Saturday, August 1, 2015

Holman Christian Standard Study Bible - Genuine Cowhide - Review

I am always interested in new vernacular editions of the sacred text. Truth be told, new translations really are sort of hit or miss. 

Translations based off of the tradition set by the KJV have been relatively reliable and steady in terms of success. The translations that broke away from the more normative model have struggled to get out of being labeled "niche` translation." 

The most successful have been the NLT and the NJB. The NLT successfully struck the current to provide a translation that successfully complemented contemporary English. The NJB road on the success of its scholarly pedigree and reputation of being a literary bible.  Otherwise, new translations have had had a tough time breaking out. The Holman Christian Standard Bible is another attempt to provide a new alternative to the dominant English translations.

Like the ESV, the HCSB emerged roughly in the late 90s and early 2000s. Whereas the ESV stayed in the general trajectory of translations derived from the KJV and provided an alternative to the NRSV, the HCSB embarked on the trajectory of a new translation. The most significant contribution it makes to the current crop of translations is in following the lead of the NJB by incorporating the divine name. The use of the name Yahweh is not as exhaustive as the NJB - the HCSB limits it to approximately 800 times - but it is only other translation that has this distinction.

As a translation, the HCSB varies between dynamic equivalency and literal translation. The editors attempt to spin this as a third way, optimal equivalency. Someone with a background in the original languages may ping Holman Publishers as guilty of trying a marketing ploy. "Optimal equivalence" comes across more as an attempt at creating a "buzz word" and the approach is nowhere near being novel - one can argue the NJB already took the approach of moving between literal and dynamic as was best deemed to communicate the meaning of the original text.

The translation is fairly agreeable. There are not too many translation fails it not much that would be flagged as horribly eclectic. This said, there some occassional eyebrow raisers. Case in point is the translation of Psalm 25:1 as "Lord I turn to You." The translation notes, which are minimal, provides the more literal translation of the Hebrew. The tendency to paraphrase Psalm 25 is becoming more pronounced in contemporary translations. The NJB and NET both opt for an interpretive reading and the HCSB seems to follow suite. The interpretive rendering does not seem entirely justified and based more on letting scholarly exegesis dictate the English translation than an analysis of the original text. It is less than an ideal translation and one hopes a future edition opts for a more conventional reading.

The format of the studying takes some getting used to if one is more familiar with the NJB or NRSV study editions. The NJB and NRSV are focused on providing vernacular editions with a robust reference tool and critical apparatus by way of exhaustive textual notes providing either literal translations or alternative readings. This is especially true for the New Jerusalem Bible. 

For its part, the HCSB keeps the alternative readings sparse and the literal translations to a minimum. Plainly, nothing to make the reader familiar with the critical apparatus in his or her BHS or LXX smile with approval. Rather the HSCB Study Bible goes headlong into providing color illustrations, interpretive commentary, and Hebrew/Greek word study tools as aides for the Biblical Text. The Hebrew/Greek word study tools are an interesting idea. Unfortunately the execution takes away from the reading experience and prove somewhat distracting.

Greek word study tool. A good idea gone wrong? It looks more like a college text book than well developed study bible.
Hebrew word study tool and accompanying color illustration. This page is busy, busy, busy!

Formatting issues aside, the physical construction of the HCSB is noteworthy. Now, you won't find yourself chucking any of your Cambridge editions in disgust, nor will you find an A level premium bible. You will, however, find a study bible that out does most everything available in the mass market (as opposed to the premium market) and provides you with a bang for your buck

The genuine cowhide is quite good. Holman did well here.

Reinforced pages - a necessity when the book starts to pick up some heft to it.

Nothing says "spine" like...well, the spine.Note the raised hubs.
Sewn binding - a plus. The ribbons could use some work though.

Overall, there are a lot of good things going on the pages of the HCSB Study Bible, however they need to go through some maturation to really have much of an impact.

The Hebrew and Greek word study tools are a plus. However, the formatting leaves one feeling like one has read a text book rather than a Bible. Additionally, the tools would be of greater use to persons embarking upon Greek or Hebrew study if each entry had both the original characters and the transliterated characters.

Using the divine name is a good first step, but the is scarcely any real justification to use it in 800 instances and leave the rest translated by the conventional "Lord." Furthermore, there seems little reason to leave the other divine names in the biblical text subject to conventional translation. El Shaddai, for instance, merits inclusion as the ancient deity behind the eventual rise of Israelite religion.

Overall, this is a fair first effort. With some continued work, the HCSB may be one to watch.

Special thanks to the publisher for providing me with this review copy. The review copy was provided with no expectation other than an honest review.

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