September 20, 2009

R. Soloveitchik on innovation in liturgy

Haganos HaRav 67 (Soloveitchik RH Machzor):

The Rav objected in general to the introduction into the service of new prayers not included in the traditional liturgy, noting that Chazal, well aware of the paradox inherent in insignificant man approaching God to pray for his comparatively trivial needs, were thus determined to confine the performance of prayer to rigid, standardized texts based upon Biblical sources (Community, Covenant, and Commitment, p. 115)

He stressed that man’s entire right to pray to God for anything is based upon the fact that the Bible is replete with examples of people praying and petitioning god for various needs, and their actions therefore serve as a precedent for us (Divrei Hashkafah, p. 122).  Consequently, no ordinary person can have temerity to compose his own formula of prayer, given that he lacks the necessary רוח הקודש, the Divine inspiration, which the Biblical figures had.  The Rav further explained that it is for this reason that the Gemara in Megillah (17a) points out that the אנשי כנסת הגדולה, the Men of the
Great Assembly, who established the texts of our prayers and blessings (see Berachos 33a), included several prophets, because a level of Divine inspiration is necessary in order to properly formulate prayers.  The Rav stated that he was unimpressed with various prayer texts composed by contemporary authors (MiPeninei HaRav, pp. 127-128).

Indeed, he held that no contemporary author has all the qualities that are indispensable for writing prayers.  Nobody today has the inner ability, the depth, the breadth of experience, and the purity of soul that would authorize him to compose a prayer (The Lord is Righteous, pp. 298-299.)

September 3, 2009

The Arden Shakespeare empire expands

When Cenage (which was spun off from Thomson which had acquired Routledge) bought Houghton-Mifflin, there was great fear in the Shakespeare book-lover community that it would spell doom for the Arden Shakespeare – volumes that contained deep commentary and annotations on Shakespeare editions.  Houghton-Mifflin already had its own set of preferred Shakespeare textbooks – works that were far more pedestrian than the Arden editions.

And, that prognostication turned out to be partly correct – Cenage dumped Arden as quickly as it could – selling it back to Metheun (its publisher through from 1899 through 1980).  And back in its rightful home, the Arden Shakespeare is doing exciting things.

One of the most exciting is the release of a new Early Modern Drama series, with Arden-style commentary and annotations of Everyman and Mankind, Philaster, and The Duchess of Malfi on the way in less than two weeks and (reportedly) The Renegado coming out next year.

So hooray.  Unable to handle a unit of true quality, the mega-publishers actually spun off the Arden Shakespeare to a small publisher – its original home – that seems to take some pride in its publications.

(By the way, while I strongly recommend the Arden for their critical commentary, I cannot recommend them as a reading edition of Shakespeare.  You should take Kevin Edgecomb’s advice and buy a nicely printed multi-volume edition.)

Bible revision madness

I’m only maintaining a few subscriptions to Bible blogs – a large number have become irrelevant to my current interest.  But I still read a few, and the big news this week is:  the NIV is being revised again.

In a very real sense this is completely irrelevant to me:  I did not like, read, or trust the NIV or the TNIV.  I found the translations biased, simplified, and (in the case of the TNIV) ungrammatical.  My opinion is that popular modern Bible translation theory is in a rut (as is, sadly, much discussion about it) – the only translations in the last decade or so I can get excited about are those of Craig Smith, Robert Alter, and Everett Fox. 

And, after all, translations wars are small beer anyway.  (Ignoring source text criticism issues) the original text says what it says.  Any serious discussion needs to refer back to the original text.  (However, I admit to finding English translations of the Targums and Septuagint useful.) 

Furthermore, there are already a wealth of translations into English representing reading levels ranging from grammar school to moderately sophisticated and a variety of different belief systems.  It is hard to believe that a new translation could have a real impact with readers – at best it could merely hope to jostle some other “flavor of the month” recent translation in sales rating.

Perhaps the death of the TNIV is a blow for those Evangelicals who hoped to for their translation to have an impact on secular educational materials (currently, the NRSV and RSV [and in literature, the KJV] are dominant here).  The TNIV looked to be one of the few translations that had some impact outside the Evangelical world – for example, the TNIV was used in an(outstanding) secular textbook: the Norton Critical Edition of Writings of St. Paul

One reaction among biblio-bloggers surprises me.  Many people are saying:  “what shall we do until the new edition is out” as if the TNIV were somehow rendered unacceptable by the decision to revise it.  It reminds me of the pitches given by publishers when a new edition of a dictionary or cookbook comes out – one is hardly required to buy the new edition. 

Indeed, the old editions remain on the market for a long time (and, in the used market, continue to be available even longer.)  Thus a reader who desires a copy of the “out-of-date” editions such as the RSV, Living Bible, Confraternity Bible, JPS 1917 Holy Scriptures, RV, Geneva translation, etc. has a wide variety of choices both on the new and used market).

As a reader, you can read, cite, use, and study any translation you want.  And if you are worried about there being a dearth of supplementary materials, you are welcome to use any translation you want with any commentary you want.

If you visit a university bookstore, you will find that instructors – even in the hard sciences and mathematics – regularly use textbooks from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s (and sometimes even back to the ‘30s) – indeed, one popular publisher, Dover, specializes in reprinting these volumes.

As far as the merits of the NIV 2011 are concerned, we’ll have to wait and see – it is absurd to begin to judge it before work has even begun on it.  Since the NIV took 13 years (1965-1978) for the first edition and the TNIV took at least 9 years (1996 [publication date of the NIVi] – 2005) , I’m a bit surprised that the translators feel they can do an adequate job with only a two year timeline.  But let’s wait and see.

In the meanwhile, there is little need to gnash teeth.  The ideas that inspired the changes from the NIV to the TNIV cannot be erased with the announcement of a new translation.