Sunday, March 30, 2008

OSB Review Roundup (so far)

I have thus far judged the OSB only by its cover, but I will actually open the book very soon. In the meantime, I'd suggest you avail yourself of some of the excellent commentary I've come across, all of it written by people deeply read in Holy Scripture:
  • Theron Mathis, who himself participated in parts of the production of the OSB, offers his thoughts here.
  • And, once again, Fr Ephrem Lash's review of the original (1993) version of the OSB bears reading and rereading. The new version of the OSB includes the very same New Testament and notes, with only very minor revision, as that reviewed by Fr Ephrem fifteen years ago. Indeed, Fr Ephrem's review can be used as a standard to measure the success of the 2008 version of the OSB. Were the editors able to incorporate constructive criticism, or were they not?
While Mr Edgecomb, for reasons of sanity, has rescind himself from further extended comment, I will continue to comment on the OSB in installments, as time permits. Esteban, hopefully, will be soon joining the fray. I invite readers to submit other serious reviews they may have come across – or, for that matter, to write their own! Reflections and reactions are always welcome in the comment boxes, and I'd be happy to lend out this space for guest reviews for people without an internet soapbox of their own. Send me an email (see profile page), and I'll take your review into consideration. I'd be happy to feature any genuinely thoughtful and constructive review regardless of whether I endorse its contents.


Fr. John Whiteford said...

I don't think Fr. Ephrem's original review is the gold standard on this issue at all. One of his objections to the OSB is that the NKJV is based on the Textus Receptus... but in fact it is the closest of any English translation to what is the standard New Testament text. He objects to the inclusion of the story of the woman caught in adultery... but does anyone know of any Orthodox Gospel book published in the past 1,000 years that excluded it? Some of his points were correct, and have been addressed. Perhaps some haven't been. But some of his points are simply erroneous.

Felix Culpa said...

True, it's not the gold standard, and there's much with which one can disagree and argue. But it does contain some very solid criticism, seemingly none of which appears to have been incorporated into the new OSB. More important than individual points made by Fr Ephrem, to my mind at least, is that he puts his finger the oddness of the entire project.

If you follow one of Esteban's link in the above post you'll reach an interesting and fairly extensive exchange about the merits of Fr Ephrem's review.

Which of his correct points do you see the OSB to have addressed, apart from removing the red ink from Christ's words?

Incidentally, Fr John, if you'd like to write something up on the OSB I'd be happy to post it here, or we could co-post on your site and here.

Alex said...

Bless, Father!

I've been reading with interest about the OSB debate. I've perused it every once in a while, but it is not my gold standard as far as Bibles in English are concerned. In fact, I have not found one that I can say is truly authoritative although there are many people including my own parish priest, who would vote en masse for the King James.

For me the gold standard remains the translation that was done by the Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (I am Bulgarian born). Although it is not scholarly, it has retained enough of the Church Slavonic to be readable and authentic. It also seems to me that it bears its own stamp of authority because it was done with the approval of a Synod. (The OSB's Committee included people that never saw anything before it reached the light of day, according to Esteban).

This brings me to wonder if the jurisdictions in America have done anything like this. If we had a version in English that would be unequivocally approved by the jurisdictions in the United States and their mother Synods back home, then it would probably be much better for the readers.

Anyway, that is my own opinion.

PS: Can you comment on the version that is approved by the ROCOR for their Russians? Isn't it the old Synodal Version of 1896? I'm just curious.

Alex said...

PPS: The translation was not done from Bulgarian to English. Rather, it was done from Church Slavonic into Bulgarian.

My apologies for any misunderstandings.

Felix Culpa said...

Alex: Thanks for your comment.

There really isn't any single English-language Bible that can be viewed as authoritative. I prefer use of the KJV liturgically, but it's not without its problems, not the least of which is that its OT is based on the Hebrew text, and not the Septuagint.

Various jurisdictions in the US have produced semi-official books of Scripture, none of which have gained widespread acceptance and use even within the jurisdiction for which they were intended.

I agree that it would be a wonderful thing if there could be an English-language version of the Bible that could be accepted by all parts of the Orthodox Church. But this alone doesn't guarantee anything. The OSB has a long list of contributors and advisors, including top-ranking bishops from nearly every jurisdiction, as well as seemingly every Orthodox theologian or scholar in the UK and North America. And what good did that do? So, yes, I agree that it would be a magnificent thing if a pan-Orthodox approved version were to appear; but it would be even more magnificent if a GOOD pan-Orthodox approved version were to appear. The OSB should teach us, if nothing else, that many powerful blessings don't amount to much of the product itself is inferior.

As for ROCOR (as for the Russian Church in general), the standard Bible is the Slavonic Bible. The 1896 version is generally tolerated but, not only is it vastly inferior to the Slavonic, but the Russian is fairly difficult to contemporary readers. The best compromise I've seen is a NT with the Slavonic and Russian in parallel columns. New translations of all or parts of the Bible have appeared in Russian since the Synodal version, but known of them, so far as I know, has met with an official endorsement from the Church.

Hope this helps!

Felix Culpa said...


Too bad! A translation from the Bulgarian to English would have been very interesting indeed!

Fr. John Whiteford said...

I had the misfortune of ordering my copy of the OSB from Christian Book Distributors, and for some reason both they and Amazon are not shipping until mid June... so I have not been able to review the new edition thoroughly yet, but what I have seen shows that they made an attempt to incorporate much patristic commentary into their study notes. They also certainly have a much improved Psalter.

Some more of Fr. Ephrem's criticism that I think are misguided are his complaint about the section which shows how the various Gospel's fit together... I see nothing wrong with such a thing. Also, as for his complaint about the "Read the Bible Through in a Year" and his retort that he prefers the way the Church has us do that... the problem is there is no lectionary that would take us through the entire Bible. Such a reading schedule is merely a suggested system to read the Bible through... and if people use it, and accomplish that, where is the complaint? We need to encourage people to read the Bible, and one big barrier to that happening is people lacking the ability to understand how the parts fit together or what to make of it. I don't see how the OSB has not moved the football down the field, in the right direction... even if it is not perfect.

Anonymous said...

I have criticised the OSB in the past, but I believe that they will hear the valid criticisms that have been leveled against it and will improve the text and the notes. The Second edition will be better, so lets just wait a little more and we will see an improvement. I have no doubt about it. However, I would still insist on avoiding the first edition and just wait for the second edition with its improvements.
Peter A. Papoutsis