Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Bibles for students of literature

Posted: Oct 14, 2010 13:10;
Last Modified: Sep 20, 2012 11:09

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Many contemporary students do not know the bible particularly well. This can be because they come from non-religious families, or families whose religious background is not Judeo-Christian. But even many students from quite religious, Christian or Jewish backgrounds find their knowledge of the bible to be less good than they might wish for literary study.

A student once gave me a great tip for those who feel you don’t know the bible well enough to recognise allusions to the major stories from the Old and New Testaments: buy a children’s bible.

Children’s bibles tend to focus on the most important and widely known stories, and some even come with notes explaining how (for example) Old Testament stories are understood by Christians as presaging events in the New Testament.

If you are an English major and don’t know your bible reasonably well, you should consider—in addition to reading a children’s bible—reading a good translation of the bible yourself as well. It is less long than you might think (especially the new Testament).

If you don’t know what to read, here are some options:

The above bibles are all Protestant. The Protest and Catholic Bibles vary to a certain extent—particularly with regard to the order and composition of the Old Testament (see http://www.twopaths.com/faq_bibles.htm). Here are some Catholic options:

All of these bibles are new translations from the original languages.This means they don’t reflect the version people read in the Middle Ages (which was Latin). But for general purposes they are good enough.

Medieval readers knew the bible primarily from the Vulgate, a Latin version translated by Jerome by the beginning of the fifth century; there were also translations into Old and Middle English from this. And there was some knowledge, especially in the case of the Psalms, of older, pre-Vulgate Latin translations.

If you want to get closer to this experience, the Douay-Rheims is a 16th Century Catholic translation of the Vulgate. Copies are available on line, including here (a Latin/English verse-by-verse translation) and here.

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