on 4 June 2009
The Orthodox Study Bible (O.S.B.) is the long-awaited completion of a project to provide the full text of Holy Scripture (the complete canon of the Old Testament with all of the deuterocanonical writings, as well as the New Testament), translated from the Greek texts that are normative for the Orthodox world, to meet the liturgical, devotional, and study needs of Eastern Orthodox laymen and clergy, yet it is also a landmark publication in Christian scholarship of more general application. This assessment of the superb O.S.B. is from the standpoint of an informed Québec layman whose background and research interests, in various ways, encompass Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and even Eastern Orthodoxy.
The "Orthodox Study Bible" (O.S.B.) is a marvellous choice for Catholic and Orthodox believers who are attached to the phraseology of Anglicanism's Authorised "King James" Version Bible tradition, for whom the O.S.B. is a good and wise choice. The O.S.B. includes the deuterocanon of the Old Testament (O.T.) as well, of course, as the other writings of the O.T., and it uses the N.K.J.V. in the New Testament (N.T.) part. The editors of the O.T. amended the N.K.J.V. to conform to the Greek Septuagint version's renderings. With the O.S.B.'s study notes, a Roman Catholic or Eastern (Uniate) Catholic reader, concerning doctrinal and exegetical matters, only has to ignore the annotation on perhaps one single passsage, St. Matthew 16:18 (which Catholics interpret to defend the role and alleged infallibility of the Papacy, the so-called "Petrine Office"), so Catholics and Eastern Orthodox alike can pretty much agree on everything else in the commentary of the notes.
The "Orthodox Study Bible" is quite different from other study or otherwise annotated Bibles, and in the most marvellous faith-affirming ways, integrating as it does Orthodox-Catholic tradition into the study of Holy Writ. The textual base of the translation is a welcome choice, too, the Septuagint (LXX) Greek O.T. and Byzantine Greek N.T., the latter entirely free of the serious flaws of the textual basis of Protestant and more or less recent Roman Catholic translations which are based too uncritically upon the late Hebrew Masoretic O.T. and the vilely corrupt "Critical Texts" (U.B.S., Nestle-Aland, and worse) of the Greek N.T. Refreshingly, the N.T. of the New King James Version (N.K.J.V.), to which the editors wisely resorted for a modern English usage translation, is based on that already mentioned Byzantine Text (also called "Textus Receptus"), so it is refreshingly free of the faults of so many other late 19th and 20th century translations from Greek "minority text" manuscript sources.
The ample study notes of the O.S.B. for the most part are taken from, or based upon, the writings of the great Fathers of the Church ("Patristic" writings) and of other early Christian theologians and saintly figures of post-Patristic times. These notes deal with only few of the subjects to which other study/annotated Bibles devote much space, but the notes are also free (hooray!) of the speculations on chiliasm (so irksomely prominent in Fundamentalist and Neo-Evangelical sectarian study Bibles), of misleading text critical notes (common to alike too many Protestant and Catholic study Bibles), or notes of the "higher critical" sort which so toxically and misleadingly deny the Bible's reliability factually and historically, and/or its faithful transmission across the ages. Conservative, "confessional", and believing Christians (of whichever labelled type) of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, and sectarian traditions alike will find the O.S.B.'s annotations faith-affirming and full of the deep Christian wisdom of the ages.
Whereas the O.S.B. incorporates its own freshly completed new translation of the Greek Septuagint O.T., known as the "St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint" English Version (S.A.A.S.), of which the translation project director is the estimable Jack Norman Sparks (who also is the principal editor of the O.S.B. as a whole), another recent translation into current English of the Greek LXX O.T. also appeared on the market only one year before the publication of the O.S.B. I am referring to "A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included under That Title" (N.E.T.S)., edited by two Protestant scholars, Allen Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright (Oxford University Press, 2007; ISBN 978-0-19-528975-6). As the O.S.B. had taken the N.K.J.V.'s O.T. as the point of departure (in editing it to conform to the LXX Greek O.T.), the N.E.T.S. chose to rework the New Revised Standard Version (N.R.S.V.) of the O.T. to conform it to the Greek LXX O.T.
The results of the editors' work for the N.E.T.S. English translation of the Greek LXX O.T. are remarkably fine. The N.E.T.S. translation is crisply clear and freer of the slight ambiguities here and there that one finds even in in the S.A.A.S. English rendition of the LXX O.T. The traces of "feminist-speak" (or "inclusive language") and of other flaws in the N.R.S.V.'s at times too trendy translation seem, from what I can tell in having used it fairly intensively along with the O.S.B.'s S.A.A.S., to have disappeared entirely, so meticulously thorough has been the work of Pietersma and Wright in reworking and conforming the N.R.S.V.'s O.T. to the Greek LXX.
For this lay reader, there only a few real obstacles to, or reservations about, using the N.E.T.S. version of the O.T. confidently for daily reading. One is the slighter impediment of the N.E.T.S.' pedantic use of exactly transliterated forms of personal and place names, which differ (sometimes markedly) from the better-known forms of name in other English Bibles, which the O.S.B. wisely chose to retain as being more reader-friendly. Another and more serious failing is the presence of some passages where translation choices of dubious doctrinal orthodoxy occur, in part due, very likely, to Pietersma and Wright acceeding to pressures from Jewish scholars among their collaborators to downplay the Christian implications of certain readings which occur in the LXX text of the O.T. Apart from this sort of thing, the translation occasionally does resort elsewhere to peculiar or awkward wording which is less pellucidly clear, or that is more doubtfully pertinent, than what characterises most of the N.E.T.S.' admirably elegant prose. Also, of course, for the Christian reader, having the O.T. in a separate volume from the rest of the Bible, the N.T., makes it more convenient to use the O.S.B. for both of the Testaments as a principal choice for a practical edition of the Bible for constant use; in any case, the S.A.A.S. translation of the O.T. in the O.S.B. is free of the risky and hazardous readings which here and there occur in the otherwise so admirable N.E.T.S.
Hail to the successful completion of both of these translation and publishing projects, the Orthodox Study Bible and the N.E.T.S. English translation of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament. The Orthodox Study Bible, for its part, makes the complete Greek Bible translated into English available for today's Anglophone readers, especially for the Orthodox faithful among them, as well as for other Christians!