the translation once again.

In the meantime one possibility we are considering is the publication of the book of Genesis alone, followed the Torah and other portions of the Bible (Prophets, Psalms, Gospels, etc.) with a major trade publisher, or even perhaps in e-Book format, as early as 2012. This is a pattern that has been followed by a number of major translators in the past, including Everett Fox and Robert Alter, each of whom now have their versions of the Five Books of Moses on the market. I should note in this regard that Fox’s version of Genesis and Exodus was published in 1987, while his Five Books of Moses came out 1997, ten years later. Robert Alter published Genesis in 1996 and his Five Books of Moses in 2004. Both Fox and Alter have since published their versions of 1 & 2 Samuel as separate volumes and Alter has the book of Psalms out as well. I mention this just to illustrate that translations of this type, done by individual scholars, often stretch over several decades despite my earlier youthful optimism when I began in 1992 on the TEB.

Endorsements for The Book of Genesis from the Transparent English Bible

Filed under: Translation Notes — James Tabor @ 7:23 am

Endorsements for The Book of Genesis from the Transparent English Bible

“In my view, the Transparent English Version of Genesis makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this magnificent and difficult work.   Not only does it open up new possibilities for Biblical study and discussion, it also brings the reader closer to the spirit and sense of the original sources than any other translation I have seen.  Considering that Genesis may be the most influential book ever published, this translation should be of enormous interest to general readers as well as to specialists both in this country and abroad.”

Dr. Richard E. Rubenstein
University Professor
George Mason University
Arlington, Virginia

“Professor Tabor’s consistent attempt to capture in English translation the sound and sense of Genesis in its original form has the salutary effect of causing the reader to stop and think again about the meaning of the text.  Readers who can encounter the text only in English now have an opportunity to look behind layers of theologically motivated translations to something as close as we will probably ever come to the original text.”

Dr. Eugene V. Gallagher
Rosemary Park Professor of Religious Studies
Connecticut College
New London, Connecticut

“Finally, a truly transparent translation!  I have taught biblical texts for almost 25 years and have longed for a translation that didn’t pull any punches when it came to the difficult passages, or that didn’t try to “spin” the meaning of the text in the interests of later theology and doctrine (whether Jewish or Christian).  Tabor’s translation of Genesis renders the Hebrew not just with unparalleled accuracy and fidelity to the text, it also offers readers a sense of the unfamiliar elegance and strange power of the original.  Beautifully conceived and executed, Tabor’s translation is the result of a lifetime of critical learning and scholarly acumen.  It is also a courageous undertaking.  I have no doubt that it will quickly become the standard.”

Dr. A. J. Droge
Professor of Humanities
University of Toronto

“Finally we have a translation of Genesis that is transparent.  Tabor not only reveals the nuances of the Hebrew language in his English translation and detailed footnotes, but he uses the oldest manuscript traditions to do so.  This is a marked departure from traditional scholarly practice, which has relied on a modern eclectic text, one that has been created by a scholarly committee out of hordes of manuscripts spanning the centuries.  But James Tabor’s translation is based on our oldest two manuscripts, and so it represents a version of Genesis that would have been known and used by the ancient people.  This type of serious manuscript translation will revolutionize scholarship.”

Dr. April DeConick
Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Chair for Biblical Studies
Rice University
Houston, Texas

“The Transparent English Bible is a unique, innovative translation which successfully offers to readers an impression of the rough-hewn nature of the original Hebrew text with its Semitic syntax and idiomatic expressions.  Though it is not intended to replace more conventional versions, it should pique the interest of many who have an interest in getting closer to the original.  The incorporation of new readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and various explanatory notes add to the usefulness of the edition.”

Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, Professor Emeritus, History Department, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

“I am delighted to hear that the Transparent English Bible translation of Genesis may soon be published. I know of no other translation quite like it, and envision recommending it both to the prospective ministers I teach in an ecumenical divinity school and to the educated, curious readers I meet in community groups and congregations where I often lead studies.   Varied though their particular motives and investments may be, many such readers are intrigued by the complexities of Biblical interpretation, and eager for tools that allow less dependence on “received” views, including standard translations.   The TEB rendering of Genesis both de-familiarizes the text and makes its diction, figures, and syntax accessible in ways that afford real insight.  Its superscripts, notes, and other conventions create transparency in method, not just translation. The translation captures the lively play of Hebrew, and invites an answering clarity and energy of interpretation from readers.  I hope Genesis is published quickly, with more to follow soon.”

Dr. B. Diane Lipsett
Assistant Professor,
New Testament and Christian Origins
Wake Forest University School of Divinity
Winston-Salem, NC

“I have worked in linguistics for 25 years now and have been a lay reader of the Bible. Reading the new translation of Genesis is at once familiar but also like reading something I’ve not read before. There’s an ancient, mysterious quality about it that makes me want to like Moses take my shoes off while standing on holy ground. There’s the feeling that I’ve discovered something that’s been hidden for ages.”

Dr. James Langford
Professor of Linguistics
Director of Programming and Web Technology
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas

“James Tabor’s Transparent English Bible is such a good idea, it is a wonder someone has not done it before. This is a translation that will have immense appeal to those who have studied Hebrew and Greek and perhaps more so to those who have not. To both groups it provides the first ever opportunity to come as close as possible to hearing the original tongue in English. “Transparent” is a perfect descriptor of what I have read.  The TEB seems to have it all—poetic beauty, accuracy, and notes to show the main textual variants. It is everything a student of the Bible could want in an accurate, literal translation. In short, it is amazing.  It will provide all kinds of new opportunities for bringing the Bible to life in a fresh way while ensuring that the original author’s intent is not being distorted. I eagerly look forward to using this invaluable new translation in my work as a parish pastor and college instructor.”

The Rev. Jeffrey J. Bütz, M.Div., S.T.M.
Pastor, Grace Lutheran Church, Nazareth, Pennsylvania
Instructor of Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University

“The Spanish wit Cervantes said, ‘Reading a translation is like looking at a tapestry on the wrong side.’ Dr. Tabor has attempted to set the tapestry on the right side and look through it as if it were transparent. It is a novel approach that will be welcomed by those of us who see a need for freshness in reading the venerable text. The TEB will provide that freshness, piquing readers to ask questions of the text: ‘Why did the writer put it that way? Am I missing something?’  What better way to learn?  Presenting the ancient biblical text dynamically, I believe, is TEB’s greatest contribution. It sets aside the encrusted religious traditions of centuries and breaks the stained glass of orthodoxy by giving the reader the opportunity to see the Text with greater clarity, and without theological spin. It meets a need unmet by other English translations.”

Pastor Kenneth Westby
Founder and Executive Director of the Association for Christian Development
Seattle, Washington
Bible teacher and pastor for 46 years

“Unless a student of Scripture is willing to complete the arduous task of learning an original language of the Bible, they cannot truly taste the marrow of it’s meaning or sense the mind it gives expression to in an English translation. It is like walking around a construction site only to surmise about what is being built by looking at the tools and material at hand.  With this translation of Genesis using a concept called Transparency, James Tabor has given us access to the blueprints. For the first time, students without training in Hebrew can begin to perceive the marvelous distinctions, resonant patterns and eloquent simplicity of the language. This is a must-have work that will surely add unique acuity to one’s endeavor to understand the Bible’s original texts.”

Lee Hutchison, Religious Studies Graduate

“I am just enthralled at how beautiful the wording is and excited to read it aloud to the children especially! Talk about a fascinating story! It reminds me of a play being read. I can imagine someone like Mark Twain doing a reading with such life and beauty and meaning that you feel like you are there. It makes me stand up and move around and use body language as I read because I can visualize the whole scene. Believe me, my grandchildren are going to love the Bible now! Like the word soil-man, how much more explanatory can a word get?”

Linda Scoggins
Lay Reader
Trout Lake, Washington

“Reading the words of this new translation has been beautiful and inspiring. Although it sounds different when read aloud in comparison to the more traditional bible translations, I feel it really does come as close as possible to capturing the beautiful poetic nuances of the original Hebrew.”

Catherine Cashmore
Lay Reader
Melbourne, Australia

Genesis 1-12

Filed under: Translation Samples — James Tabor @ 12:28 am

These first twelve chapters of Genesis are not only foundational to the biblical story, they well illustrate the essential methods, style, and approach of the Transparent English Bible. This version is numbered and revised from time to time, so check back to get the latest version:


Over the years we have received hundreds of helpful comments and insightful input from our many interested and dedicated readers. Gradually the translation has been shaped and honed by this process, just as much as we have benefited from the more formal expertise of our academic experts and consultants.

Please continue to offer your comments and ideas. Every message we get is carefully read and saved. In order to get the full benefit of this Translation Sample you will want to also download our Readers Guide, Abbreviation Key and Transliteration Chart.

December 25, 2011

Textual Theory: What Manuscripts Should One Use?

Filed under: Translation Notes — James Tabor @ 10:48 am

The most fundamental question that any translation project has to face is which Hebrew and Greek texts should be used as a base for translating in the first place. When ancient manuscripts differ, as they always do, how should these hundreds of variant readings be handled? The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has opened an entirely new chapter in this debate, since we now have copies of portions of the Hebrew Bible that even predate the Christian era. There are places where the Scrolls support the Septuagint (Greek translation from 2nd century BCE), over against the traditional Hebrew text.

Some years ago  Bible Review (16:04, August 2000) published a spirited debate on this question titled “The Most Orioginal Bible Text: How to Get there.”  Ronald Hendel of University of California-Berkeley and James Sanders, president of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center of Claremont Graduate School took up the question. At issue is whether new scholarly editions of the Hebrew Bible should be based on an eclectic text (a composite scholarly creation made up of all the various manuscript traditions), or the Masoretic (Traditional) text, with variants noted in footnotes. As many of you know, I have opted for the Masoretic text, and indeed, the Leningrad Codex, which is the oldest complete edition thereof, as my base text for the Hebrew Bible. I was most pleased to see that Prof. Sanders has mounted a most convincing and eloquent defense of the very method that I had chosen. This is not to say that Prof. Hendel’s arguments are without merit. After all, what he suggests is almost universally accepted by scholars as the basis of our critical New Testament texts. Both methods have strengths as well as liabilities, but I was pleased to see that Prof. Sanders presented such a strong case for his view, one that tends to be a minority opinion these days. Although the magazine Bible Revie The article contains many illustrations, some wonderful photos and graphics, and is an absolutely first-rate presentation of this whole debate.

Where the Original Bible Project differs from most translations is that I will incorporate variants to the Leningrad Codex only in the footnotes, not in the English translation itself, so that the reader will always know just which text he or she is reading at any given point. Most modern English translations (the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh is an exception here) mix all the readings of the various manuscripts into a single English text—which in effect “creates” a modern text that actually does not exist. That is why some have called the Original Bible Project a manuscript edition of the Bible. It allows the reader to “see through” the English text at every level, back to the original manuscripts.

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