At the 7:45am Mass this morning (the fifth day of Christmas, by the way), a parishioner said she was resigned to spending most of the day at Macy’s trying to return a sweater three sizes too small. Such is the madding crowd.
In the course of discussing the recent “Christmas war” over “holiday trees” and other issues of great public moment, Matt Labash of Weekly Standard surfed the internet to see how the battles are playing out in the Christmas ornament department. He came up with a few things that ought to be easier to return, or at least dispose of. For instance:
“But bad Christmas ornaments get much worse than that. The other day, I spotted an ad for the ‘Merry Christmas From Heaven From Deceased in Pewter’ ornament. Supposedly ‘heaven sent’ by your recently departed loved one, it’s engraved: I love you dearly / Now don’t shed a tear / I’m spending my Christmas / With Jesus this year . Now, I hope to go to heaven as much as the next guy. But if it entails sitting down at a craft table and making treacly baubles to send back home, I’d rather get flame—broiled with the ACLU lawyers and Target clerks.”
Peggy Steinfels, former editor of Commonweal , reviews Peggy Noonan’s John Paul the Great in the Washington Post . She writes: “Over the last decade of Pope John Paul II’s life, his chief defenders to the American public were a party of neoconservative Catholics. These men, and a few women, dubbed him ‘the Great,’ a title bestowed on transforming popes down through history . . . . The hesitation of some Catholics to call John Paul ‘the Great’ grew out of increasing doubts about church governance and accountability as his reign wore on, as well as disagreement with the views of those who promoted that title.”
Ah, Peggy, if only I knew that our admiration for the great man was getting in the way of yours. Permit me to say, however, that during your years at the helm of Commonweal you very successfully concealed any inclination to view him as John Paul the Great. In fact, if he needed “defenders,” it was in part because of publications such as Commonweal . So I don’t quite understand the reference to your “hesitation” in calling him John Paul the Great. But please, go ahead and call him that, and try not to mind if some of us join in.
Over on a blog called Hirhurim Musings , a Torah scholar by the name of Gil Student takes on my critique of the Catholic translation known as the New American Bible (NAB) in the current issue of F IRST T HINGS . He admits that he’s not familiar with the NAB and is, in fact, not much interested in English translations of the Bible, but, picking up on some of the examples I cite in my essay “Bible Babel,” he comes to the defense of the NAB translators.
For instance, he says scholars are divided on whether the first verse of Genesis should be “In the beginning God . . . ” or “In the beginning when God . . . .” Similarly, the last verse of Psalm 23 can be translated as “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” or “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” Like the NAB translators, Student says the important thing is accuracy.
There is no argument that accuracy is important. It is not the only consideration, however. There is also an important tradition of the Bible in English—extending from Tyndale, the King James Version, Douay-Rheims, and the Revised Standard Version. In all these and a few other versions, the translators were keenly aware that they were dealing with texts that belong to a living tradition of English-speaking Christians. When a literal translation could go one way or the other, they very deliberately chose against novelty and innovation. They understood themselves to be servants of that living tradition.
The translators of the NAB, by way of contrast, seem to delight in violating the tradition of the Bible in English. In the name of literalism, they persistently choose the novel over the familiar, and the unhappy result is compounded by their indifference to good English, including frequent indifference to elementary grammar.
Gil Student writes: “Thankfully, not being personally burdened by a long (in Neuhaus’ case, very long) ritual and scholarly bond with an English translation, I’m not invested in any particular English translation. I actually rarely use one. To me, the original Hebrew text is for the sophisticated reader and any English translation is directed to the unlearned and, therefore, should use the ‘vulgar,’ common language. Those who want poetry should go to the original.”
A word to the unlearned: We’re Scripture scholars and you’re not. Get used to it.
In addition to which :
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