bible translation study resources
June 15, 2007 1:15 PM   Subscribe

What are good resources for studying language and translation issues of the Christian Bible (particularly the New Testament and more particularly the Gospels)

I'm interested in resources that specifically address how translations are sourced (where the Greek/Latin source documents come from), and why/how specific translation decisions are made. I don't have any knowledge of Greek or Latin so it has to be spelled out for me.

I've been looking into parallel and interlinear/literal translations but I'm finding it hard to get what seems like an objective opinion on what is most founded in objective linguistic scholarship rather than grinding a particular theological axe etc.

I'm also interested in: information about the origins of the canonical gospels, and history and background on how the New Testament was established and canonized in the early Christian church.

I'd like to find printed resources but online ones are welcome too.

This might be getting more philosophical, but to any linguists/translators of any sort out there, thoughts about how and whether a person without knowledge of a specific language can really judge scholarship of that language is welcome also.
posted by nanojath to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Here. Also here. Either of those should have relevant information for you. F.F. Bruce is particularly well regarded, and although that book is dated, it should be fine for what you want.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:32 PM on June 15, 2007

Zondervan's useful. Also, check Wikipedia, here and here.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:35 PM on June 15, 2007

For the origins question, a great starting point is "Surpassing Wonder" and "Saint Saul" by Donald Akenson (Oxford University Press). I cannot recomend these two books highly enough.

"The Earliest Christian Artifacts" by Larry Hurtado is an intesting look at the earliest christian manuscripts that have thus far been discovered and their attributes (eg: styles of binding, use of contractions for certain words etc...).
posted by Riemann at 1:38 PM on June 15, 2007

For an interesting look at the translation and writing of the New Testament, check out Bart Ehrman's "Misqoting Jesus", which chronicles the mistakes and omissions in the gospels, acts, romans, and the various epistles made by the people who wrote and rewrote the bible. Interview here.
posted by parmanparman at 1:41 PM on June 15, 2007

This is a very broad question. The best would be to learn Koine Greek (or as it is sometimes referred to, NT Greek) as that'll get you as quickly to the source as possible.

I believe I have The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: Volume One: The Early Church to the Reformation (Story of Christianity) by Justo L. Gonzalez. He is a very, very good scholarly writer. He will give you the different theological councils and developments in the very early church, how and why those evolved and the progression of the church from a religion to a large political entity and the effects of the religious aspect as a result.

The same author also wrote A History of Christian Thought: Volume 1: From the Beginnings to the Council of Chalcedon (Revised Edition) which will probably be a little more in depth in the earlier period.

The other books I have contain primary sources exclusively in Latin and Koine Greek, I do not know how much help for you they will be. They are definitely assuming a very thorough understanding of the basics of the early church and history at the time.

One caveat, the emphasis with the books above are more on the Western Church, though the Eastern Church and the other scattered bishops from the original early church get more than just a mention. This does not mean that it sets up the Western (Catholic) Church as being "right", as some less scholarly works do, but much like any philosophy class you take, it'll focus primarily on Aristotle and the West.
posted by geoff. at 1:42 PM on June 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Addendum: This is exactly the kind of subject on which I would be leery of Wikipedia. Or at least take a careful look at the edit history and discussion page.

There have also been an enourmous amount of new archeological data in the field in the last 60 years so older works might be lacking crucial newer information.

And, as always, check credentials and think criticially about everything (be sure to read footnotes if the book has em)! The nature of the subject leads to a lot of less-than-rigourous scholarship and outright pulp books.

Basicially, if anyone is claiming a evidence for a Christian source (other than about half of the letters of Paul) was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD they are not engaged in any form of scholarship. For those who accept it as a matter of faith in their religion that's fine but one of the best indicators of bunk scholarship is downward dating creep of sources. And 70 is the absolute lower boundary beyond which we cannot yet see.
posted by Riemann at 1:44 PM on June 15, 2007

My favorite book on the subject is "Church History in Plain Language" , it gives all sorts of info on the canonization of the bible- why, where, when, who, and how. It does have all sorts of other information you might not be as interested in, it's a general history book, but it is very clear and easy to read.

The book is used as a textbook in many universities, and Dr. Shelly is quite well known for his scholarship in the area.

Another resource you might find interesting is, which has EXTENSIVE study tools, including word-for-word greek/hebrew analysis, scanned entries in greek/hebrew lexicons, etc. They also have some good articles you might be interested in such as "Biographical Sketches of the Translators and Reformers", and "The Canon of Scripture".
posted by kraigory at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2007

You might find the Better Bibles Blog interesting. The authors there write about translation issues, history, controversies, etc., and advocate for translations that make the most sense to the average reader (i.e., "plain English" as opposed to insider language).

My favorite post, for a start, is What’s the Joke? It's an illustration of the importance of “dynamic equivalence”, demonstrated by the difficulty of translating a joke from German to English.

Also, he's been recommended before, but you could do a lot worse than N.T. Wright for some deep thoughts about the history, literature, theology and culture of the first century. I just finished The New Testament and the People of God, in which he goes into great detail about the worldview of first century Jews. He touches on some factors that distinguish the New Testament writings from other texts of [roughly] the same time, Jewish (e.g., the Psalms of Solomon and 4 Maccabees), "pagan" (e.g., Epictetus), and "Christian" (e.g., Gospel of Thomas).
posted by puddleglum at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2007

Sorry for the broken link. The New Testament and the People of God.
posted by puddleglum at 2:09 PM on June 15, 2007

some sort of concordance would be helpful. vines is the one i'm familiar with. this looks in-depth and good (and free), though i'm not sure if it has any particular ideological slant.
posted by lgyre at 2:40 PM on June 15, 2007

All kinds of great stuff, thanks so much for the responses. As soon as I wrote this I got swamped with out-in-the-real-world necessities, but I will get back by and my, and mark some bests and keep checking in. But I wanted to say thanks for those who gave it thought and responded.
posted by nanojath at 6:50 AM on June 16, 2007

Riemann: Basicially, if anyone is claiming a evidence for a Christian source (other than about half of the letters of Paul) was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD they are not engaged in any form of scholarship.

Riemann, could you pass along a source for this info?
posted by jpdoane at 7:07 AM on June 16, 2007

I nearly forgot: for information about manuscripts and textual criticism of the NT, it's going to be hard to beat The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration by Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman. Some of this you get in Ehrman's aforementioned Misquoting Jesus, but if you want to get into deeply, you should buy this book.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:20 AM on June 16, 2007

Argh. I meant to include a link.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:21 AM on June 16, 2007

Thanks all
posted by nanojath at 8:54 PM on June 17, 2007

« Older I want to take and pass the MCSE.   |   Do I need a pirate costume to go with this... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.