4.0193 Technology and Bible Translations (1/48)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 15 Jun 90 17:27:38 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0193. Friday, 15 Jun 1990.

Date: Friday, 15 June 1990 0020-EST
Subject: Technology, Tendenz, and Bible Translations

In his interesting and useful note on translations of Jewish scriptures,
Steve Mason correctly points out that a valuable pedagogical advantage
of using the Jewish Publication Society TaNaKh translation is that it is
"free of the influence of the Christian translation tradition" (for most
practical purposes, at least) and that its "integrety is not conditioned
by a Christian interpretive appendix (the 'New Testament')." I could
not let his next point pass, however, since it is both misleading and
itself illustrates that simply by avoiding one traditional trajectory
("Christian") one does not automatically move into territory that is
free of analogous interests (in this instance, "Jewish"). I don't mean
this to be a polemical observation, but a descriptive "fact." I have no
solution, except to recommend that NO SINGLE TRANSLATION be used to the
exclusion of others.

In any event, the point made by Steve that serves as my illustrative
focus is his #3: that in the JPS translation "the proper, original order
of the text (Torah, Prophets, Writings) is preserved, rather than the
Christian arrangement." As I'm sure Steve knows, the question of the
order of Jewish scriptural books is extremely complex. How one can
determine what is "proper" or "original" or for that matter "Christian"
(or even "Jewish") goes far beyond academic historical description!
Before the advent of the codex form of gathering texts together under
one cover (a technological revolution in the 2nd through 4th centuries
of the common era!), there was no simple or obvious way of assigning
order to the scriptural books that were being collected and organized
into groupings -- there might have been lists (Sirach and Luke-Acts and
Josephus provide some evidence for ways of ordering subsections and/or
giving some sort of table of contents), or possibly ordered bins in a
segmented scroll box, but even the concept of "proper and original
order" seems improbable in this scroll technology period. These are
later issues that probably grew with the technology that made it possible
to create a "Bible" under one cover, requiring a specific order. Much
diversity of specific order is attested before either "Jews" or
"Christians" developed what came to be traditional in the classical
forms of those perspectives.

Yes, use the JPS TaNaKh; and also use RSV, NRSV, NIV, etc. And alert
your students to the influences, both overt and more subtle, that the
surviving traditions continue to have on how we look at these matters.
And don't forget that technological developments have often, sometimes in
almost forgotten ways, played important roles in changing how things
were viewed and what matters were considered important. I would argue
that the order of the books of Jewish scriptures is one of the least
important things to consider in choosing a translation for academic

Bob Kraft (Religious Studies, Penn)