Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dumbarton Oaks and the Latin Tradition of Scripture.

Recently, it seems a combination of Latinists, Medievalists and Roman Catholics have picked up on an observation I made some time ago regarding the Vulgate Bible published by Dumbarton Oaks, via Harvard University Press. There is notable criticism on the decision of the series editors to pursue a Latin text that is essentially reverse translated from the English.

For the person with a very basic interest in the Latin, this editorital decision makes almost no difference. For those groups mentioned above, this decision spawned sharp criticism.

Perspectives can and do change; it is no surprise that over the better part of a year my own appreciation for the Vulgate Bible published by Dumbarton Oaks has shifted. The editorial decision to essentially fabricate the Latin text thought to be behind the English text of the Douay-Rheims translation had two rationales. First, the editors of the text rightly presumed that there were regional variants of the Latin Bible, largely based upon Jerome's Vulgate and with varying amounts of Vetus Latina readings transmitted in the text. They presume that one such recension circulated around the Douay region and this presumption appears supportable based upon the both deviance of the English of the Douay text from the Latin of the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate and its correspondence to other recensions of the Latin Bible that circulated in the Benelux region. Second, the editors are very clear in their introduction as to how the Latin text of the Dumbarton Oaks edition was established. The editors did not engage in the work of creating a new Latin translation (based off of an English version, no less). The Dumbarton Oaks edition follows the Weber-Gryson edition of the Vulgate for the majority of its text. When the Weber-Gryson edition does not correspond to English of the Douay-Rheims translation, the Sixto-Clementine edition is followed. When the Sixto-Clementine edition fails, the editors follow the variant readings given in Weber-Gryson's critical apparatus. When these readings fail, the editors opted to reconstruct the likely Latin text. For these reconstructions, the editors followed the Vetus Latina edition.

I still stand by my original criticism. The editors should have opted to provide an English translation one of the regional variants of the Latin Bible that was dominant at the time. The Louvain Bible cited in the introductory matter would have sufficed and would have been of scholarly importance. The editors have, as I've said, reconstruct a hypothetical Latin text; strictly speaking, there is no known manuscript tradition of the Latin Bible that corresponds to the edition published by Dumbarton Oaks.

To some extent, every modern critical edition of the Bible is a reconstruction. There is no "pure" original text of any textual tradition, including the Hebrew. All of our contemporary critical editions of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syriac texts are, ultimately, reconstructions of what scholars believe is the original text. In most cases, there is a dominant manuscript or a group of dominant textual families upon which the given books are based. Scholars may then make adjustments and adopt another reading from a different textual family if that reading is earlier or the dominant reading. In almost no instance is a single manuscript published. Certainly not in the proposed critical texts of the Hebrew, Greek or Latin Bibles. Incidentally, the plethora of early manuscripts made the Latin antiphons and readings of the "Tridentine" Missale Romanum a source of scholarly interest; the old Missale Romanum, for reasons that are still unclear, preserved the Vetus Latina as opposed to the Vulgate edition of the Latin Bible. The Old Latin Missal preserved a stable block of Vetus Latina texts, a text predating the mighty efforts of Jerome and the codification of the Roman Church and Western Christianity as we know it under Pope Damasus I.

Our scholarly critical editions of the Bible, by comparison, are, in one way or another, reconstructions of what we presume the earliest text to look like. Admittedly, the methodology of working back from the English has rightly sparked some skepticism among the scholarly community. Translating from one language back to another is largely discouraged in the scholarly community; at the very least, such work must be considerably qualified.

The Latin text produced by Dumbarton Oaks comes in a line of "new Latin texts" in the past sixty or so years that have met with resistance from various quarters. Pope Pius XII commissioned a new translation of the Roman psalter based upon the Masoretic text. While technically proficient, the Pian Psalter proved to be such a departure from the traditional Vulgate psalter that the Liber Psalmorum of the Pontifical Biblical Commission was compelled to translate the psalter again with an eye towards greater continuity with the traditional Vulgate psalter. This occurred during the massive effort to produce a new Latin typical edition of the Bible after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Although there were reasons for a new translation of the psalter (Jerome himself felt the need for a full translation from the Hebrew text, and there are times when the Old Latin base is nearly unintelligible), the Vulgate psalter had become enshrined in the tradition.

With the promulgation of the new liturgical books, the Liber Psalmorum became the normative text for the Psalter in the Roman Church. This was done through a translation method that switched from the Masoretic text to the LXX as was deemed necessary for the psalter. This leads us to most notable and disputed revised Latin translation, the Nova Vulgata. The criticisms of the Nova Vulgata have grown steadily in the decades since it acquired official status in the Roman Church. The initial criticisms seem to have come from those parties who were interested in utilizing the critical edition of the Vetus Vulgata (the work commonly associated with Jerome). It seemed absurd to develop a new Latin Bible if the "Jerome's Vulgate" was being returned to its earliest state and the memory of the Pian Psalter was still fresh. The Nova Vulgata prefers to improve the Latinity of the Latin Bible much like the Pian Psalter. It respects traditional readings that have become enshrined in Christian usage, although it avers from the at times awkward Latin of Christian antiquity. The introductory matter of the Nova Vulgata outlines the basic technique applied by the PBC. The Masoretic text was the basis for the Latin translation. When liturgical tradition required it, translations were made to follow the old Vulgate. When the Hebrew was unclear, the LXX and other ancient versions were consulted. This has led to Latin Bible that is internally incosistent, something neither at home in the Latin tradition or with the demands of modern textual scholarship. The criticisms of the Nova Vulgata were only intensified with the promulgation of Liturgiam Autheticum, the document responsible for the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Liturgian Authenticum gave the Nova Vulgata a place of authority in matters related to Biblical translation. In short, the Nova Vulgata is the normative version of Scripture in the Roman Church and all vernacular translations are to be brought into alignment with it, especially when the translation is contested on either scholarly or pastoral grounds. This brought notable backlash from the scholarly community. Richard Clifford aptly demonstrated that the Nova Vulgata violates Liturgiam Authenticum's call for a literal translation of the original languages. Peter Jeffeys, in a multi-part series for Worship, demonstrated that the Nova Vulagata repeatedly discards readings that have been enshrined in the Latin tradition through liturgical observance in favor of greater Latinity.

All of this is to say that the fact that the editors of the Dumbarton Oaks edition are taking on the chin for their attempts at producing a hypothetical Latin text of no known pedigree is in continuity with any efforts to produce a "new" Latin recension. Even Jerome's work was not quick to be accepted - a point underlined by the persistence of the Vetus Latina in the old Missal. There is a distinct Latin tradition of Scripture, and, in virtue of its cultural influence, it merits being appreciated in its own light. Which, in all honestly, I think the editors attempted to do; again, there was no attempt, to the best of my knowledge, to translate the Latin text afresh from the English. Where a new reading appears, it is because the Vetus Latina is used as opposed to the Vulgate - and this occurs only in rare cases. Somehow, however, the Dumbarton Oaks addition has not received the high marks anticipated for it when launched, which is a shame; it will be some time before another major publishing effort is dedicated to publishing the Latin Bible.