On Englishing the Bible of the Orthodox Church: An Update

A year ago I wrote about two noteworthy projects whose goal is to translate into English the Bible of the Orthodox Church: Michael Asser’s KJV-LXX Psalter and Fr Laurent Cleenewerck’s Greek / Eastern Orthodox Bible. Last April I was pleased to announce the long-awaited publication of Mr Asser’s excellent Psalter in a handsome and sturdy edition designed to withstand many years of liturgical and devotional use. Now I am equally pleased to report that a corrected edition of the EOB’s New Testament has been released, and is available for download (and purchase) in anticipation of the publication of the final edition in November 2009; and that, further, the entire Old Testament is also slated to appear by the end of next year. The remarkable importance of the upcoming publication of the EOB can hardly be overstated: this is, quite simply, the very first time in which the entire text of the Church’s Bible will appear in English translation. As I noted in my earlier post, the EOB New Testament

” [….] is laudably based on the 1904 Patriarchal Greek text, which is, for all practical purposes, the only authoritative Orthodox edition of the ecclesiastical text of the New Testament. Divergences from the modern critical text of the New Testament (NA/UBS) are marked by footnotes, as are textual variants from patristic sources […] [T]he EOB Old Testament will be a (one hopes extensive) revision of Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint [….].”

Needless to say, this is an enormous improvement upon other editions currently available. As is well known, the Orthodox Study Bible simply prints the text of the NKJV New Testament unchanged, and the notion that its Old Testament is an actual translation of the Septuagint is, at best, highly debatable. It is not, then, the Church’s Bible strictly speaking. On the other hand, the 2-volume Orthodox New Testament published by Holy Apostles’ Convent, though based on the 1904 Patriarchal New Testament, and invaluable though it is on account of its superb system of patristic annotations, fails to be actually English: its “translation” of the Biblical text is disastrous (not to say ludicrous), constantly given as it is to simple transliteration, or else to fallacious overinterpretation of the worst kind. And, in any event, it is a translation of the New Testament alone. So again, the EOB will be the very first English translation of the Bible of the Orthodox Church, and from the look of it, a fine one indeed.

Now, surely on account of the great benefit that is to be visited upon us all, you are wondering if there is anything you can do to bring this worthy project to fruition in a timely fashion. And as a matter of fact, there is: Fr Laurent is looking for proofreaders that will help him comb through the entire translation of the Old and New Testaments before the final release in late 2009. If you have the time and the competencies to engage in this task, please get in touch with Fr Laurent to offer your assistance. Christopher Orr has posted his contact information, along with further information on the soon-to-be-released EOB.

[For more on the subject Church’s text of the Holy Scriptures and its importance, see my earlier posts: On Translating the Church’s (and No Other) Bible and On the Necessity of Seriously and Critically Engaging Matters of Text and Translation.]

8 responses to “On Englishing the Bible of the Orthodox Church: An Update

  1. Hmm, the patristics make the Orthodox New Testament sound interesting, but the reviews I’ve read make the actual translation sound like the modern descendant of Young’s Literal Translation. Alas, I’ve yet to see a sample to actually judge.

    Chuck Grantham

    Tonight’s word verification, “rullball”, sounds like some obscure Australian sport.


  2. Aaron> Me too! I have passed on this all-important information to the key gift-giving people, and I have the feeling I will have an EOB New Testament in time for the Feast ;-)

    Chuck> I assure you that the translation is every bit as terrible as the reviews suggest. However, the system of annotations is truly invaluable: it consists of extensive, running selections from the Schaff's Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicence Fathers set. I do not own a set, since at $37.50 a piece, they're a bit beyond my means, but I've had the chance to review them extensively, and one of these days I'll forsake food and drink for a couple of weeks in order to buy them! :-)

    (Mneawhile, the patristic annotations are not printed as footnotes, but rather together as endnotes. You would think that they'd publish the annotations alone, just like they publish the "translation" alone in a pocket edition, but alas, that is not the case.)


  3. Well, I for one am not going to complain about the Holy Apostles Convent translation, and will instead defend it. For the work of one nun, it is amazing, and the notes (the textual notes are as incisive as the patristic notes are edifying), in addition to the spirit in which the project was undertaken (one of critical acument wielded in all piety), wholly compensate for the peculiarity of the language. Her point was to accurately reflect the Greek, which it does, regardless of the effect on English. It was intended as a hyper-literal translation, and is thus perfectly realized in that sense. The benefit of this translation is really found in study, I think, which very literal translations are always of benefit for.

    [Note: I am practicing the ending of my sentences with prepositions these days. Viva la revolucion!]

    The EOB begins with different goals, and arrives in a different place. A prettier place, to be sure, but a different one.


  4. Why, oh, why cannot anyone do a liturgically useful, poetically solid, classical English, faithfully meaningful translation of the actual, real Orthodox Bible?



  5. Mr Grantham> Here is a sample:

    So then, as we have opportunity, let us be working that which is good towards all, and most of all towards those of the household of faith. See with what size letters I am writing to you with my own hand. (Gal. 6:10-11)

    Esteban> I just transcribed that passage from my very own set of 'The Orthodox New Testament'. It looks so nice sitting on my shelf.

    Kevin> If this is indeed the work of one nun, my hat's off to her. Of course, I'm inside, and I always take my hat off inside…


  6. Kevin> Unlike you, my friend, I simply cannot defend the ONT's peculiar language — particularly when I add to the equation the fact that this "translation" of the Biblical text is printed without any of the notes (which, of course, I have called "invaluable") both in a pocket reader's edition and in their liturgical Apostolos and Evangelion. Like "Young's Literal Translation" and the "Concordant Version," the ONT's "translation" is based on linguistically odd principles, and just like the other two translations mentioned, deserves every bit of criticism directed to it on that account.

    As I said to Chuck, I wish that they would print the notes in an independent volume. The chances of this are dismal, however, and so I will have to crack down and spend the $75 for the two volumes. But in spite of the translation, this will be money well spent.

    (And, um, have fun with your "revolution," I guess. ;-)

    Fr Andrew> Well, you're a poet and have studied Greek both in college and seminary, so get crackin'! ;-)

    Anyway, I feel your pain. I think that Michael Asser's Psalter, which is an admirably successful revision of the KJV, goes a long way in that direction. Mr Asser, I am told, has expressed his willingness to revise the entire KJV Old Testament in similar fashion; for me, this would end the quest for a "liturgically useful, poetically solid, classical English, faithfully meaningful translation of the actual, real Orthodox Bible" (well, at least as far as the Old Testament goes!).

    Aaron> Flaunting is a sin that will be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come! ;-)

    And yes, the ONT is the work of a single nun, Mother Miriam — who, incidentally, accomplished by herself almost infinitely more than the well-funded, publisher-backed, multiperson OSB project (and so did, for that matter, Fr Laurent Cleenewerck).


  7. Alas, I am of little Greek and less Latin. I only have the slightest of knowledge, really.

    Anyway, I think what I would really prefer would be a revision/correction of the KJV, for some of the same reasons behind the approach of the KJV itself. The translators deliberately made it sounds like the Bishops’ Bible so that it wouldn’t be too jarringly different in liturgical use. What a wonderfully pastoral thing to do!


  8. Well, yes, I can see the little abridged version would be a bit jarring without the introduction and the notes. I still don’t think it’s that bad. The only truly awkward part is the treatment of participles, Ithink it was, but flipping it open, I can’t even find any instances offhand, so even those, to be fair, are rare. It generally reads like the KJV, really quite literal, but not slavishly so.

    I think the general impression it makes on me is best categorized as solid.

    On the ending of sentences with prepositions: the quip is not Churchill’s, but still a good one.


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