Two Septuagints

After so long a time, we now have, within the space of a year, two complete English translations of the Septuagint, the Old Testament of the early Church, and still the Old Testament for Orthodox Christians. One is a scholarly edition, the New English Translation of the Septuagint, published by Oxford University Press and typically referred to as NETS ($19.80 at Amazon; thanks Iyov!). I’ve written about this translation previously. Now there is also the St Athanasius Academy Septuagint, the trademarked (!) name of the Old Testament included in the new Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World published by Thomas Nelson Publishers (the New Testament translation included is the New King James Version, which was likewise the “boilerplate” used as a guide to the translation of the Septuagint, in a role analogous to that of the NRSV for NETS). The OSB is available in both a hardback and a “genuine leather” edition, and least expensively from Amazon (hardback only is available for pre-order; available now in hardback and “leather” from Conciliar Press). As I’ve already described the NETS, I’ll now briefly review the new Orthodox Study Bible (henceforth OSB) and proceed to a comparison of these two welcome translations.

First, as is patently indicated by its title, the OSB is a study Bible intended primarily for an English-reading Eastern Orthodox Christian audience and other English readers with an interest in Orthodoxy. At the bottom of each page are notes of varying lengths, though tending toward brevity, rather like those of the Oxford Annotated Bibles. There are various single-page study articles interspersed throughout both Testaments, covering subjects like Ancestral Sin, Sacrifice, The Tabernacle, Types of Mary in the Old Testament, and so on. There are likewise a number of different full-color pages including reproductions of various icons, which the Orthodox are well-known for. A number of different articles and helps are likewise included: Acknowledgments, Special Recognition, an introduction, a page listing the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Old Testaments, a page of abbreviations of patristic authors and materials used in the notes, “Overview of the Books of the Bible” by Bishop Basil (Essey) of Wichita and Mid-America, “Introducing the Orthodox Church,” “The Bible: God’s Revelation to Man” by Bishop Joseph (al-Zehlaoui) of Los Angeles and the West, “How to Read the Bible” by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, a “Lectionary” which is not precisely the actual liturgical lectionary of the Eastern Orthodox Church but is intended for a devotional reading schedule, a glossary of terms and phrases used in the notes, pages of morning and evening prayers, indices to the annotations and study articles, the traditional list of The Seventy Apostles (see Luke 10), and a set of full-color maps. Throughout the OSB, each book of the two Testaments is given an introductory section including Author, Date, Major Theme, Background, and Outline. All this indicates therefore a volume of satisfying heft, and of a great variety of resources typical of study Bible of our day and age.

I have not delved deeply into the OSB yet, but can give some initial impressions. First, there are various pearls of patristic wisdom strewn about in the notes, with attribution only by abbreviated name, not by work. There could have been more, which would rather have been appreciated, of course, but at the very least citations should have been included, whether for a quotation or for the more vague sorts of allusions worded by the annotators. Otherwise, the notes are fairly consistent in following a Christocentric interpretation in the Old Testament, the traditional Orthodox approach which makes for such rich hymnography. When, however, they drift into mere summary of the sections above, they are rather jejune and entirely unnecessary.

The icons are a mixed bag of quality. There are some beautiful ones: a the Three Holy Youths in the Furnace from a mural at Vatopaidi Monastery, Mount Athos dated 1312; The Transfiguration by Photi Kontoglu; and St John the Forerunner by Father Gregory (surname not given). The rest are of varying quality, some being quite sentimentalizing, some veering toward mere painting. A consistenly better collection of icons could have been presented, as our holy icons are treasures of the Church and there are hundreds of recognized works written in great sanctity and also recognized to be of great artistic value. This was also a complaint of the icons included in the first Orthodox Study Bible: New Testament and Psalms. Astonishingly, all of the icons presented in that earlier volume, several of which received complaints regarding their quality, were included in this volume, along with a few others.

My copy is the “genuine leather” edition, with gilt-edged pages. Apparently these days, “genuine leather” means what used to be called “bonded leather.” The cover of this one feels more like cardboard, of much lesser quality than even the first OSB, which wasn’t of great quality at all. And the binding is glued, not stitched, which is truly unfortunate (and cheap). In combination with this, the margins are miserly, so that the text veers into the gutter (where the pages meet in the middle of the open book). The print is, however, comfortably large, though the line spacing seems a bit cramped. Each page is two-columned, fully justified (that is, both sides of the text block meet the edges of the columns). I would have this OSB rebound with a better quality cover, but the glued binding and small margins would result in it being unusable, as the gutter problem would grow even worse once sewn. Nice. There is only one register (the bound-in ribbon bookmark) unlike the old OSB which included two. The page edge gilding is the spray-on kind that is already leaving little flecks of gold everywhere. So, as an example of bookbinding, I would not rate the OSB well.

The use of the New King James Version in the New Testament is still an issue. For the amount of time this translation was in process (roughly ten years since I first started following it), an entire New Testament translation based on Constantinople’s Ecclesiastical text could have been easily produced. Instead, we have this translation based on the hybrid Textus Receptus, and Byzantine readings noted in the translation as readings of the “M-Text” and readings from the Nestle-Aland/UBS text noted as the “NU-Text.” With all the effort put into producing the Septuagint translation, a little more to produce a translation of the Ecclesiastical text would have been appreciated. As it stands, therefore, this “Orthodox Study Bible” is only half Orthodox: in the Old Testament only. A few quotations of Church Fathers in the notes doesn’t fix the NT.

The order of the books follows the traditional Orthodox order, except in mysteriously placing the Prayer of Manasseh not after the Psalms, where the Odes would normally be, but as the last column on the last page of 2 Chronicles, where it appears to be a part of chapter 36. Then there is the confusion of the two Ezra books and Nehemiah. In the Septuagint, it is usually the case (as in NETS; also see here) that there is 1 Esdras, the alternate partial Chronicles/Ezra-Nehemiah book, and then the Hebrew Ezra and Nehemiah books are combined as 2 Esdras, with 23 chapters. The OSB inexplicably has 1 Ezra (the 1 Esdras above), 2 Ezra (Hebrew Ezra), and Nehemiah. Though I do recall this as an option among Greek treatments of the titles of these books, it’s not as common as the other. In Daniel there is a serious problem with the page headers. At the beginning of Daniel is, as is proper, the book of Susanna, and at the end, Bel and the Serpent. Unfortunately, the page headers take the verse of Susanna as the chapter of Daniel, so the header on page 1237, the second page of Susanna/Daniel, reads “Daniel 41” and the next page “Daniel 42.” At the end of the book, page 1261 has the header “Daniel 21” and the next page “Daniel 22.”

So, the OSB appears to be at the very least a step in the right direction, and I do expect myself to warm to it to a certain degree, but its shortcomings are real and inexcusable. I know quite a number of people worked on this Bible for a long time. It should have been better. It could have been better. Why is it not better?

Now I’d like to look at the two Septuagint translations in comparison. The NETS is, of course, a scholarly effort of great erudition, designed for use as an academic tool. The OSB is designed for use as devotional reading. For this reason, the OSB doesn’t include translations of the variant texts in Joshua, Judges, Esther, and Daniel, for instance, but rather opts for what is (more or less) the Ecclesiastical text. As I mentioned above, the OSB used the NKJV as a base for its translation, just as the NETS used the NRSV. In this first comparison, therefore, I’ve chosen Sirach 44.1-5, as something not contaminated by boilerplate usage of the NKJV.

OSB Sirach 4.1-5:
Let us now praise honored men and our fathers.
The Lord established His great glory
And majesty from the beginning through them.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms
And were men renowned for their power,
Giving counsel through their understanding
And proclaiming prophecies.
There were leaders of the people by their counsels
And understanding of learning for the people,
Wise in their words of instruction.

NETS Sirach 44.1-5
Let us now praise famous men
and our fathers by descent.
The Lord created much glory,
his majesty from eternity.
When they ruled in their kingdoms,
men also became noteworthy through power;
when they counseled with their intelligence,
when they announced through their prophecies,
when they led the people by deliberations
and with understanding of a people’s scribal art—
wise words there are in their instruction

Notice how the OSB simply does not flow, and only really makes sense after having read the NETS version. This is caused by relying too strictly on a very literal translation method. See how with very little change, the NETS flows so much better. What, for instance, is “understanding of learning for the people” in the OSB supposed to connote? The Greek is και συνεσει γραμματειας λαου, which is much better rendered by NETS as “understanding of a people’s scribal art.” The issue in the OSB appears to lie in the RSV being used as a base text in this instance (“understanding of learning for the people”) rather than the more clear NRSV (“knowledge of the people’s lore”), which is informed not merely by Greek Sirach, but the Hebrew fragments, the key phrase here being חכמי שיח בספרתם. NETS is the best of the set on this front.

Now we’ll go to an old favorite, Psalm 22 (23 in the Masoretic and English numbering tradition), and see what the OSB and NETS have done. I provide the Greek text first, so you can compare for yourselves.

Greek Psalm 22 (23)
Κύριος ποιμαίνει με, καὶ οὐδέν με ὑστερήσει.
εἰς τόπον χλόης, ἐκεῖ με κατεσκήνωσεν,
ἐπὶ ὕδατος ἀναπαύσεως
ἐξέθρεψέν με,
τὴν ψυχήν μου ἐπέστρεψεν.
ὡδήγησέν με ἐπὶ τρίβους δικαιοσύνης
ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ.
ἐὰν γὰρ καὶ πορευθῶ ἐν μέσῳ σκιᾶς θανάτου,
οὐ φοβηθήσομαι κακά,
ὅτι σὺ μετ’ ἐμοῦ εἶ·
ἡ ῥάβδος σου καὶ ἡ βακτηρία σου, αὐταί με παρεκάλεσαν.
ἡτοίμασας ἐνώπιόν μου τράπεζαν ἐξ ἐναντίας τῶν θλιβόν των με·
ἐλίπανας ἐν ἐλαίῳ τὴν κεφαλήν μου,
καὶ τὸ ποτήριόν σου μεθύσκον ὡς κράτιστον.
καὶ τὸ ἔλεός σου καταδιώξεταί με πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς μου,
καὶ τὸ κατοικεῖν με ἐν οἴκῳ κυρίου εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν.

OSB Psalm 22 (23)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord to the end of my days.

NETS Psalm 22 (23)
The Lord shepherds me, and I shall lack nothing.
In a verdant place, there he made me encamp;
by water of rest he reared me;
my soul he restored.
He led me into paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
For even if I walk in the midst of death’s shadow,
I will not fear evil, because you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comforted me.
You prepared a table before me over against those that afflict me;
you anointed my head with oil,
and your cup was supremely intoxicating.
And your mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life,
and my residing in the Lord’s house is for length of days.

First one notices, shockingly, that the OSB does not translate the Greek at all. It is, in fact, the precise text of the New King James Version for Psalm 23, a translation of the Hebrew psalm, of course. The only alteration toward the Septuagint is at the very end, and even there it is quite wrong: “to the end of my days.” εἰς μακρότητα ἡμερῶν does not mean “to the end of my days” but rather, as NETS rightly has it “for length of days,” a circumlocution for “forever.” The intention seems to be “not to rock the boat” by providing a translation that is too different from what people are accustomed to, even when the (supposedly!) underlying text of the Septuagint is quite different than the Hebrew. As some monarch somewhere has sometime undoubtedly said, “We are not pleased.”

So, for me, NETS will remain my English Septuagint of choice, and it will remain the English Septuagint that I recommend to others, without reservation and with whole-hearted, honest enthusiasm. I’m not particularly fond of “study Bibles” in any case. I am particularly not fond of those claiming to be something they aren’t (in this case a complete translation of the Septuagint), and with a supposedly sanctifying veneer of Orthodoxy about them. Don’t get me wrong: I love Orthodoxy, entirely and wholly; it is my life. But slapping the word Orthodox onto a Bible which is insufficiently representative of the richness and beauty of the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, even at the level of its own language, does absolutely nothing for me, and in fact makes me rather angry. This Orthodox Study Bible could have been better and should have been better. Why was it not better?

29 Replies to “Two Septuagints”

  1. Actually, Amazon has both the hardcover and “leather” versions available for sale (and at a significant discount). The ISBNs are

    0718019083 “leather” ($44.09 – 5%)
    0718003594 hardcover ($31.49 – 5%)
    0195289757 Oxford NETS ($19.80)

  2. I, too, noted the non-LXX Psalm 22(23) in the hardback copies our church has received (I ordered a “leather” one and those haven’t yet arrived). I’m tempted to offer mine for sale to any parishioner who didn’t order one but wants one, and will use my wife’s if I want to read it. Since I can read NT Greek, or work my way through what I can’t, I mainly ordered the new OSB in order to have it, but if it’s a poor product, my interest is even less. For all the hoopla, this OSB doesn’t appear to have delivered the goods.

  3. It certainly is disappointing in light of all the hoopla.

    I recommend the NETS to you. With that and a copy of the Rahlfs Septuagint, since you have Greek, you’ll gain much more. It’ll help you with your NT Greek, too.

  4. Interesting location for Manasses. That is where it is found in the Gutenberg Bible, and presumably a common location in Vulgate manuscripts.

  5. Matthew, yes, that’s Fr Cleenewerck’s. I’ve spoken to him, and hope to work with him on that project once I’m finished with something I’m currently working on. It’s very good! I would rather the OSB were more like his than what it is.

    Sr Macrina, this Fr Gregory is different, not as good, but acceptable. Your Fr Grégoire wrote new treasures, and are precisely the kinds of icons that should have and could have been included in the OSB, yet weren’t. Luminous is indeed the word for Fr Grégoire’s icon-writing.

    Rob, I didn’t know that was the placement in Gutenberg’s Bibles! That’s very interesting. That being the case, it likely is a traditional position for it in Latin Bibles. The placement in the OSB is sufficiently acceptable except that the only thing to set it off from the final verses of 2 Chronicles is a short heading that is similar to the topical headings interspersed throughout the text, making it seem like a continuation to 2 Chron, rather than a distinct book/prayer in its own right. Placing it after Psalms (among the Odes) is the standard Orthodox (and scholarly, as in Rahlfs and NETS) practice.

    Late last month, my Orthodox brother Esteban posted some information from a friend of his. Apparently a number of places in the OSB are now given incorrect verse numbers! People looking up passages will be unable to find what they need to find in a too large number of chapters.

    Also, Esteban mentioned (and I had forgotten to mention this) that Fourth Maccabees is not included, which is astonishing. Though Fourth Maccabees is not canonical, it is still traditionally printed in Greek Old Testaments, often in an appendix, but also often enough following Third Maccabees. Omission of this book is shocking and is yet another addition to the unacceptable number of “issues” with this Bible.

  6. Thanks for that, Esteban! I think we can all agree on the “very fine iconographer” evaluation. Most of us will, I think, agree to leave to the side (with an entirely genteel “mmm”) that of “the only Orthodox bishop left on this side of the world.” Lord have mercy!

  7. I don’t understand the unmitigated praise I have seen in this review and in others for the NETS, in comparison with with OSB.

    Take a look at Genesis 1:

    http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/01-gen-nets.pdf

    And compare it with:

    http://orthodoxstudybible.com/samples/genesis/P2/

    What jumps out at you is the “divine wind” vs. the more traditional “Spirit of God”. Clearly the OSB reading is more in line with the reading that the Church has had of this passage for the past 2,000 years.

    It also uses gender neutral terminology.

    I am sure the OSB is imperfect, but it seems far preferable to the NETS… though the NETS might be using for reference… it is not an acceptable translation for primary use by Orthodox Christians.

  8. Thank you for your comment, Fr Whiteford. The NETS certainly has a few oddities, just as every translation has, and that “divine wind” (what on earth is that supposed to mean anyway?) is one of them. But as an English translation of the Septuagint, the NETS is truly and actually a full translation of the LXX, and the OSB is not. If we are going to present a text of the Septuagint in English to Orthodox Christians, it should be the actual Septuagint, not some hybrid chimera monstrosity like the OSB. The problems with the OSB are real and too numerous, and there are many more even than I’ve listed above. I am extremely disappointed at how the OSB has turned out. Every item criticized in the first OSB (NT/Psalms) by Archimandrite Ephrem Lash is present in the new edition. Every single thing! His helpful critique was utterly ignored. This edition could have been so much better, and yet it isn’t. I simply cannot, in good conscience, recommend the OSB to any Orthodox reader. Look at the theology in some of those articles, for instance. It’s not even Orthodoxy Lite, but lukewarm generic pop-Christianity. That’s simply scandalous! That a project of such duration produced an object of such indifferent quality and is associated with the majesty of Holy Church is a serious problem.

    As to the NETS, it is an academic translation, and so perhaps a bit awkward for the use of the majority of people in the pews. But it is at least a very high quality translation. There may be a few instances of the gender neutral language which you mention, but by and large (I have read much of the NETS already) this is not the case, and the masculine pronouns are retained. Through my reading, it became quite apparent that NETS is several things that the OSB is not:
    1.) A true translation of the best texts of the Septuagint available.
    2.) A very good translation done by people all of whom know the Greek (and Hebrew and Aramaic!) exceedingly well.
    3.) A translation requiring only a small number of corrections in order to make it entirely useful without qualification for Orthodox Christian use.
    4.) As a translation, it is not just “good enough” but excellent.

    Regarding point number 3, I’m considering putting together such a list myself beginning this weekend, perhaps even today, if I can get to a point on certain other projects. I would much rather not have had to do any such thing, but this OSB situation rather requires something of the sort.

    I’m sure that the other Orthodox translations of the Septuagint under way will be much, much better, and we won’t have any such issues. These two, NETS and OSB, being the first major complete English translations of the Septuagint in well over a century means that they are pathfinders of a kind, and have here and there gone astray, not taking the best way. Later translations will benefit from their examples, a good example in the case of NETS, and a bad example in the case of OSB.

  9. “A translation requiring only a small number of corrections in order to make it entirely useful without qualification for Orthodox Christian use.”

    I found it very unfortunate to learn that the OSB would have little to do with the NETS. True, NETS was begun after OSB had already commenced (though they worked much quicker, obviously), but it added much to our understanding of the text. I would also like to see the NETS reworked into something we could use devotionally/liturgically. Perhaps using the ESV solution for gender-language? Since the NETS is very good (if a little odd in a few places, like you said) I don’t think it would take 10-years of tweaking to make it acceptable.

    I received the OSB about a month ago and have been using it devotionally since then, which is how I think any Bible should be used before a final judgment is pronounced upon it. I have found a few issues with it beyond what you have already mentioned (the tiny gutter really is annoying, I can’t imagine trying to use it in church to give a reading, perhaps they can produce a “pulpit” version next?). In general, I find most “study” Bibles to exhibit very poor scholarship, and this one is no exception unfortunately. The Author/Date/Theme sections beginning each book are generally not worth the paper they are written on. The “Date” section is the worst offender. It would have been far more useful to change “Date” to “Setting” and say that a particular book is “set” during a certain time. For example, Genesis is said to have been “written during Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, in the time between the crossing of the Red Sea and the entrance into Canaan.” Oh? Based upon what evidence? Not only is this information not useful, adding nothing to the text of the book itself, but it is quite questionable and misleading. It would have been far better to say that Genesis is “Set” during the time of the earliest history of the world until Israel’s entrance into Canaan. Also Daniel, never a fun book to date, but the OSB says “Traditionally thought to have been written during the Babylonian captivity (603-530 BC).” Never mind the fact that this is another example of the overuse of the passive voice throughout the OSB, but who are the people who “traditionally thought?” about the dates Daniel was written. I can’t think of anyone in Second Temple Judaism or ancient Christianity who was interested in such a question, much less put forth a “traditional thought” on the subject. The only “traditional thought” which assigns such a date to Daniel are those who hold to verbal plenary inspiration, which is a rather peculiar Protestant construction which has little to do with Orthodox traditional thinking. Since this note also applies to Susanna and Bel and the Dragon it opens the distinct possibility that academia will simply hold the OSB up for ridicule, and on this point they would well within their rights to do so.

    Also, I found many notes to be rather strained and ignorant. For example: Jeremiah 2:13 “For my people have committed two evils: They forsook Me, the fountain of living water, and hewed for themselves broken cisterns, unable to hold water.” The note reads “In both the old covenant and the new, the problem is the same: people forsake God, the living water, and damage the cisterns or containers, the places of God’s dwelling. As Orthodox believers, therefore, we adhere both to Christ and His Church.” Besides the awkward prose and the improper comma placement in the first sentence, this comment misses the point of the verse entirely. First, a cistern is not a container. Cisterns are large underground sealed caverns built in order to store water from the rainy season in order to have water in the dry season. Second, where you have “living water” you do not need to have a cistern. Living water unceasingly flows up from the ground, you don’t need to store it. Simply put, there are no cisterns in Dan. Such a thought is just silly. Third, it misses the connection of this verse to John 4, where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, as she is drawing water from a cistern, that he is “living water.” Fourth, I think it is profanity to equate a cistern with God’s dwelling place. God’s dwelling place is the Temple, not a cistern filled with old, dirty, and stale water. Nothing in the rest of the Bible supports such an equation of images. In short, living water is good, cisterns are bad, having living water but building cisterns anyways, and leaky one’s at that, is an image which shows the stupidity of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a Christian interpretation of the OT, but I have problems with interpretations which run directly contrary to the text.

    I also think it is unfortunate that Archimandrite Ephrem’s critiques were not the least bit engaged with. Sure, parts of his critique were subjective, a matter of personal taste, but other parts were spot on. He’s a good scholar, and a great Christian, ignoring him is rather inexcusable.

    In the end though, I must admit that the OSB is no worse, and perhaps a bit better, than a Protestant-produced study Bible, and as such I think I would encourage lay people to get it and use it. Orthodox need to read the Bible more, and this is perhaps the least-dangerous way to encourage that.

    Though I would like to see us work towards a Revised version (ROSB?) which uses the research of the NETS and is less dependent upon “traditional” Protestant understandings of the Bible.

  10. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Sarah. As I said, I’m not much of a fan of the study Bible phenomenon. I think the only one that I ever found to be remotely valuable is the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, but that’s not even a “study Bible” per se, more an elaborate set of references (which reminds me to take a look at that again, as it’s a very good system). But, whether I like it or not, I’m really going to have to dig into the OSB notes now that I’ve committed to putting more time into reviewing it. I just wish there were a way to get all the time back that I spend on such! I’ve been focusing on the translation issues, and not enough on the notes and other peripheral issues. One thing is certain: the more time I spend with it, just as in the first week after I’d received it, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a charitable attitude toward it!

    Anyhow, I don’t think we need to actually bother at all with the “study Bible” format. I’m sick of settling for “the lesser of evils.” We shouldn’t have to do so in what was supposed to be a Bible for Orthodox Christians. The kind of quality work and care that should have been attendant upon working on the Word of God (for heaven’s sake!) to translate and annotate it with quotations of Church Fathers–all that is lacking. If it would have taken another five years to do it right, or ten, then they should simply have waited. Instead we have this! And how many people are going to be satisfied with a replacement that is actually truly reflective of Orthodox Tradition if they accustom themselves to this OSB? That worries me quite a good deal more. But we’ll just have to see. I and others are discussing things to be done.

  11. Kevin, I agree with you. Study Bible’s are bad, but in an America which is quickly becoming biblically illiterate, I see the need for a Bible which includes explanatory notes. Do you expect a new catechumen to open Genesis and Exodus and have any understanding that it is set in ancient tribal nomadic culture and be able to understand it? Maybe we could have assumed that in the past, but not anymore. While the Orthodox way is for people to grow into understanding the Bible through liturgy and hymns, I think the liturgy and hymns were originally expected to function vice versa. The Canon of St. Andrew, for example, presupposes that the listeners already know the biblical texts being referenced. The great theologians of the early church, who wrote our liturgies and hymnography, were well conversant in the Bible, and they expected this of their audience as well. The problem with modern America is nearly every English-language Bible on the market has overlayed the biblical text with a Protestant veneer which makes it difficult to make the jump from the biblical text to liturgical worship. Because of this, I think the OSB is useful in introducing the biblical text to lay people. The problems I have with it are not nearly as numerous as the problems I have with the translations I see many Orthodox lay people using for their personal reading, if they even have a Bible at all.

    Yes, people do prefer the familiar, which would make any revision of the OSB controversial and difficult to achieve. And that really is too bad. I know. Maybe it can’t be revised. Maybe we should work instead for a completely new project, unrelated to this experiment other than learning from its mistakes. Though I think such a project would be most beneficial if it was accompanied by a matching translation of the liturgical texts. I hate standing in church and having is dawn on me, some five minutes after the fact, that the last troparia sung referenced a Scriptural text I had just read earlier that day, but I didn’t get it because the translations were so wildly different. This would be quite an undertaking, but I think that with the publication of NETS and an increasing number of Orthodox who are in biblical and ancient near eastern studies (at actual universities, not “institutes” I have never heard of before), English-speaking Orthodoxy now has the tools and personnel necessary to do it, and do it right.

    Looking over the list of editors and “overview committee” of the OSB I see a lot of clergy and theologians, but the only biblical studies professor at an Orthodox seminary I see is Eugen J. Pentiuc. In fact, I don’t see anyone else in the list who has their Ph.D. specifically in biblical studies, but maybe I am wrong, since I am not familiar with everyone in the list. And I’m hardly one to talk, since I am working on my M.Th. but I am still here weighing in biblical studies issues. But seriously, why would this project think it fit to simply ignore the actual biblical scholars in our midsts? Maybe because they don’t fit the worldview of Sparks? Just speculating here, but it seems very strange.

    For now, though, I think we should ask Thomas Nelson to publish a “reference” version of the OSB, which does not have all the “study” material, and, yes, has a better gutter and binding. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better. I highly doubt they would do it though.

  12. I share your frustration, Sarah, with the quality of the OSB, obviously. I think you’re right, though, that the way is forward, taking into account the mistakes/successes of the OSB and NETS, and go from there. The publishing industry isn’t amenable to massive revisions these days, and the OSB is, for whole swathes, beyond salvage. It would be better to start from scratch, which is a shame, because there are some good translations in there (Job and the Prophets seem to have all been done very well, as much as I’ve seen of them).

    I think for it to be truly useful, any truly Orthodox study Bible will need more extensive notes than are common to the “study Bible” format. That’s what I had in mind in complaining about that, not that we should’nt have fewer/no notes, but more! Likewise, I would want those notes passed before not just theologians, but also especially before those people among us whom we all generally recognize as very saintly holy people. Holiness is far more important than degrees, organizational skill, or the ability to scare up donors. We shall see.

    But I’m sure we’ll all learn from this experience and be able to apply those lessons to any projects undertaken in the nearer or more distant future.

  13. Very sorry to misunderstand you Kevin about the notes. I do think notes should begin among academics, to be sure that they are not trying to say something which is contrary to the text (like the examples I gave above) and opens the text up for ridicule. Then yes, the notes must be considered theologically, whether or not the note is useful for faith and spiritual growth. Many of the biblical studies professors at our Orthodox seminaries also participate in the services of the seminary, the daily cycle, feasts, etc. I would hesitate to say that just because they are academics they are out of touch with the spiritual life of the Church or lack a degree in holiness. Of course, teamwork is best, and such a team should include holy people, but it also needs academics.

    And I would like to see a great deal more patristic commentary, not paraphrases, but the actual patristic text appropriately placed in a sidebar near the text it refers to. This would not only allow the reader to engage in the theological importance the church has given to a passage, it would also untangle for the reader the way the Church does scriptural exegesis, which is something that a lot of converts have difficulty figuring out. I was surprised how little the OSB actually engages with patristic commentary, I haven’t studies the issue systematically, but so far many of the notes I have seen reference Augustine, which, while not wrong, is a bit odd. Especially considering in most of those places Chrysostom’s commentary is better, and has been received by the church.

  14. It’s not your error, Sarah, but mine in not being more clear. It happens often, unfortunately….

    I think the lack of extensively quoted Patristic content in the OSB is the complaint I’ve noticed most consistently. Being that most people bearing even the slightest familiarity with Eastern Orthodoxy would likely associate “constantly referring to those old dudes” and “those cool ancient art icons” with it as characteristic, it’s something of a spectacular blunder that the OSB flubs on both. What a missed opportunity!

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