The four - rather than five - star assessment given here is for two issues: the naming convention in the OT (which wont suit everyone) and the referencing in the Kindle version. If neither of these gives you problems, this is an excellent bible to buy to accompany and explain one of the bestselling translations. Each bible book begins with a better-than-usual introduction which explains context as well as content, and while being of top-level scholarship yet easy to read (an uncommon balance), the translation treads on few partisan toes. The glossaries, too, are very thorough, explaining word, context and usage.
Tom Wrights translation of the NT was issued from the early 2000s as the bible text in his For Everyone series of commentaries, so it was intended to give clarity to his explanations of what the writers intended. Lightly revised, it was then issued by SPCK as a stand-alone New Testament in 2011. It is proving popular for its clear and up-to-date phrasing, as youd expect from a man frequently called the greatest living New Testament historian. He has now begun to use this translation (often slightly altered for exegesis) in his later popular, general and scholarly works.
Using Wrights New Testament in bible study meetings, where everyone brings and reads from their favourite translation, Ive been impressed how - maybe in a difficult passage - Wrights text so often seems to sum up what people are trying to say, or provides light on a contentious point. Its delightful when, after a heated discussion, one of us can re-read the passage from this translation and somehow, we have found a consensus.
It is, in effect, a worthy replacement for J B Phillips fine work of half a century ago.
John Goldingays OT translation - also first made to accompany his For Everyone commentaries - is both similar to Wrights style, yet in some ways very different.
The modern, colloquial language is both clear and immediate: a match for other good modern translations. In particular, it doesnt try to fudge the translation problem caused by older OT books having so much that is either hard to understand out of (often lost) context, or just plain obscure at our current state of understanding of the most ancient Hebrew and cultures. He simply translates whats there, without trying to interpret what isnt clear, or which has (as usual with any translating) multiple likely meanings from which so many translators simply pick one. Plain and simple English words are more often used, where other bibles prefer the longer Latinate equivalents: it can give a minor shock until you realise that the short word is just as accurate! Boss, for example, is often used instead of several names for ruler, leader, employer or overseer, when the Hebrew includes them all – and boss is what the Hebrew actually says. Likewise, scholarly guesses at an obscure words meaning are pleasantly absent. Title words in the psalms, for example, are still a point of contention - so much so, that translators often just leave them out. Goldingay simply translates, for example: Psalm 21 The leaders. A composition. Davids. And, as throughout and like most translators, he gives it a section title: An embodiment of blessing.
All good so far, then.
However, the translation has some deliberate idiosyncrasies that readers will either love or dislike - in our study group, it was very much a Marmite split! Goldingay has bypassed several conventions of translation which have grown up over more than a millennium to rationalise the texts. So, in a first departure from custom, Goldingay provides the English equivalent of the Hebrew words for the natural world, clothes and society, rather than, as most modern bibles do, the Latin transliterated, or the Mediaeval or Renaissance European equivalents of Hebrew usage, which litter English translations from Tyndale and the Bishops Bible onward. For example, readers familiar with King James Bible animals and plants, buildings and clothing - even in modern translations - will not see those items, nor modern substitutes, but the Hebrew originals. Likewise, weights and measures, coinage and dimensions are the original, not a guess at the modern equivalent (when, in any case, usage varied throughout the 1500 years of the OTs writing). Though he does replace, for example, cubits with half metres, because the cubit (elbow to fingertip) changed little over the centuries of writing.
The second shock is that Goldingays use of proper names is radically different from what most readers will expect to see. It has become conventional, where a place or a person is given different names in different OT books, or even several names in one book, for translators to have standardised on a single name throughout, and that name is often a latinate version from Jeromes Vulgate. This is now locked into tradition, so that non-scholars rarely know that this wasnt always so, and that its not what the original authors wrote. Unlike any other popular translation, then, Goldingay has deliberately tried to get his non-Hebrew-speaking readers comfortable with the actual names - and their pronunciation - as used by each OT Hebrew writer. And its this that is so different from other translations. Examples: Moses is Mosheh (as any good modern Jew knows!) and his brother Aharon. His father-in-law Jethro is Yitro - a different word; Jacob is Yaaqob - the proper pronunciation - and his people the Yisraelites. Egypt was a totally different word in the Jewish bible: Misrayim. Yahweh is, of course, the Hebrew already, and descriptions like God and Lord are in English. I was surprised to find that some names - like David and Abraham - needed no change: theyre already in Hebrew; others, like Kenaan, are obvious when you pronounce them ie when theyre read out, hearers wont mistake the name.
Ive discovered that it takes a little initial effort to use the authors (conventional) Roman script transliterations of the Hebrew names, but once accustomed, its easier to pronounce the names this way than - in most bibles - trying to pronounce the conventional versions of unfamiliar names - the dread of lay people asked to read a genealogy without notice (and a lot of practice!) Jews who can read the Hebrew would have no problem, of course, as Goldingays transliteration is the usual one. A short pronunciation guide is in the introduction, but isnt really needed, half an hours practice and its easy.
This going back to basics that Goldingay employs is an excellent idea, taking the reader right back into antiquity. Though most readers will want to have another bible handy for cross-referencing. Goldingay does, though, add the conventional name in brackets at each first mention in a section.
THE KINDLE PROBLEM
The original Kindle edition of this bible has been issued without cross-referencing or footnotes, and Id be surprised if other e-book formats were different in this. But - more serious – the e-text is without any quick passage-finder system at all. This is one of the least helpful ebooks I’ve ever seen, so I imagine that SPCK is already doing the laborious work of adding the thousands of hyperlinks needed, and will – I hope – then update copies already bought, as well as issuing later purchases with them.
What IS provided is a link to the beginning of each book, accessed either from the Contents list or from Go To. Fine for Malachi or Titus, a nightmare in Psalms, Isaiah and Romans. This handicap is so serious that Ive made a paper note of the positions of each books beginning, so I can guess the position of the passage I want, and get there with only a few dozen flips.