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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Online Edition - Vol. IV: No. 3, May/June 1998

"The New American Bible": A Voice From the Past

During the US bishops' discussion of the proposed revision of the Lectionary for Mass based on the New American Bible [NAB] and the Revised New American Bible [RNAB] New Testament translations, some bishops said that the 1970 NAB was an unsatisfactory and outdated translation. One bishop said that the RNAB did not make adequate use of the Qumran documents, better known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. A majority of bishops voted to approve the revised Lectionary, subject to review in five years.

As a matter of historical interest, quoted below are the concluding paragraphs from an essay, "The New American Bible", by Jesuit scripture scholar, Richard Clifford, SJ , which appeared in America, Nov 21, 1970 (p 435-436). When he wrote this essay praising the NAB, Father Clifford had recently received his PhD in Old Testament from Harvard University (in June 1970), and was then assistant professor at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and visiting lecturer at Harvard.

Father Clifford was a principal editor of the 1991 Revised NAB Psalter, a version rejected for liturgical use by the Holy See in 1994.

"The NAB is also the first complete Bible to make full use of our greatly expanded knowledge of the ancient texts and versions. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1948, have enabled scholars to reconstruct the history of textual transmission and to use ancient versions of the Bible more intelligently in reconstructing text. The resulting corrections and additions to the biblical text may appear minor when taken singly, but the over-all result is a Bible that is open to new discoveries.

"In one unfortunate instance, the NAB reflects American Catholic culture. 'The young woman ('almah') will conceive and bear a child' is rendered by misguided episcopal command, 'The virgin shall be with child , and bear a son' (Is 7:14). Translation of the Hebrew word 'almah, 'young woman' as 'virgin' is the interpretation of the Greek translators in the third century BC, and is not the meaning of Isaiah, the eighty-century prophet.

"...The translation is without doubt the most modern and the most (American) idiomatic translation of the Bible in English that we now have. In short, it lives up to its name -- the New American Bible".

Father Clifford's claim that the use of the word "virgin" in the Isaiah passage was a "misguided" translation of the Hebrew is not sustained by the Neo-Vulgate translation, which renders Isaiah 7:14, Ecce, concipiet virgo... [Behold, a virgin shall conceive]. The Neo-Vulgate is the Latin version of the Bible authorized by the Holy See. It was translated directly from the original Hebrew text, not from the Greek Septuagint as the original Vulgate had been -- although the old Vulgate rendered the same phrase only slightly differently, Ecce virgo concipiet ...

We think it would be hard to maintain that the word "virgin" is influenced by contemporary American Catholic culture.

--Helen Hull Hitchcock

(Helen Hull Hitchcock is the Editor of the Adoremus Bulletin and founder of Women for Faith and Family .)

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