A comment too good to bury

This comment by C. David Burt is too good to bury in the comments section of this post about the King James Version and Hanukkah.  David writes:

If you go into some old Anglican Churches and rummage around you will find the old Bible that once stood on the lectern. Sometimes it is in two volumes and sat on a rotating double lectern that looked like a hen house. Invariably one volume would be the Old Testament and the other the New Testament, And it is the Authorized Version, commonly called the King James Version. Between the Old Testament and the New is bound in a set of books called the Apocrypha, and in there you will find the First and Second Book of Maccabees. In the Book of Common Prayer, which you may also find in an old church there is a lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer, and there you will find some appointed lessons from these books and from other books of the Apocrypha, including I and II Maccabees. In Article VI of the Articles of Religion, these books are listed with the note that they are read for example of life and instruction of manners, but they may not be appealed to in order to establish any doctrine. Here Anglicanism was standing firmly on the side of the reformers who would only allow an appeal to the canonical books of the Old and New Testament.

The Hebrew Bible, what is called the Mazoretic text, was established by rabbinic scholars as late as the 10th century in an effort to eliminate corruptions which crept in during the Babylonian captivity. In the Hellenistic period Greek speaking Jews and Christians used a collection of books called the Septuagint, or “Seventy Scrolls” Some of the books included were Greek translations from Hebrew originals, and others may have been translated from Aramaic or some other semitic language. Others may have been written in Greek. This was the Bible of the early Christians, and the books of the New Testament were added to it. The history of the establishment of the canon of Holy Scripture goes back to the fourth century. Jerome considered some of the books to be apocryphal. Councils and Synods over time accepted the books as “deuterocanonical” meaning a second canon. The result is that Orthodox Church accepts all the books of the Septuagint, The Catholic Church accepts most of them, and the Protestants will not accept any of the books that are not in the Hebrew Bible. Interestingly, the Anglicans, while not accepting the deuterocanonical books to establish doctrine, do use them for worship and for lectionary readings. The Apocrypha, if included in Protestant Bibles, has more books than the Catholic Church recognizes as canonical and fewer than the Orthodox Church.

Catholic Bibles have the deuterocanonical books included and interspersed within the Old Testament. An interesting point is the Book of Daniel. The Greek version of Daniel includes some material that is not in the Hebrew version, and Catholic Bibles have always printed this material together. This includes, by the way, the canticles Benedictus es and Benedicite which we use at Morning Prayer. There are two books of Ezra included in the Protestant Bible, but the Apocrypha has the third and fourth book of Esdras. They are not in the Catholic Bible, but are in the Apocrypha as I and II Esdras. Readings from these books are included in the Prayerbook lectionary.

The Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition of the Bible is a wonderful book. Most Anglicans have switched to the RSV for reading in Church, but there are certain passages from the King James Version that are so familiar that some of us feel jolted when we hear a version that doesn’t sound quite right. Fortunately we are allowed to use texts from the King James Bible in the Ordinariate. While the Psalms are taken from the Coverdale Psalter, as they were in the Prayerbook, the Canticles come from the King James Bible. The Last Gospel is also from King James. The Decalogue is based on the King James version. Any of the minor propers not from the Psalms is based on King James. So we already have a lot of the King James Bible incorporated in our liturgy.

Do we need to have a King James Bible-Catholic Edition? I think it would be nice, but I don’t think I will ever live to see it. The King James Version is a masterpiece of English literature, and while it is archaic, it has not become unintelligible to modern hearers. For those who were brought up hearing it’s sonorous cadences and sometimes quaint phraseology, it has become part of our spiritual lives. Some of us may have memorized passages from the Bible. I think the Ordinariate could start working toward having a King James- Catholic Edition. Here is a suggestion: In the Catholic Church we have a Gospel Book that is used to read or sing the Gospel at Mass. Why not edit a Gospel Book based on the King James version and ask Rome to review it for doctrinal error? If they find anything we could substitute the wording of the Douay version for the offending passages. After we do that, we could do the same with the Epistles. Then we could edit a version of the Old Testament with the deuterocanonical books included, all King James version. Send it to the Vatican bit-by-bit so we don’t overwhelm them with work. My bet is there is very little in the King James version of the Bible that so favors a Protestant doctrine that it would have to be replaced with something from the Douay.

C. David Burt

5 thoughts on “A comment too good to bury

  1. Thank you for the reply to my article, you raised many good points being covered in my book I am currently writing. There are just two points which I would bring up:

    The 70 referred to in the Septuagint is the 70 Jewish scripture scholars who translated it into Greek from the original Hebrew: the tradition is that they were all sent to do their own translations and when they were all finished and came back together found that all their translations were identical which was seen as a sign from God. The New Testament used the Septuagint overwhelmingly in its references, dovetailing perfectly with that translation as it was specifically written for communities who used it. St Jerome centuries later used the Hebrew Old Testament for his translation which was only adopted by Western Christianity because it was approved by Papal Authourity- so if Protestants really wanted to be faithful to the Earliest Church, they would use the Septuagint.

    Secondly, and I state this for readers who are unaware, regarding the Hebrew Bible: while the Septuagint OT used the Alexandrian Canon, for more than a century after the founding the Church, the Rabbis who took over leadership of Judaism from the Priests after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, were still putting together what texts they considered as canon- this became the Tanakh. In the 10th Century the Masoretic texts were created by changing the alphabet used for the Tanakh from ancient Hebrew characters to use Persian characters: which included adding vows into Hebrew. Before this Hebrew, then a dead language used only for religious texts, did not have written vows instead relying on the Rabbis to know what vows to use. Modern Hebrew, the official language of the state of Israel, is a fair modern reconstruction using other languages like English, French and German to fill in the gaps.

    There is a logical disconnect between Protestants rejecting Christian sacred/oral tradition, but accepting Jewish sacred/oral tradition as the texts that built Protestantism were the Masoretic texts (that rely on accepted Jewish tradition), not the original Hebrew (which is still not what the Early Christians used).

    I have often thought, as there are multiple approved Catholic Bible translations that there should be one with the Septuagint: I can’t say I ever thought of a King James Catholic version before, and you have set out a good road map for this- although could it really be considered the “King James” version: it was not only a translation, but a statement of a new Protestant faith against the “Old Religion” of Catholicism. What I am saying is it might have to be called something else as it is the poetic language which is what is cherished in the Patrimony, not the (Protestant) translation itself which has been revised multiple times since.

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  2. I wish to praise both David Burt’s comment and your decision to make a separate posting of it. As to the Deuterocanonical books and the question of the Canon of Scripture, I still hold to the work of the Methodist scholar Albert C. Sundberg, Jr., who, writing in the hopeful dawn of the “ecumenical era” in the 1960s, believed that the “Protestant Canon” of the OT was mistaken in both its rationale and purported historical basis, and, therefore, that it should be abandoned in favor of the “Christian Canon” of the Early Church/Catholic Church. He expressed this view in his primary scholarly book The Old Testament of the Early Church (1964: Harvard University Press), as well as in two articles, rather “dense” but still readable, “The Protestant Old Testament Canon: Should It Be Re-examined,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966), pp. 194-203, and “The ‘Old Testament:’ A Christian Canon,” in the same journal 30 (1968), pp.143-155. Of course, Sundberg’s views have been criticized, and in this case one may reference the immensely detailed book by the Anglican Evangelical scholar Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (1986: Eerdmans) which attempts to rebut Sundberg’s views – although in my view Beckwith’s book is more a defense of what, given his premises, ought to have been the OT Canon of the first-generation “apostolic church” without actually proving that to have been the case (since the evidence actually to sustain or rebut such a contention is largely nonexistent).

    For Catholics (as for the Orthodox) the OT Canon was established by a series of local councils in both the Greek East and the Latin West between, roughly, 382 and 419. The Catholic Church went on formally to “dogmatize” its OT Canon at both the Council of Florence (the “Decretum pro Jacobitis,” February 1442, which actually ratified a short-lived reunion between the Catholic Church and the Egyptian Copts) and (against Protestant denials) the Council of Trent (April 1546). The Orthodox Church(es) have never so authoritatively “dogmatized” their OT Canon, although their authoritative (but not, in their view, “ecumenical”) Council of Jerusalem of AD 1672 declared all the OT books accepted by the Catholics but rejected by the Protestants to be “canonical,” but leaving open the question of whether other books, such as III and IV Maccabees, III and IV Esdras, Psalm 151, and the Prayer of Manasseh, among others, might not be included as well – and in fact, some Orthodox churches include some of these books (practice among them differs from church to church) in their versions of the OT (not to mention the non-Chalcedonian Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which includes a large number of inter-testamental Jewish writings, some of them preserved only in Ethiopian and unknown elsewhere in Christendom, in its OT Canon).

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  3. Interesting stuff. I understand the arguments but find them superfluous. I’ll stick to my Douay-Rheims/Challoner Version until a new better revision comes along. That Confraternity version which was never truly completed led to the awful New American Bible Version. Yes, I have the latest one actually nicely bound but it still lacks. For you KJV people the translators actually used the DR as a reference to their work. That’s why the similarities and differences. Where the Catholic translators emphasized SACRIFICE and HIERARCHY they watered it down to reflect a meal/supper and lay elders protestant view. Wish Catholic publishers would return to quality bindings and not cheap shabby stuff like the protestant bibles. Back in the 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s you had outstanding binderies in Europe and the US. Cambridge, Oxford, Nelson, Zondervan all produced quality bibles. Now, today? Nyet, nine, nada, nope. Nothing. There are a couple places where on can still get top quality from England; http://evangelicalbible.com/shop/ carries most of them. No Catholic bibles except the NEW Revised Version-Catholic edition by Oxford. I think their might even be a an NAB available. Check out the pictures and behold authentic quality. Wish I could find a traditional binder who could rebind my DR in quality goatskin in different colors. Ignatius Press’ RSV-CE is somewhat better since they started to do Smyth Sewn binding instead of glue. Oh well, If anyone knows of someone in the states please let me know. Guess I’ve rambled long enough, sorry.

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