The Jerusalem Bible

The Jerusalem Bible (JB or TJB) is an English translation of the Bible published in 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd. As a Catholic Bible, it includes the traditional 73 books found in most English translations until the mid 19th century: the 39 books shared with the Hebrew Bible, along with the seven deuterocanonical books as the Old Testament, and the 27 books shared by all Christians as the New Testament. It also contains copious footnotes and introductions.

The Jerusalem Bible is the basis of the lectionary for mass used in Catholic worship throughout England, Wales, and the majority of the English-speaking world outside the United States and Canada, though the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has approved other translations for conditional liturgical use.

In 1943 Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical letter, Divino afflante Spiritu, which encouraged Roman Catholics to translate the scriptures from the Hebrew and Greek texts, rather than from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. As a result, a number of Dominicans and other scholars at the École Biblique in Jerusalem translated the scriptures into French. The product of these efforts was published as La Bible de Jérusalem in 1956.

This French translation served as the impetus for an English translation in 1966, the Jerusalem Bible. For the majority of the books, the English translation was a translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts; in passages with more than one interpretation, the interpretation chosen by the French translators is generally followed. For a small number of Old Testament books, the first draft of the English translation was made directly from the French, and then the General Editor (Alexander Jones) produced a revised draft by comparing this word-for-word to the Hebrew or Aramaic texts. The footnotes and book introductions are almost literal translations from the French.

The translation itself has been admired for its literary qualities, perhaps in part due to its most famous contributor, J. R. R. Tolkien (his primary contribution was the translation of Jonah). It is commonly held that the Jerusalem Bible was not a translation from the French; rather, it was an original translation heavily influenced by the French. This view is not shared by Henry Wansbrough, editor of the New Jerusalem Bible, who writes, “Despite claims to the contrary, it is clear that the Jerusalem Bible was translated from the French, possibly with occasional glances at the Hebrew or Greek, rather than vice versa.”

The dynamic equivalence of the translation is more “thought-for-thought” than “word-for-word” compared to other modern translations. The introductions, footnotes, and even the translation itself reflect a modern scholarly approach and the conclusions of scholars who use historical-critical method. As examples, the introduction and notes reject Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch, as well as the Book of Wisdom having been authored by King Solomon.

The Jerusalem Bible was the first widely accepted Roman Catholic English translation of the Bible since the Douay-Rheims Version of the 17th century. It has also been widely praised for an overall very high level of scholarship, and is widely admired and sometimes used by liberal and moderate Protestants. The Jerusalem Bible is one of the versions authorized to be used in services of the Episcopal Church and other Anglican churches.

Translation of the tetragrammaton

The Jerusalem Bible returned to the use of the historical name Yahweh as the name of God in the Old Testament, rendered as such in 6,823 places within this translation. If La Bible de Jerusalem of 1956 had been followed literally, this name would have been translated as “the Eternal.” The move has been welcomed by some; however, it has not been popular among groups who would prefer the name of God be left unpronounced, or replaced by “the LORD” or another title.

On 29 June 2008, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote to the presidents of all conferences of bishops at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI, stating that the use of the name Yahweh was to be dropped from Catholic Bibles in liturgical use, (most notably the CTS New Catholic Bible, which uses the Jerusalem Bible text) as well as from songs and prayers, since pronunciation of this name violates long-standing Jewish and Christian tradition.

  • In 1973, the French translation received an update. A third French edition was produced in 1998.
  • In 1985, the English translation was completely updated. This new translation — known as the New Jerusalem Bible — was freshly translated from the original languages and not tied to any French translation (except indirectly, as it maintained many of the stylistic and interpretive choices of the French Jerusalem Bible).
  • In 2007 the Catholic Truth Society published the CTS New Catholic Bible, consisting of the original 1966 Jerusalem Bible text revised to match its use in lectionaries throughout most English-speaking countries, in conformity with the directives of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Pontifical Biblical Commission. The name “Yahweh” has been replaced by “the LORD” throughout the Old Testament, and the Psalms have been completely replaced by the 1963 Grail Psalter. The revised text is accompanied by new introductions, and textual and liturgical notes, supplemented as needed with material from the notes to the New Jerusalem Bible.
  • Last updated in 1998, the French La Bible de Jérusalem is currently the subject of a revision project operating under the title The Bible in its Traditions. According to the notes, more weight will be given to the Septuagint in the translation of the Hebrew Bible scriptures, though the Masoretic Text will remain the primary source. The French portion of the Demonstration Volume is available online, together with a single sample of the English translation. In this new version, the tetragrammaton is not transliterated as in the Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible, and several kinds of commentary are included in a manner different from the practice of other Bible editions.
  • Publisher Darton, Longman and Todd is publishing the Revised New Jerusalem Bible. The New Testament and Psalms was published in February, 2018, and the complete Bible will be published in late 2018. Substantially revising the JB and NJB texts, the new translation “applies formal equivalence translation for a more accurate rendering of the original scriptures, sensitivity to readable speech patterns and more inclusive language.” It will contain new study notes and book introductions written by Henry Wansbrough.

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