Because the problem of ghastly contemporary Bible translations is a perennial interest of Touchstone readers, they should not miss Richard John Neuhaus's exasperated (and wryly amusing) posting at the First Things website about the New American Bible (NAB). As the other links that he provides will illustrate, this is a longstanding concern of Fr. Neuhaus's, and an entirely just one. "The NAB is a banal, linguistically inept, and misleading translation," Neuhaus asserts, bending over backwards to be charitable. "Why did the [American] bishops force it upon the Catholic people, demanding that it and it alone be used in the readings of the Mass?"
Why indeed. I have wondered the same thing. I am a Protestant, and so do not have regular contact with the NAB; but when I do encounter it, the experience comes as an unpleasant shock. For a number of years I have made it a practice to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which means that year after year, I get to hear how the NAB has mangled, for no reason that I can comprehend, some of the most magnificent and familiar language in all of Scripture. But let me allow Richard Neuhaus to tell the story (this is taken from a 2006 article, to which a link is provided in the above blog entry):
Everyone who has sung or listened to Handel’s “Messiah” knows the words: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, KJV). Magnificent. Here, as of this week’s amended Missalette, is the New American Bible: “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” Try singing that. Whether under the rules of literal accuracy or of what, taking liberties, translators call “dynamic equivalence,” that is no more than a pedantic transliteration of the Hebrew. It is not a translation. It is a string of possible signifiers. It is not English.
How especially unfortunate that these particular words, on that particular occasion--the one moment of the year when all the pews are full, and when even the most jaded hearts present are open to the incomparable mystery and wonder of Christ's birth--so signally fail to express the moment's full majesty, but instead offer something that sounds like an anthropologist's earnest, literal-minded rendering of Stone Age deity names. Fortunately, there is more on offer than just that, and it is not enough in itself to empty the pews. But it all seems a remarkably unnecessary self-inflicted wound. One hopes that the complaints of Neuhaus and others will eventually be heard and acted upon. Until then....how many time-units, O Sky-Sovereign?