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Uh oh! Church scholars tamper with Bible’s language

By ANDREW STERN
March 4, 2011

A new edition of one the most popular English-language Bibles will offer substitutes for words such as “booty” and “holocaust” to better reflect modern understanding, a Catholic group said on Wednesday.

Nearly 50 scholars from all faiths and a committee of Roman Catholic bishops have labored since 1994 over the first fresh edition of the New American Bible since 1970, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

The annual best-seller to be issued by a dozen publishers beginning next week on Ash Wednesday “is a beautiful translation — it’s a new way to look at an old love,” said Mary Sperry, who oversees Bible licensing for the bishops.

The changes go beyond a few words being altered, and include freshly-written notes that should help readers better understand the Catholic church’s interpretation of biblical concepts, Sperry said. The Book of Psalms contains over 70,000 words, both text and notes, she said.

The revisions more accurately reflect translations of ancient Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament and the constant evolution of modern-day language, Sperry said.

For example, the word “holocaust,” which for most people refers to the World War Two genocide of Jews, was changed to “burnt offerings,” which clarifies the original, positive idea of making offerings to God.

“Booty,” which has come to have a sexual connotation, was changed to “spoils of war;” and “cereal,” which many think of as breakfast food, became “grain” to reference loads of wheat.

In a change in a passage in Isaiah 7:14 that foretells the coming of Jesus and his birth to a virgin mother, the 1970 edition’s reference to “the virgin” will become “the young woman,” to better translate the Hebrew word “almah.”

“The bishops and the Bible are not signaling any sort of change in the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus. None whatsoever,” Sperry added.

The new edition will revert to more poetic versions of Psalm 23 to have it read, “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” instead of “dark valley.” And “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” was changed to “for endless days,” which Sperry said carried a more profound and hopeful meaning.

The current edition of the New American Bible sold more than one million copies last year, mostly in the United States, the Philippines, India, and Africa. The new version could spark a pickup in sales, Sperry predicted.

The edition will be available in many formats: as a family hardback, a basic paperback, as an “e-book,” as an “app” for cell phones, and in a Braille version.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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