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  No original manuscripts of the Bible have come down to us, due to the perishable material upon which they were written and the fact that the Roman emperors decreed the destruction of the manuscripts during the Christian persecutions. While none of the original manuscripts are known to exist, some very ancient transcriptions have survived the years.

  The oldest Hebrew manuscript known is a copy of the Book of Isaiah, written in Hebrew in the 2nd Century. It was found in 1947 in a cave near Jericho. The oldest Greek fragment known to exist is in the John Ryland Library in Manchester, England. This fragment is from the 2nd Century A.D. Several thousand other ancient Greek manuscripts have been found, the three most complete and important being the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Alexandrinus, all probably of the 4th and 5th Century after Christ. The Codex Vaticanus is in the Vatican library.

  The most important early translations of the Bible were the Septuagint and the Vulgate. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, was begun about 250 B.C. and completed about 100 B.C. This translation was made for the Jews of Egypt so that they could read their sacred books in Greek, the only language that most of them understood at that time. The Septuagint was widely used in Palestine and distributed throughout the Greek-speaking peoples of the Mediterranean world during the time of Christ and for the 1st Century or longer of the Christian era. The Apostles of Christ used this translation in their teaching.

  In the early days of the Church, the Scriptures were read at divine services in Greek. An early translation from Greek to Latin was needed for many of the Christians in the West could not understand Greek. Such translations, gathered together, made up the first Latin Bible. Prepared by so many different people of varying education, the translations were uneven and inaccurate, By the 2nd Century, there were a number of Latin translations, the most widely circulated being the Old Latin, or Itala.

  Because of the numerous variant readings of the Itala, due to the copyists, revisers, or translators, Pope Damasus requested St. Jerome to revise and correct the New Testament. St. Jerome began his revision with the four Gospels and then revised the remaining books of the New Testament, but more hurriedly. The work was completed at Rome about A.D. 383-4. After the death of Pope Damasus, St. Jerome went to the Holy Land. He spent 34 years there, devoting his time to revising the Bible, to exegetical works, but mainly to the great work of his life, the translation of the protocanonical books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin. This work extended over a period of fifteen years and it was a prodigious task, for the modern Vulgate is made up of: (a) the protocanonical books of the Old Testament, with the exception of the Psalter, translated from Hebrew by St. Jerome; (b) the deuterocanonical books of Tobit and Judith from the Aramaic by St. Jerome; (c) the deuterocanonical books of Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees from the Old Latin unrevised by St. Jerome; (d) the deuterocanonical parts of Daniel from the Greek of Theodotion and of Esther from the Septuagint; and (e) the New Testament revised from the Old Latin by St. Jerome.

  As St. Jerome’s work on the Old Testament was a work of private enterprise, it met great opposition. He was accused of changing the text of the Bible, which was familiar to the people in the Itala or Old Latin. However, as time went on, the great merits of his work were recognized. By the 9th Century, Jerome’s version was universally accepted. In view of its general adoption, it gradually assumed the name of "Vulgate," the "disseminated" or people’s Bible.

  On April 8, 1546, the Church, in the Council of Trent, designated the Vulgate as the official Church translation. To this day the Vulgate remains the official version of the Church, and translations of it are found in practically every language in the world. However, it does not mean that it is to be preferred over the Septuagint or over original manuscripts, or that it was entirely free from error. On the contrary, the Church recognized certain limitations in the translations from the beginning, and ordered a revision. This revised version was published in 1592 under Pope Clement VIII.

  Jerome’s text suffered many vicissitudes throughout the ages. In assembling a complete Bible, copyists would take some of their readings, by misadventure, from the old Latin texts and some from the Vulgate; both texts were in circulation. A monk might have memorized several passages from the old version in school, then, in writing a copy of the Vulgate, subconsciously lapse into the old phrasing so familiar to him. Some of the transcribers were not exercising a critical sense and would incorporate texts from other manuscripts, parallel passages, and texts from the liturgy.

  The invention of printing only multiplied these problems for a time, but eventually scholars were able to print a text near to the text as it came from the hands of St. Jerome. While the Vulgate became the official version of the Western Church, it did not prevent other translations from being made. A Coptic version appeared in the 2nd Century; Ulfilas, an Arian bishop, made a Gothic translation in the 4th Century, and there were numerous Syrian, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, and Slavonic versions in the early centuries.

  The invention and development of a practical printing process by Gutenberg in the 15th Century did more to revolutionize and modernize the world than any other invention. Prior to this, all manuscripts and books had to be copied by hand and only the very wealthy could ever afford to have one. At once the tedious work of the professional copyist was ended. Not only did it do away with the copyist, it eliminated the many human errors made in copying.

  By 1450 Gutenberg had developed the art of printing so well that he was ready to print his first book; the first book printed was the Bible, in the Latin Vulgate translation. About two years were spent in printing and binding the Bible, and it was completed in 1452. Over 200 copies were printed in the first edition.

  With the invention of printing, the Bible ran through edition after edition, 124 in the first 50 years, all sponsored by the Catholic Church. By the time Luther’s New Testament appeared in 1522 there were 14 complete editions in German. Parallel with this in time was the appearance of II Italian translations, 10 French, 2 Bohemian, one Flemish, and one Russian.

  The first complete English translation of the Bible appeared relatively late, probably not until the 14th Century. However, the English people were not without the Bible in those early years, as the Latin Vulgate was widely disseminated and in daily use. In addition, numerous paraphrases, translations, and commentaries of various Bible stories were well known through scop and gleeman, the popular storytellers of their day.

  Much of the earlier history of the Bible in English still remains a mystery. Tradition holds that Aidan, Bishop of Landisfarne, who died in 651, encouraged his followers to read the Scriptures in their own tongue. Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne until his death in 709, is said to have translated the Psalms into the Saxon language. Between 721 and 901 various writers, including the Venerable Bede, Eadfrith, Alcuin, and King Alfred, are believed to have translated parts or all of the Bible stories into Old English, In the 10th Century, a translation of the first seven books of the Bible and the Book of Job made by Aelfric, Archbishop of Canterbury from 994 to 1005, was in circulation.

  During the time between the death of Aelfric and the reputed work of Wyclif in 1380, other translations are reported to have existed. However, this was a period of great transition in the English language, and practically nothing remains of these writings. It was not until the 15th Century that English as we know it today emerged as a definite language.

  The next important English version is the so-called Wyclif translation, of which over 150 manuscripts are extant. It is taken indirectly from the Vulgate. Much doubt has been cast recently on the theory that Wyclif was responsible for this pre-Reformation Bible in recent years, since the translation is largely Catholic in tone and diction and since most of the manuscripts of this version were found in the possession of notably Catholic families.

  The first complete and printed Catholic English translation that is definitely known appeared rather late, at the turn of the 16th Century. This is known as the Douay-Rheims version. It was a translation of the Latin Vulgate and was produced in France by English scholars who had fled the Catholic persecutions in England. The New Testament was published in Rheims in 1582 and the Old Testament in Douay in 1610.

  Since the Douay-Rheims translation, the English language has undergone continuous changes. It was necessary, therefore, to revise and bring the Bible up to date from time to time. Bishop Challoner of England undertook and published a complete revision of the Douay-Rheims in 1750, and several less successful revisions appeared between that time and the 20th Century.

  Besides the Catholic versions of the Bible mentioned above, numerous Protestant versions of the Bible in English have appeared since the Reformation. William Tyndale (1484-1536) was one of the first Protestant translators of the Bible. His translation is especially noteworthy because he translated from the original Greek versions then available to him rather than from the traditional Vulgate.

  Miles Coverdale translated and printed a complete English Bible in 1535. Coverdale‘s translation was the first English edition of the Bible to separate the deuterocanonical books from the protocanonical books. The deuterocanonical books were put in the back of the regular Bible text.

  Between the publication of Coverdale’s Bible and the King James or Authorized Version, other less important translations took place. Noteworthy among these were the Taverner’s Bible, the Great Bible, Cranmer’s Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishop’s Bible.

  When James I ascended the throne of England in 1603, numerous and variant Protestant Bibles were in circulation. In 1604 preparations were, therefore, made to undertake a revision of the Protestant Bible. A group of scholars was organized, and using the Bishop’s Bible as the basis for their new translation, produced the King James Version, which was published in 1611.

  While of great literary merit, Protestants themselves recognized many serious defects in the translation. In 1881-1885 a revision was made, and this is popularly known as the Revised Version. Many other modern versions are also published today, the most important, perhaps, being the Revised Standard Version published in 1952. More recently the New English Version, among others have been published.

  Pope Leo XIII gave the modern impetus to Bible study when he issued his famous encyclical, Providentissimus Deus, which set up standards for all future Bible scholarship. In addition, he established the Biblical Commission in 1902 to study and to give answers to biblical questions. In 1890 M. J. Lagrange, 0. P., founded the Ecole Biblique at Jerusalem and also established the periodical, Revue Biblique. The Biblical Institute was established in Rome in 1908 by Pius X to give advanced training to biblical scholars.

  In 1907 the Biblical Commission asked the Benedictine Order to undertake the task of revising the Vulgate, and this translation is still in process. Under the direction of the English Jesuit, Reverend Cuthbert Lattey, English and American scholars produced the Westminster edition of the Sacred Scriptures directly from the Greek and Hebrew texts. Other modern versions include a translation of the New Testament from the original languages by Fr. F. Spencer, O.P., and this was published in 1937. A complete translation of the Bible was made by Msgr. Ronald Knox of England in 1950 and has attained wide popularity because of the modernness and clarity of its language.

  In the United States in the last 40 years, there has been a general revival of religion and the hierarchy felt a great need for an accurate modern translation of the Bible. Out of this has developed a new translation of the Bible by American Scripture scholars, sponsored by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

  The first task of this group was to prepare a modern edition of the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims English translation of the Bible. Proceeding with this, they published the New Testament in 1941, and then began the translation of the Old Testament. However, Pope Pius XII issued his Encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, in 1943 which dealt with, among other things, the need for a new translation of the Bible directly from the original languages of the sacred authors. For this reason, the further revision of the Challoner-Douay-Rheims Version was abandoned.

  The Confraternity then began the new translation of the Old Testament directly from the original Hebrew and of the New Testament from the original languages. The New American Bible is a culmination of their efforts.

  Since the introduction of the New American Bible in 1970, interest and participation in Bible study has increased rapidly. Awareness of this trend combined with the experience of its actual use (especially in oral proclamation) provided a basis for a revision of the original New Testament text.

  Begun in 1978 and completed in 1986, the threefold purpose of this revision (also expressed in the preface of the first edition) was: "to provide a version suitable for liturgical proclamation, for private reading and for purposes of study."

  An additional concern of the editors was the production of a version as accurate and faithful to the original Greek text as possible. At the same time, special attention was paid to ensure that the language chosen not only reflected contemporary American usage, but eliminated all discrimination (especially against women) whenever possible.




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