News release on interesting translation-issue

From: Edward Hobbs (
Date: Mon Nov 27 1995 - 13:06:31 EST

Dear Colleagues on the B-Greek List:

        I thought this news release about the CEV might be of some interest
to those among us who are concerned with translation theory/practice.

--Edward Hobbs


Ecumenical News International
ENI News Service
23 November 1995

        `Hate-free Bible' aims to undo centuries of bias

                By Patricia Lefevere

New York, 23 November (ENI)--The world's first Christian Bible
which claims to be free of anti-Jewish bias has been published
in the United States by the American Bible Society (ABS).

Known as the Contemporary English Version Bible (CEV), the
project to translate the whole of the Old and New Testaments has
taken more than 100 scholars, theologians, translators and
consultants 10 years to complete. Since the CEV was completed in
June, 465 000 copies have been printed and nearly 150 000 have
been distributed by the ABS.

Both Jewish and Christian biblical scholars have conceded in
recent decades that anti-Jewish bias exists in the New Testament.
Some scholars have linked 1800 years of Christian antipathy to
Jews with the Holocaust - the Nazi plan for the extermination of
Jews that emerged from a Christian nation.

Christian sensitivity to anti-Jewish attitudes within the New
Testament has grown as dialogue between Jews, Roman Catholics and
Protestants has increased. But neither greater sensitivity nor
political correctness was the reason for the translation,
according to Barclay Newman, the ABS's senior translation

"Our concern was to produce a work as faithful to the original
biblical text as possible ... that text should not do what it was
not intended to do," Newman told ENI.

"A truly faithful translation of the New Testament requires that
the translator should constantly seek ways in which false
impressions may be minimised and hatred overcome," he said,
saying that he had been guided by a statement in the Bible by St
Paul that Jesus came to make peace between Jews and Gentiles.

Newman and his translating team returned to the Hebrew, Greek and
Aramaic manuscripts, and tried to render them in the most
readable, audible, clear syntactical English used today. Their
goal was to produce a Bible that could be read aloud without
stumbling, heard without misunderstanding and listened to with
enjoyment by young children, educated adults and people who had
little or no contact with Scripture, he said.

"We did not change the text, add to it or subtract from it," said
David Burke, who directs the ABS's Department of Translations and
Scripture Resources.

The phrase "the Jews" (in Greek, "Hoi Ioudaiou") which occurs 195
times in the New Testament, Burke said, was repeatedly used to
identify and characterise those who opposed Jesus and/or the
movement begun by those Jews who followed Jesus.

However, Burke said, what we were witnessing in the New Testament
was not Jew against Christian or bad guys versus good guys but
rather a fraternal dispute between those Jews who thought Jesus
was the Messiah and those who did not.

The CEV often translates the phrase, "the Jews" as "all of our
people" while the word synagogue becomes "the meeting place" or
at times "the Jewish meeting place".

Thus, according to the Authorised Version, a verse in the Gospel
of St John (9:22) reads: "These words spake his parents because
they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if any
man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the

In the CEV the passage is rendered: "The man's parents said this
because they were afraid of their leaders. The leaders had
already agreed that no one was to have anything to do with anyone
who said Jesus was the Messiah."

Burke, who has done a selective comparative study of 18 English
Bible translations - 16 of them published since 1971 - found that
the CEV is "the most sensitive" to the phrase "the Jews" and that
the new translation goes the furthest in providing what he calls
"a hate-free" translation of the 195 passages referring to "the

The centuries-old assumption that the Jews were responsible for
the death of Jesus - what many see as the core of Christian
anti-Semitism - is without foundation, Newman and Burke insisted.
The sentence and execution of Jesus were Roman acts, performed
by Roman officials and soldiers, they said.

The insistence of St Paul that the death of Jesus "has united Jew
and Gentile by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated
us" (Ephesians 2:14), is a witness against those who would use
any portion of the New Testament as a weapon of warfare to incite
anti-Jewish sentiments, Newman said.

Using the New Testament to incite anti-Jewish sentiments "is to
deny the efficacy of the work of Christ and the overall message
of the New Testament", he said.

While the Authorised Version might more easily be forgiven as a
product of another age, culture and language - Renaissance
English - contemporary translations have also engendered bias
against Jews, according to the biblical scholar Eldon J Epp.

Epp said that the Living Bible, published in 1971, appeared
almost to take pleasure in castigating and chastening the Jews
and Judaism - to punish them by tongue-lashing and to reprimand
them for failing to accept "their Messiah".

Roger Omanson, a translation consultant with the United Bible
Societies, which distributes Bibles worldwide, said he had urged
the UBS not to repeat the kind of anti-Semitic notes and section
headings found too often in some translations, and not to
translate the text itself in a way that made it "more anti-Jewish
than it may already be".

Omanson told ENI that study Bibles ought to contain explanatory
notes about the "words of Jesus", telling the Bible-user that
they were in fact expressions of church communities in the late
first century that were in conflict with Judaism.

Reception of the CEV has been swift and positive, according to
Newman. He said he was surprised that more than 300 people
attended one of his recent lectures in Australia - scores of them

Article (c) Ecumenical News International
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