The New American Bible Revised Edition (2011) is without a doubt a magnificent translation. It is the outcome of a consummate labor of love of leading scholars in the Catholic Biblical Association of America (the royalty dispute, now resolved, involved the bishops on the one hand and CBA of America on the other; for the long-suffering chronology of the revision, go here).
A palpable improvement over the original NAB OT on every page, NABRE OT accomplishes this, according to its own preface, by being a more literal translation than its predecessor.
The NABRE OT also bears the battle scars of the conflict in progress at the intersection of gender-in-translation and what counts as appropriate English diction in a translation of the Bible. NABRE OT overall makes a large number of concessions to the felt need of some that a Bible translation avoid generic masculine language. The NABRE Psalms, on the other hand, retain as a rule generic masculine language. The reason for the complex situation is explained in the preface to NABRE OT (2011):
The present translation has generally made all references to human beings inclusive in the recognition that “man,” “men,” and “he” are increasingly heard as gender-specific in North American English. Unfortunately, in literary/ proverbial registers old usage of such words persists. It has not been possible in every instance to adopt inclusive language, for some circumlocutions are awkward.
The cited paragraph is found on p. 4 of the print edition of NABRE I own, published this year by Saint Benedict Press, available in First Communion and Confirmation editions among others. Is it the case that NABRE OT has generally avoided gender-generic “man,” “men” and “he” in translation? It depends on what one means by “generally.” Gender-in-translation is the most contentious issue in English Bible translation today. Perhaps this is the reason why the above paragraph is omitted in the Kindle edition of NABRE. The Preface might have noted that, in the case of the NABRE Psalms, a guideline of liturgiam authenticam was followed: “In the translation of terms contained in the original text, the same person, number, and gender is to be maintained insofar as possible.”
The translators of NABRE OT (2011) were caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand there was a desire to adopt gender-inclusive language; on the other hand, there was the requirement to adhere to Liturgiam authenticam. The result: NABRE OT (2011) comes down in the middle, not necessarily a bad thing. NABRE OT (2011) is more conservative, on questions relating to gender in translation, than the most recent Jewish translation of the Pentateuch, The Contemporary Torah: A Gender-Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006). It is also more conservative than two recent Protestant translations of the Bible, the liberal Protestant Common English Bible (2011) and the evangelical Protestant NIV (2011). The NABRE Psalms (2011) in particular have a more timeless feel than the Psalms of the Protestant translations just noted. Here is an example from Psalm 49 that illustrates my point, 49:12b-13 [v 12b belongs with v 13]:
קָרְאוּ בִשְׁמֹותָם עֲלֵי אֲדָמֹות
וְאָדָם בִּיקָר בַּל־יָלִין
נִמְשַׁל כַּבְּהֵמֹות נִדְמוּ
“They named countries after themselves”
—but man does not abide in splendor.
He is like the beasts—they perish.
though they had named lands after themselves.
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
though they called lands by their own names.
People won’t live any longer because of wealth;
they’re just like the animals that pass away.
NABRE (2011) is superior in this locus to NIV (2011) and CEB (2011). NABRE does not add a concessive “though” at the head of v 12b – an expedient which becomes necessary only if one accepts the received division into verses as gospel truth. It retains the terseness of the Hebrew; it seeks to preserve its diction, but not to the point of coining odd expressions – CEB’s “they called lands by their own names” is an awkward coin which unnecessarily calques the underlying Hebrew. In v 13 NABRE preserves both sides of a salient textual contrast in acceptable high-register English: “man” – “beasts.” In deference to the felt need of avoiding generic masculine language, NIV preserves only half of the traditional, high-register diction: “beasts.” CEB is more consistent: it uses common English all around: “people” and “the animals.”
But common everyday English is not the best fit for a translation of the Psalms. The language of the Psalms in NIV and CEB is breezy and fresh; in the Hebrew, the language is “rhythmically compact” and relies “on a repertoire of traditional images and stereotypical phrases” (Robert Alter).
The language of the Psalms in NABRE is more faithful to the stylistic choices of the original than that of NIV and CEB. Conformity to the gender-in-translation guidelines of liturgiam authenticam helped to make it so.