A New Catholic Bible

The Jerusalem Bible

edited by The Reverend Alexander Jones
Doubleday, 2,064 pp., $16.95

After centuries of wandering in the wilderness Roman Catholic Bible scholarship has entered the promised land; and it is remarkable with what speed the final conquest has taken place. The Vulgate, still used by Ronald Knox in 1949, has been abandoned as the sole basis for vernacular translations; the American Revised Standard Version has recently been officially published for the use of Catholics; and now the editors of the Jerusalem Bible have made a fresh translation from the Hebrew and Greek, without showing any special deference to St. Jerome’s Latin. This, however, is not just a plain text, but contains introductions to the various books and notes which have been taken from the French (Dominican) Bible de Jérusalem of 1956—“though revised and brought up to date in some places—account being taken of the decisions and general implications of the Second Vatican Council.” These editorial comments tell an interesting story:

At least from the beginning of the Christian era Moses has been credited with the composition of [the Pentateuch]; nor did Jesus or his apostles question this…. Now modern Pentateuchal study has revealed a variety of style, lack of sequence, and repetitions in narrative which make it impossible to ascribe the whole work to a single author. At the end of the nineteenth century, after years of laborious effort, one hypothesis succeeded in rallying the critics, thanks especially to the works of Graf and Wellhausen. According to this theory the Pentateuch is an amalgam of four documents issuing from different places and times but all much later than Moses…. In a Response dated June 27th 1906 the Pontifical Biblical Commission put Catholic exegetes on their guard against this Documentary Theory and required them to maintain the “substantial” Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch taken as a whole…. In a letter to Cardinal Suhard (January 16th 1948) the Commission more explicitly conceded the existence of sources….

BUT IN THIS TRANSLATION it is absolutely conceded that Genesis has at least three sources or “traditions” and that Deuteronomy has a fourth. So with the second Isaiah, the author of chapters 40-55, which “modern criticism does not admit to be the work of the eighth-century prophet. The Biblical Commission, on 28th June 1908, warned Catholic exegetes against this view”—but the warning has been forgotten. Nor do the editors evade other great questions that were first seriously raised by Spinoza, taken up by the Deists in the eighteenth century, explored systematically by German scholars, and were the cause of such spiritual turmoil among Anglicans a century ago: the late date of the Book of Daniel (later than the events it prophesies), the two sources of Samuel, the allegorical meaning of the Song of Songs. With a few exceptions in New Testament scholarship (the Synoptic theory and the authorship of the Pauline Epistles) the editors have made the crucial concessions.

At one important point they seem to falter: the famous “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,”…

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