La Bible de Jérusalem

I was fifteen, and we were sitting on my bed, my friend thumbing through the inky King James Bible we just pried from its box. For all I knew, it was the original copy. My grandparents bought it for me when I was twelve, as they did for all the grandkids. Hope springs eternal. We stumbled down the Roman Road, trying to make sense of his new Christianity and this unreadable text, but the gilt edges of the tissue thin paper stuck together, having never been opened.

It was 1973, and, in those ancient days, we bought our bibles and Christian baubles at Dightman’s Bible Book Store in Tacoma. For the time, it was cavernous. Modern with its open ceiling and painted trusses, I suspect they were just trying to save money. By today’s measure, though, you could stack bookstores like this into any Barnes and Noble like Legos.

The Way

I don’t remember where I got it, but after giving up on King James, I became the The3 Way Living Bibleproud owner of a paperback Living Bible called The Way. It was fresh and clean and unmarked, but I’m a quick learner: I saw right away that faith is proved by how you mark up your Bible. More notes and more colors equals more Christian. Without question, though, compared to my King James, this was a wonder. History came to life in that book. History, and the words of Jesus. Reading it felt like reading a letter addressed to me. In many ways, it was. And is. That’s the point.

In time, the green Bible fell apart. Really, I read it until it broke. Now I wanted something deeper, a study Bible true to the original manuscripts. This was long before the wonder of the Internet introduced bloody wars among Christians about Bible versions, and I had nary an idea of what to buy. Normal bibles seemed…stodgy to me, something old folk carried to church in a briefcase and read to the kids at dinner. I wanted something hip. Something I could lug around and beat up. Something I would write in with impunity. I wandered the shelves at Dightman’s and paged through several versions and concluded that I had no earthy or heavenly idea what I was doing.

La Bible

After an hour of chin scratching, I walked out with a doorstop-sized paperback copy of the Jerusalem Bible (JB), having met someone at the store who shared the academics behind the translation with me. I liked that it included the Apocrypha – the Catholic books – as even then, and maybe more then, and maybe it’s at the core of my nature, I was rebellious and hoped to startle good and faithful Protestants with my Catholic bible.

I lugged that Bible around for a couple of years and then, after stints in college and fishing for crab in Alaska, I followed another friend to Ecola Hall on the Oregon coast in Cannon Beach. I see now that it’s a full-fledged Bible college, presumably offering real degrees and charging real money. In those days, Ecola was a conference center for Christian speakers. With no staff, twenty kids and I worked there for free and were taught in the mornings by those same speakers. We all had afternoon jobs, though kids will be kids, and we found plenty of time for goofing off. At least I did. In trade, I had a place to stay and enough food to keep me going. It was a sweet deal.

One day, during a morning session, the speaker strolled by my seat and grabbed my Bible.

“A Jerusalem Bible,” he said. “Don’t see many of these. Well, not around these parts.” He winked knowingly, a kindred spirit.

“I really like it,” I said. “But was a little unsure about getting it.”

“Why?” he asked. “It’s hands down a fantastic translation. It’s Catholic, of course, but the academics are superb.” He tapped the cover. “You keep reading this,” he said, looking at me hard.”

Caveat emptor

And I have. I read the New Jerusalem Bible now, the reader’s version, as I’ve grown wary of someone else adding notes to my reading, telling me what to think. I’ve learned that the Bible I fell in love with was an English translation of a French original. Maybe no one expected that 1960s version to be as long lasting as it is, so scholars go together and translated it again from accepted Greek texts.

I kind of like the old one, but the new version purports to be more accurate.

In general, the Jerusalem Bible has something that might strike certain readers as peculiar:

The Lord, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, is translated as Yahweh. This is normal to me now, but was novel in the first go through. Apparently, as in almost everything, there were arguments over this between Protestant and Catholic scholars.

Another interesting tidbit is that JRR Tolkien translated the Book Of Jonah. Thanks to Wiki for that nugget.

Wiki also tells me that the Jerusalem Bible is more of a thought-for-thought translation than word-for-word. My humble opinion is that this adds to its readability and while adhering to the original meaning. I am well aware, thank you, that this relegates it f to the Goodwill box for many readers, but I like the idea and it reflects how I think G would have inspired the Christian texts. Just to be sure, I keep an old copy of the NASB around, heralded as the most accurate word-for-word translation. It is not heralded for reading or for understanding.

I have one warning. I don’t care much about this, but several Amazon reviewers write scathingly of the Reader’s Edition. Mostly they are furious about how certain words are translated into so-called inclusive pronouns. These translations are also taken to task as they generally kowtow to modern science and anthropology. I like this. You may not. My advice: if you have a few verses near and dear to your heart, that must say a certain thing in a certain way, you can go here to read the JB for yourself. In a pinch, you can always email me, too, and I’ll be happy to send you a shot from my bible.

Caveat emptor

Thanks so much for reading. Can you think of someone who would like the post? Please mail it to them or share it with your favorite social media using one of the icons below. And won’t you follow me? You can do so in the sidebar. Thanks again and feel free to comment! 

Note that I am NOT an affiliate member of any thing, anywhere.