A Comparative Psalter
Hebrew (Masoretic Text)
Revised Standard Version Bible
The New English Translation of the Septuagint
The Complete Book of Psalms in a Parallel Format
Edited by John R. Kohlenberger III
New York: Oxford University Press, 2007
Hardback, 288 pages. Also available in paper.
Suggested retail price of hardcover: $39.99; paperback: $29.99. Amazon.com lists a price of $22.79 for the hardcover right now. An error on their part, but they stand by their advertised prices. I received a copy from them at list price. Note that the stand-alone edition of A New English Translation of the Septuagint: The Psalms is out of print and available on the used book market for prices in excess of the cost to purchase it as a component of A Comparative Psalter.
The following review of A Comparative Psalter first appeared on Rick Mansfield’s blog entitled “THIS LAMP... and that's all I need.” For scholarship and readability, the review equals or surpasses reviews that appear in trade magazines like Review of Biblical Literature. Thanks, Rick and Larry, for permission to post it here. I made a few minor editorial changes, corrected a few typos, and added a couple of hot links.
A Comparative Psalter has just appeared in print. It would make a worthy addition to the library of any student of the Bible who is interested in reading the Psalter in the original languages, for prayer or for study, or has an interest in the Septuagint.
The Psalter includes four versions of the psalms: (Masoretic) Hebrew, (Septuagint) Greek, and two leading translations of each: the RSV for the Hebrew, and the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) for the Greek.
The idea for the book apparently came from a similar volume for a German-language audience published in 2000 and edited by Walter Gross and Bernd Janowski.
The Hebrew is that of BHS (51997) with critical apparatus but without masora parva (the notes in the margins of the BHS). The Greek is that of Rahlfs’ Septuaginta (1935). The RSV contains full textual notes (often not reproduced in electronic editions). The NETS contains textual notes and two useful longer prefaces. The NETS is a nice translation, with careful attention paid to literal rendering and gender issues, and I look forward to a complete printed edition soon. A provisional edition is found online.
The numbering of the psalms in the Hebrew uses the traditional (English) numbering as opposed to the original Hebrew numbering. The NETS uses both the English numbering and the Greek numbering. The beginning and ending of each of the five books of psalms are carefully marked. The 151st psalm (included in the Eastern Orthodox Psalter) is not included.
A simple cross reference system is found at the bottom of the right-hand pages. While I find such annotations unhelpful, the page layout makes them inconspicuous and easy to ignore.
Other than textual notes, there is no annotation in the Psalter. This is a case where less is more -- any annotation would have probably made this Psalter unacceptable to some audience.
The introduction does not explain why the RSV was chosen over the NRSV, but one can guess: the RSV is slightly more literal than the NRSV and is also approved for Roman Catholic liturgy -- while the NRSV has the imprimatur, the gender neutral language has caused the Vatican to ban its use in the liturgy. (The ban on liturgical use of the NRSV was made by Cardinal Ratzinger, who has since become Pope Benedict XVI, and was the subject of some conflict between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.) The NRSV Psalter received special criticism from the Vatican. Similarly, although I have seen (carefully qualified) praise for the RSV from some Eastern Orthodox scholars, the NRSV seems to be much more controversial.
Still, the choice of the NRSV would have been more logical, since Albert Pietersma (the NETS translator) deviates from the NRSV only when he feels the Greek deviates from the Hebrew.
The page size is generous and there is ample space for making notes. (The paper used is thick, although perhaps absorbent -- I haven't tried writing on it yet.) For those familiar with other Oxford parallel Bibles, such as The Precise Parallel New Testament [editor’s note: out of print! Hard to find except at an exorbitant price], this work is about an inch taller and wider.
One thing that surprised me is that Oxford placed the NETS logo on the binding and back of the Psalter. Usually, Oxford doesn't put Bible logos on its Bibles. The NETS logo is especially ugly and busy, so this was a bit of a graphic design failure. However, as they say -- don't judge a book by its cover.
A printed Psalter is more useful than an electronic Psalter. First, all of the electronic versions of the RSV I have seen omit notes. Second, most electronic versions (with the exception of the Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible) omit Hebrew critical apparatus. Third, to the best of my knowledge, NETS is not integrated into any major electronic Bible package. Third, observant Jews can't use an electronic device on the Sabbath or biblical religious holidays. Fourth, I find having a computer on is distracting to prayer and prefer to pray out of a written book (and actually, I prefer to study out of a written book as well.) Fifth, as already noted, a printed book allows a person to make notes.
I personally have not spent much time studying the Septuagint, and in a few hours perusing this Psalter, I found many interesting differences with the Hebrew. While many of the words in the Greek psalms have ordinary meanings, there are a number which are directly taken from the Hebrew. Some of these are stereotypes – words taken literally from the Hebrew which seem unnatural in the Greek; others are calques – Greek words with Hebrew meanings; and still others are what Pietersma refers to as isolate renderings – Greek words derived on the basis of etymological reasoning of a kind few would find convincing today. In some cases, this produces fascinating contrasts: for example, we can contrast Psalm 7:7 (Hebrew numbering) in the Greek and Hebrew:
קוּמָה יְהוָה בְּאַפֶּךָ
הִנָּשֵׂא בְּעַבְרוֹת צוֹרְרָי
וְעוּרָה אֵלַי מִשְׁפָּט צִוִּיתָ
RSV: Arise, O LORD, in thy anger,
lift thyself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; thou hast appointed a judgment.
κύριε ἐν ὀργῇ σου
ὑψώθητι ἐν τοῖς πέρασι τῶν ἐχθρῶν μου
ἐξεγέρθητι κύριε ὁ θεός μου ἐν προστάγματι ᾧ ἐνετείλω
be exalted in the boundaries [note in the margin: perhaps at the death] of my enemies;
and* awake, O my* God, with the decree which you issued.
[The asterisks refer to textual notes dealing with alternate textual forms which I omit here.]
Now this is quite a contrast – “lift thyself up against the fury of my enemies” versus “be exalted in the boundaries of my enemies.” And what of the alternative textual rendering of τοῖς πέρασι as at the deaths? Well, a glance at Psalm 39:5 (Hebrew numbering) in the Greek clearly indicates that the word in question can refer to the end of human life. But the entire sense of the passage changes depending on whether one reads the Hebrew or the Greek.
The Greek Psalter is thus interesting not
only for its differences with the Hebrew, but as a lesson in translation,
seeing how the translator struggled to maintain an almost word-for-word
translation. And this sort of study is made easy with this text: even if one
has weak Hebrew and Greek, the convenient English translations make it easy to
compare the texts.
The Greek Psalter is thus interesting not only for its differences with the Hebrew, but as a lesson in translation, seeing how the translator struggled to maintain an almost word-for-word translation. And this sort of study is made easy with this text: even if one has weak Hebrew and Greek, the convenient English translations make it easy to compare the texts.
In summary, I regard this as one of the most useful parallel Bible works I have seen in a while – especially for those interested in studying the Septuagint. The size is a little large for a Psalter and the English type is surprisingly small, but the Hebrew and the Greek are clear enough.
For me, reading the psalms is one of the central elements of worship – I regularly read through the psalms aloud in Hebrew. I prefer a Psalter with minimal distractions for prayer – so I can concentrate as fully as possible. For those inclined, I see no reason this Psalter could not be used for prayer in Hebrew, Greek, or English.
I hope this Psalter is a success and that Oxford considers publishing other MT Hebrew - RSV - NETS - Septuagint parallel editions of books from the Hebrew Scriptures. A publication program would be a boon to many audiences: those interested in the study of the Septuagint, those with strong Greek trying to improve their Hebrew, and those interested in the differences in Jewish and Christian interpretation of Scripture.