Monday, January 26, 2009

ESV with Apocrypha has Arrived

[This post subject to further revisions and refinements on what is not only a touchy subject, but one deserving of more precision and care for the verity and for charitas.]

_______The ESV is a generally useful translation of the Scriptures. I would not make it my main study bible, and it has some issues. (See this excellent review by Michael Marlow.) In the words of one fellow, the more liberal crowd of Bible readers has commonly made this version its "whipping boy"; I note they offer a lot of pedantic and unwarranted criticisms, and suggestions out of line with the version's principles; often calumniating it, though commonly enough right where it matches their otherwise beloved RSV, the RSV being the ESV's basis. This is quite sad.
_______Among more conservative demographics, however, and even those we might call neo-orthodox, (some of them, anyways), the ESV is doing quite well. In a move to secure the customerships of more conservative seminaries and academics, and perhaps the Roman, and Greek, Catholics as customers, Oxford has published the ESV with the Apocrypha (including both the Protestant/Catholic Apocrypha, and the Eastern Orthodox Apocrypha).

"The English Standard Version Bible with Apocrypha is certain to become the preferred Bible in more conservative divinity schools and seminaries, where the Apocrypha is studied from an academic perspective. And it answers the need of conservative Christians in general for a more literal version of these books." (Cambridge ESV with Apocrypha product page online)

Personally, I applaud the move because of the interest these books are to scholars, intertestamental students, and whatnot.

_______The Apocrypha, if you don't know, are books written in the interim period between the Old and New Testaments. Anciently they are not regarded as Scripture; during the Medieval period, some Western (Roman) Catholics began reading them as if they were; somewhere in history, Greek Catholics (Eastern Orthodox) also began regarding the Apocrypha regarded by the Roman Catholics, plus some, as Scripture.
_______The extra books were so regarded depending on the version used, the West due to presence in the Latin Vulgate, while in the East, due to presence in the Greek Vulgate (the Septuagint). Something important is to note that "canonical", "deuterocannonical", etc., in ancient writings, seemed to be used in more nuanced senses than today, with fine, developed, considerations of these matters absent today's thinking; this is especially significant since Catholics like to appeal to Augustine, who does not use the words as they do. When studied, I find the historical Protestants are heirs of this older, considerate, view of these books, perfectly in harmony, therefore, with the older catholic (miniscule "c") view of the books as generally acceptable for edification, but unacceptable for building or maintaining any doctrine. (Here is an interesting piece of writing on the subject!)
_______In the Reformation period the protestants set to inquire about the status of the Canon, and following the ancients' judgment, (though we're not to discount their own investigations in this matter from consideration), deemed these books, (in agreement with the ancient Jews and early Christians), as being outside the Canon of Scripture. Ever since, Rome has polemically accused the Protestants of criminal behavior, accusing them of rejecting "Scripture", and often depicting them as "missing out" on something; this is not upright or to be taken seriously, as the Protestants investigated the matter, and find themselves sided with authorities of the church that Rome ignores of necessity in order to assert her position.
_______Their line of inquiry looked to the Ancient Church's investigation of the matter, which was thorough, in both the Old and New Testaments, transcending and bypassing the rhetoric posturing of the Roman political hierarchy. By this the Protestants could hardly be accused, with any legitimacy, of actually contradicting the Church, "yea rather", they were returning to its sober judgment. Today, I have witnessed that the committed and serious Roman Catholics, when confronted with such data, such as,

"Jerome himself denied these are Scripture, and upon Origen's example and teaching, elucidated the name of this collection of books is "Apocrypha", after the custom of the Jews, a term meaning "hidden", properly, but applied to the books the Jews gave much respect, but did not regard as Scripture"

often retort with something like, "well Jerome was overruled by the Church". (!) I also see it often said, something like
"the Protestants use 'Apocrypha' to mean 'false', and they discourage the reading of these works".
These acerbically loaded accusations, however, totally ignore the Protestant writings, prologues, introductions, and scholarly works on these books. Luther, for instance, wrote
"Apocrypha, that is, books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures, and nevertheless are useful and good to read". (See 1, 2.)
The successive English Bibles, the protestant-Anglican (the preceding adjective since sometimes Anglicanism is more Roman than protestant, depending on the mood of the time) Church, the Dutch, etc., agree in this judgment, recognizing the importance of these works for historical data, and benefit for education, but not doctrine. They also ignore, however, the pastristics' use of "apocrypha", (which does on occasion have the sense false!).

The real rub for Catholics is that without these books, some of its doctrines fail either explicit, or implicit, support in Scripture, as if that ever mattered to post-Trent Catholicism, so it is an odd worry to see them express, when they have mountain ranges of such doctrines, and serious Catholic scholars, even the current Pope, unhesitatingly say that Scripture cannot support all of Rome's doctrines. Protestants are often accused of disregarding these books merely to do away with some doctrines. Yet again, the ancient Church is often in contention against Rome, though it claims continuity with it which agrees with the protestants, and it was their ancient cry that no doctrine shall be built upon extrabiblical books.

_______Today, I received my copy of the ESV with the Apocrypha. It's the standard ESV, with a short, fact-stating Preface, controversial about nothing so as, perhaps, to leave the version acceptable widely and ecumenically. It is a hardcover with sewn binding which arrived with a warning not to use the Bible as a holder of paper and Church bulletins lest they damage the sewn binding that was placed inside of course! Of interest to any Catholic, the Apocryphal books of this edition are placed in the back of the Bible, not interspersed into the Old Testament. I would have preferred they be placed between the testaments, for the intertestamental placement is more traditional (among Protestants), and emphasizes the period in which these books were written. Nonetheless, it is interesting to now have a modern, updated, rendition of these books in a literal form. The Apocrypha contained are those of both the Vulgate and the Septuagint. The preface says in part:

_____As with the Expanded Apocrypha of the RSV, the following edition of the Apocrypha also includes those books from the Septuagint that are in use among Orthodox Christians.
_____While the Entire text published in this Oxford University Press edition was examined for faithfulness to the original languages, the main points of interaction included updating archaic language, clarifying obscure words, removing inaccuracies, and bringing punctuation up to current American English standards. Three scholars well versed in the ancient language worked through assigned portions of the Apocrypha, namely:

_______ · David A. deSilva, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Ashland Theological Seminary
_______ · Dan McCartney, Professor of New Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary
_______ · Bernard A. Taylor, Loma Linda University.

The whole was then edited by David Aiken (Ada, Michigan) to achieve consistency throughout.
_______The Göttingen Septuagint served as the textual base for all of the books except 4 Maccabees (which was translated from Rahlfs's Septuagint) and 2 Edras (which was translated from the 1983 Vulgate published by the German Bible Society).
_______We are pleased to offer this version of the Apocrypha to all those readers who wish to explore these ancient writings, which provide additional insight into the history and thought of the Jewish people during the centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Translation Committee
of the Apocryphal Books

_______The edition is quite thin, yet it has large type. The paper is good quality and opaque, having very little bleed-through of the text, (on this last point I give my caution, as I'm used to editions of Bibles that have heavy bleeding--such as the KJV/RV interlinear by Cambridge, so I may be a little out of the ordinary in evaluating that point[edit: I've seen other reviewers say there's more bleed-through than they'd like]). The large text will be be welcome to big readers and those with weary eyes. The book has no jacket. The appendices contain a table of weights and measures, and monetary units; three two-sided pages of note paper, (which is comical, but not unusual these days); and maps.


The printing is disorganized to the uninitiated (that includes myself: must decipher...) and looks fragmentary. What connects to does not necessarily know. The handling of the printing here is terrible. Perhaps it would not be so bad if this edition weren't so minimalist, skipping all intros and opportunities to convey some indication of what's going on!
_______Apocryphal Esther has various forms, Greek and Hebrew. In the Apocryphal Esther, I've encountered a problem: the printing in this edition of either does not indicate which is which, and generally leaves the reader who is not fully learned about the Apocrypha at a loss for what the heck is going on: why does the book start at chapter 11? Why does it have facing pages each with Chapters 3, 4, 5... Also, of interested to the Eastern Orthodox readers, the entire Greek Esther is printed, not just the Greek additions to the original Hebrew's version. Unfortunately, there are no introductions to the Apocryphal books whatsoever (or any of the ESV's introductions, actually), or cross-references.

_______Other than these issues, this edition looks to be one that has already wildly, and widely, sold; Anglicans, Lutherans, and even Catholics have expressed interest. They delayed the release date because the pre-order numbers outran the supply. It looks as if there will be a much greater interest in the Apocrypha in the days ahead. Now if only people would take such an enthusiastic interest in handling Scripture carefully, and learning its doctrines, rather than reading it like a self-help therapeutic make-my-life-better book.

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