Sunday, June 27, 2010

The "Old" and "New" Testaments

Over a few years now, I've come to dislike the names Old Testament and New Testament. They seem inaccurate and misleading, perhaps like my old socks (full of holes and now discarded in the rubbish bag) and my new socks (which completely replaced the old ones). Or would my jeans be a better example? The new ones I wear when I'm going out -- the old faded ones are still useful, but only for working out in the garden. Old and new can mean many things.

So is the Old Testament, broken and discarded completely, or just faded but still there in the background, or is this a wrong picture completely? Maybe it means just older in age, compared to the newer one? So now we come to complex theological questions including whether or not the Mosaic law has been "fulfilled", and many other thorny issues which I really don't want to start into here.

And then there's the issue of what does the word testament mean to a modern reader (outside of the Bible context). To me,  the only association which comes to mind is to do with the legal jargon of wills. And I don't think the main messages of the two sections have a lot in common with a will! Perhaps covenant, contract, agreement, or promise might substitute better here to help the modern reader???

All I want to really say in this blog, is that the traditional names can be misleading to Christians themselves, and can also be problematic to those explaining Christianity to people of Jewish or Israeli heritage.

So, I want to change the terminology for the OET (Open English Translation of the Bible). So here's some of my argument in question/answer format:
  1. Do we need/want a separation between these two parts of the Christian Bible? Yes, there are good reasons to do with history, age (a gap of several hundred years between their authorships), and contents which make it seem sensible to maintain the divisions.
  2. Should we stick with the "old" and "new" traditions? No, as shown above they can be misleading and even problematic.
  3. Should we stick with the "testament" tradition? No, this is an outdated word in my mind -- meaningless to most people and misleading to others.
  4. What would be the requirements for a new names? We need one term for each of the Old and New Testaments. The two terms should preferably have some meaningful relationship or connection to each other. They should also be relatively simple, i.e., not long complex names, but rather concise and helpful. They should be easily understandable to modern readers and also it should be recognisable (in the context of the major Bible sections) what they are referring to (even though they won't, of course, be familiar at first).
    Of course, no heading can ever fully summarise a long section. So unfortunately some dissatisfaction must be expected, because there are so many important topic areas in the Scriptures which we can't totally represent in the section names.
  5. What would we replace them with then? Yes, this is the big question in my mind, so I'll break my answer into two paragraphs:

    Old Testament: The suggestions that first come to mind are Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish Scriptures. Technically, it's not all Hebrew -- there's some smaller Aramaic sections in there. So Jewish Scriptures seems to fit quite well, and even as a side-effect acknowledges how much Christians have inherited from the Jewish people.

    New Testament: Of course, this was mostly written by Jews as well! We could maybe call it the Christian Scriptures, but that might imply that the Old Testament is not part of the Christian Scriptures. Besides, I'm heading away from the Greek term Christ/Kristos because many readers don't even realise that the term has a meaning. (Some have even thought it to be Jesus' surname). But we can't call it the Messianic Scriptures because there are many messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Greek Scriptures might seem like the appropriate counterpart to Hebrew Scriptures, but I'm not sure I favour that so much either.
So all that thinking aloud didn't get me to a solution. So we have to look in another direction. Another aspect of the Bible is that large portions of both the Old and New Testaments are historic narratives. I think it's not a bad thing to emphasise that aspect of the Scriptures. So how about using "account(s)" to describe them. The New Testament could be The Messiah Accounts; the Old The Hebrew Accounts (being largely about the rise and fortunes of the Hebrew nation).

What do you think? Just follow the familiar tradition? Don't like these suggestions? Want to offer better ones? Use the comments to tell me what you think.

One advantage of a free (no cost) Bible translation is that we don't have to worry about marketing -- being concerned that people won't buy it if we make changes. I think it's a refreshing opportunity to break with tradition and make some needed improvements.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Free Bible commentary

I only have time to write a short note here today, but I just discovered Dr. Bob Utley's Free Bible Commentary. I can't say anything about the content yet, except to say that it looks like he's done a lot of work. Worth investigating!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summary of OET versions

Well now that all of the different versions of the Open English Translation of the Bible (OET) have been announced, it's time for a brief summary of them:
  1. The Literal Version
    Closely follows the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, so the sentences are English, but still using the original vocabulary and idiom as much as possible. Extensive notes about variants in the originals.
  2. The Readers' Version
    An up-to-date free translation that's easy to read. As few distracting notes as possible. Designed for reading Bible stories easily and in full context.
  3. The Study Version
    A less free translation but with many helpful notes and cross-references. This is the one to preach from and to memorise segments from.
  4. The Extended Version
    An extended text of the Study Version, with many more notes and details also added in. Designed for lecturers and Bible translators.
These different versions are designed to be used to complement each other, especially in linked media like the Internet where two or more of them could scroll together.

The links above focus on the differences between the different versions of the OET. The following list (from here) focuses on the common features:
  • The misleading terminology Old Testament and New Testament will NOT be used
  • The terminology Major Prophets and Minor Prophets is also misleading to many readers and will NOT be used
  • Traditional chapter and verse numbers will be there, but will be downplayed to discourage their use
  • Segments which are not included in the most ancient manuscripts will be removed from the inline text
  • Wherever section headings are used (all but the Literal Version), they will be typeset/displayed in such a way so as not to interrupt the flow of the actual Scripture text
  • The so-called apocryphal books will be included in the OET (with a section name yet to be determined)
  • Eventually, the order that the books will be presented will be changed from the traditional English Protestant order
  • Each book will have an individual version number, and each major release will also have an overall version number
  • Each version will be available in multiple formats for download, including text, OpenOffice (ODF), and PDF files (both of individual books and of entire versions), USFM files, and OSIS files, and Epub electronic book files
  • It will be released under a licence that both enables and encourages others to use and build upon this work. (Most likely this will be a Creative Commons BY-SA or BY licence, but other content licences are also being considered, even Public Domain.)
 I've never seen a Bible translation project that's attempted to do things this way. Apart from wanting to make a good English Bible translation that's both open and free, it's largely an attempt to design an English translation that connects the reader with the original texts; helping them to understand where our Bible come from and some of the decisions that are made for them by the translators.

And yes, it is a very ambitious goal -- totally impossible without God's blessing! So come on volunteers...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What do we translate from?

A very interesting article here (from Biblical Archeology Review) explains some of the difficulties in interpreting the source texts of the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament).

Many people don't understand that some differences in the various English translations go all the way back to trying to interpret whether a certain segment of text was in the original and accidentally not transferred into a new copy, or whether it was not in the original but deliberately added to a later copy (perhaps as a "helpful" explanation). It's as much art as science in trying to determine such things, but wonderful that we have such good sources of quite ancient material available.

The article doesn't mention that most of the text between the different Hebrew manuscripts agrees very well. (Of course, the Septuagint is a translation into another language, and that's a whole different matter!)

And it's encouraging also that these discrepancies don't seriously affect any major Christian doctrines, because most of them concern relatively minor issues.

[The article doesn't mention it, but seeing how much more we know since the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered beginning in the late 1940s kind of weakens any "King James version only" argument.]

Monday, June 14, 2010

OET Extended Version

Ok, this is definitely the last one!!! It comes out of my desire to help provide freely available resources for those wanting to create free Bible translations for their language or area.

The Open English Translation of the Bible (OET) Extended Version (OET-EV), closely follows the text of the Study Version, so this one is really a derived version, not a totally separate text. However it makes a number of changes (mostly additions):
  • The divine name (tetragrammaton) will be rendered as YHWH (since the Extended Version is intended for technical people)
  • There will extensive notes on variants in the original manuscripts (similar to the Literal Version)
  • There will be extra grammatical notes, including the explicit marking of singular/dual/plural and other grammatical features brought through from the original languages
  • Ambiguities in interpreting the original texts will be highlighted and multiple renderings offered
  • Extra exegetical and translation notes will be added
So you can see that the text of the Study Version becomes augmented with a lot of extra information for translators and serious students. The final detailed specifications and a small sample text should eventually be available here.

So that finishes up the round-up of OET versions: the Literal Version, the Readers' Version, the Study Version and this, the Extended Version. They are intentionally designed to be used in parallel in order to give the interested student a broader perspective of the intricacies of God's written word.

Now, we just have to get recruiting some help to get the website going, and then we'll be working on recruiting translation teams.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

OET Study Version

The Study Version (OET-SV) is the third version of the Open English Translation of the Bible (OET). Again, the text is quite different from the previously announced two versions, and the main distinctives are:
  • It's aimed at preachers / students who want to study the text carefully in English
  • It will attempt to give a readable English text with normal contemporary English punctuation
  • Additions to the text which are necessary to translate the meaning will be marked
  • The divine name (tetragrammaton) will be rendered as Yahweh
  • People and place names will be transliterated more accurately, e.g., Yonah instead of Jonah, Yesous instead of Jesus, but the traditional spelling will be added in parenthesis where the name is first used in any book
  • The word God will be capitalised where appropriate, but other references, e.g., the father, the son, will not be capitalised
  • Paragraph breaks and section headings will be added to the text, along with indentations for poetry and quotations and a method of explicitly marking Hebrew parallelism
  • Modern measurements will be used in the text but the original measurements will also be noted
  • There will extensive cross-referencing and footnotes, including notes on the more important variants in the ancient manuscripts
  • It is hoped that the web-based publication will also provide live links to the OET-LV.
This is intended to be a version that you would be confident to preach or teach from and to recommend to your Bible students. Again, the final (more detailed) specifications and a small sample text should eventually be available here.

Ok, now, surely there can't be (m)any more OET versions? The next blog will tell...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

OET Readers' Version

Today I am revealing the initial design plans for the second version of the Open English Translation (OET), the Readers' Version. This is pretty-much totally different from the Literal Version. Here are some of the main features of the OET-RV:
  • It will attempt to give an easily-readable, natural English text with normal contemporary English punctuation
  • It will attempt to replace Christian jargon with language that is more likely to be found in modern newspapers, magazines, and books
  • Additions to the text which are necessary to translate the meaning will not be marked in any special way
  • The divine name will be rendered as Yahweh
  • Traditional English spellings will be used for people and place names
  • The word God will be capitalised where appropriate, but other references, e.g., the father, the son, will not be capitalised
  • Paragraph breaks will be added to the text, along with indentations for poetry and quotations
  • Section headings will be added but typeset/displayed in such a way so as not to interrupt the flow of the actual Scripture text
  • Traditional chapter and verse numbers will be downplayed, as in all OET versions
  • Only modern measurements will be used (the original measurements will not be included)
  • There will be a minimum of footnotes
  • The OET-RV is aimed at readers (including second-language English readers) who want to easily read the text and understand the overall message
  • It is hoped that the web-based publication will also provide live links to the OET-LV.
The final specifications and a small sample text should eventually be available here.

So hopefully you can already guess where I'm going with the OET. So far I've announced the Literal Version and the Readers' version -- quite different versions which are complementary parts of the OET translation. It is intended that they be viewable together, especially on media where they can scroll and be linked together. One is easy to read; the other choppy and unnatural but helping the Bible student to understand where the smooth English of the Readers' Version has come from.

There's a big debate these days about the most useful kind of English Bible translation. Different publishers try to position their translations at different spots in the market. The OET tries to solve the dilemma with a different approach: multiple linked versions all under the banner of the Open English Translation.

And best of it, it's planned that all of this be made available under a very generous free licence (details not decided yet) to enable and encourage others to use and build upon this work.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beaten again

I just can't believe this -- everyone is stealing my ideas! Actually, I'm happy, because I'm finding so many other people already thinking in similar ways to me. Knowing that great minds think alike, I figure that... well, I'll leave it to you to figure!

Yesterday, I included a link to John Dyer's writeup about chapters and verses.  A couple of his links pointed to The Books of the Bible project by the International Bible Society (IBS) which I just read about today. Apparently IBS assembled a group in 2003 to explore a new visual presentation of the Bible. They used Today's New International Version (TNIV) as their text.

According to the FAQ list, they relegated chapter and verse numbers to a range down at the bottom of the printed page. Even more amazingly, they dared to change the order of the books, changed the traditional Old Testament to First Testament, and got rid of most (or all?) section headings.

These were all things that I had planned for the Open English Translation of the Bible (OET):
  • greatly downplay chapter and verse numbers,
  • downplay section headings (by not allowing them to actually interrupt the text),
  • change the Old Testament, New Testament terminology, and
  • change the order (and by combining, even the number) of books.
(I also plan a number of other distinctives for the OET, but I'll resist the urge to list them all here so as not to clutter this blog.)

So yes, it was very encouraging for me to see that an organisation like IBS has already experimented with these issues. Maybe some of my ideas aren't so far off the wall after all!

I'm sure that tradition has kept the sales of something this different pretty small, but I'll certainly have to order a copy. There's sample PDFs for download here. I think I might just print one or two and see how they look.

P.S. Here's a link to another excellent little write-up that John also referred to.

More on chapters and verses

Last week when I started writing about my design of the Open English Translation (OET), I alluded to the fact that chapter and verse numbers would be downplayed in all OET versions.

I planned to write more about this later in the month (and still hope to), but today I came across another blog with a similar theme here. So again, it's encouraging to see that some others are seeing some of the same drawbacks to making this reference system so prominent in our Bibles. (Of course, there are many positive features also.)

So just another quick prelude to my forthcoming writeup: The OET will include book, chapter and verse references so that it can be used by traditional software and webware and people looking for specific passages, but the printed or displayed versions will go to a lot of effort to downplay all those distracting numbers.

By the way, the same goes for section headings, but more on that another time...