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The Challenges of the New American Bible

Posted on: August 15th, 2006 by Craig Rairdin 8 Comments

As we mentioned a while back we’re about to release the New American Bible (NAB), one of the more popular Catholic editions of the Bible. While most people understand that Catholic and “protestant” Bibles differ in the number of books they include in the canon, few realize some of the other differences and how this affects Bible software.

Versification

You may not realize it but not every Bible uses the same verse numbering scheme. As a simple test, look up 3 John 15 in a variety of translations. You’ll find that some Bibles have 15 verses in 3 John and others put the content of verse 15 in verse 14.

One of the easiest places to see this in the NAB is in the Psalms. Virtually every Psalm is numbered differently from the KJV. The NAB is not unique in this respect. There are many other Bibles that share this numbering scheme. The main difference between the NAB and KJV is that the KJV tends to treat the titles of the Psalms as titles whereas the NAB treats the title as a verse. So in the KJV the title is displayed above verse 1, where in the NAB the title is verse 1 and the text of the Psalm begins in verse 2. See Psalms 3-9 for examples.

This causes some headaches for Bible software. If you open the NAB and another Bible, like the NIV, you’d like the two to scroll together so that as you’re reading a verse in the NAB you can see the same verse in the NIV. If we’re not careful, though, we’d show you the wrong verse in a book like the Psalms. You’ll note that we are careful, though, so that when you’re looking at Psalm 3:2 in the NAB we’ll take you to 3:1 in the NIV.

This scrolling behavior is only one manifestation of the versification issue. Features like bookmarks and notes are affected. If you place a bookmark on a verse, we assume you are bookmarking the content, not the number. That is, if you go to that bookmark in another Bible, you expect to see the same or similar words, not just the same verse number. Same with your notes: If you add a note about a specific word or subject that is mentioned in a verse, then when you view the note while reading a different Bible you expect it to be attached to the verse that contains that word or subject.

This may all sound like part and parcel of the Bible software business, but it’s not. Consider another Bible program, which we’ll refer to simply as “O”. When you go to Psalm 3:2 in the NAB using O, you read “How many are my foes…”. If you attach a bookmark to Psalm 3:2 NAB, then later go to that bookmark in the NRSV, you’ll be taken to a verse that reads, “many are saying to me…”. This is 3:2 in the NRSV but is 3:3 in the NAB.

Verse Ordering

Two Bibles may identify the content of two verses using the same verse number, but the numbers appear out of order. Take a look at Proverbs 3. In your Bible, verse 35 probably comes after verse 34 (seems reasonable). In the NAB, verse 35 comes after verse 24. The chapter then continues with verses 25-34.

This doesn’t cause PocketBible to skip a beat. Notes and bookmarks associated with verse 35 will show up on verse 35 regardless of the translation in which they’re viewed. Unfortunately it’s not that easy if you use product O. It places verse 35 after verse 24 just fine. But then it skips verses 25-34 entirely and takes you to chapter 4 verse 1!

Inserted Passages

The NAB treats some of the deuteroncanonical books differently than even the NRSV, which also includes them. In the NRSV, for example, you have the books of Daniel, Prayer of Azariah, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. The NAB includes the latter three books within the book of Daniel.

In the NAB, the book the NRSV calls “Azariah” is inserted between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24 (which the NAB then calls 3:91). Susanna (NRSV) is Daniel 13 (NAB), and Bel (NRSV) is Daniel 14 (NAB).

This creates three problems. First, while the NRSV and NAB both have verses called Daniel 3:24-30, they are not the same verses. A bookmark on Daniel 3:24 NAB definitely shouldn’t be attached to Daniel 3:24 NRSV. Second, not only are they different verses, they’re entirely different books! A note on Daniel 3:24 NAB actually should appear when you view Azariah 1:1 in the NRSV. Third, since Bibles like the NIV don’t even have the Prayer of Azariah, the note on 3:24 (NAB) should not appear at all when viewing the NIV.

Fortunately, as a PocketBible user you don’t have to think about all this. While reading Daniel 3 in both the NAB and NRSV, you’ll see the NRSV switch to Azariah when the NAB gets to 3:24. The bookmark you set on Azariah 1:3 will take you to the verse that has the same content in the NAB, which is 3:26. And of course the bookmark won’t even be visible when you’re reading the NIV, since the NIV doesn’t contain that verse.

The users of product O aren’t that fortunate. While reading Daniel 3 in both the NAB and NRSV, the NRSV happily scrolls to 3:24 when you get to verse 24 in the NAB. This is confusing, since the contents of 3:24 (NRSV) discuss a subject that doesn’t come up in the NAB until verse 91. And when you get to 3:31 in the NAB things get really weird, because the NRSV doesn’t have that verse so you see it go to Daniel 1:1. And none of the bookmarks you set in Azariah take you to the matching verses in the NAB’s version of Daniel. (Actually you can’t even go to any verses other than verse 1 in Azariah, Susanna, or Bel with product O unless you first go to verse 1 then scroll down to the subsequent verses.)

Esther

Esther, Esther, Esther! What a mess. In the NRSV, there are two versions of this book. The “extra” version is the Greek version. It begins with chapter 11 verse 2 and ends with chapter 11 verse 1. I’ll let you think about that for a while… it doesn’t start with chapter 1, it starts with chapter 11. And it doesn’t start with verse 1 of chapter 11. It saves that for the very end. Instead it starts with verse 2.

Don’t try to figure that out if you own product O, in which this “extra” version of Esther inexplicably starts with chapter 1 verse 1.

About the time you think you’ve figured Esther out, you get to the NAB. The NAB inserts extra material which it calls chapters A-F in various places in the book of Esther. Chapter B is the craziest. Its first seven verses appear between Esther 3:13 and 14 and its last two verses appear between Esther 4:8 and 9. Now this is a little weird, but when you compare it to the NRSV you find there are paralells. It’s not a perfect match, but it’s close. For example, B:1-7 NAB correspond to 13:1-7 in the “extra” Esther in the NRSV.

As you expect by now, PocketBible handles this extremely well. A bookmark on Esther (Greek) 13:2 NRSV will take you to B:2 NAB. And of course bookmarks on Esther (Greek) 13:2 NRSV in product O don’t take you anywhere in the NAB.

Summary

I’m not picking on product O. It is, after all, just an illustration. But if there really was a product O and you were to wonder why we were giving them so many hints on how their program could work better, keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of variations like the ones I’ve described above. The table in our code that drives the conversion between Bibles is 976 lines long and documents over 150 versification variants on the 88 books contained in the 21 Bibles we support. Getting this right is the result of being in this business for over 18 years. That’s not something you can duplicate after having read a blog article. :-)

I’m also not picking on the NAB. It has been a fascinating Bible to work on. Whether you’re a Catholic or just an interested student of the Bible it will be a valuable addition to your library.

There’s no right or wrong way to “versify” the Bible. The original documents contained no verse divisions and in some cases, not even any sentence or paragraph divisions. How one translating team chooses to organize their numbering scheme is up to them. We just publish what they give us.

8 Responses

  1. Don Stidwell says:

    Thanks for sharing this information with us, Craig. I use both the KJV and the HCSB and have not noticed this issue (it may be there – I just haven’t noticed it!)

    It’s fascinating to get a behind the scenes look at the work you all have to do to get a product out the door. I suspect it will probably be just as “interesting”, if not more so with the NVI.

    Don’

  2. Chris Ridgeway says:

    Your summary “I’m not picking on product O” rings of inauthenticity.

    Business competition is real, even in the Bible market, I suppose. I appreciate knowing the differences in available products. But seeping through your narrative is the taste of disdain. I wonder if that’s less professional than you intended. Certainly less gracious.

    I’m left impressed by Laridian’s skill, but not by their character.

  3. I saw a study last week that said that 50% of the time, people are unable to determine the writer’s attitude when reading an email. It appears to be a fact that only half the people who read an email can accurately determine if it’s sarcastic or serious. Interestingly, 80% of the email authors said their readers would have no problem determining their intent.

    Needless to say, I believe I’m in the 80% and you’re in the 50%. It’s probably my fault for not writing more clearly. I can categorically deny any disdain for a competitor’s product and any hidden agenda in the article. It is what it says it is.

    The purpose of the article was to talk about the complexities of what we do in a way that our customers seldom hear. Most people have no idea that doing what we do is as complicated as it is. The article sought to bring this to their attention.

    I did this through two methods: First, I described the challenges themselves so that you would understand what we’re up against. Then I looked at how one competitor tackled the same challenges. The failure of this competitor to address the issues in a way that stands up to scrutiny is indicative of how difficult these problems are to solve. Needless to say, that’s a pat on the back for us. But then, isn’t that what this blog is here for? :-)

    The goal was not to pick on one competitor, as I said, but to demonstrate the level of difficulty involved in the project. It was an effort to let you look “behind the curtain”.

    When I published the article I had three other people here look at it specifically to address the question you raise: Does it seem unnecessarily critical of a competitor? The unanimous feeling was that it did not. You can interpret that as corporate ungraciousness if you wish. My point is that we specifically tried not to be unnecessarily critical but rather illustrative.

    To reiterate, the point of the article is NOT so that you can “know the differences in available products” as you suggest. The point is, as the title says, to show you the challenges we face with this and other similar products. Once you’re armed with this knowledge, any conclusions you draw about any other products are yours.

    Finally, note please that all comments to this blog are moderated. We review every comment before it is approved to be posted. We posted yours (and we’ve posted others) unedited, even though it is critical not just of our products, but of our character and motives. I personally believe that demonstrates more integrity than you give us credit for.

  4. Ed Hansberry says:

    Just curious – how come the books in the Apocrypha in the NAB don’t show up in green in the GOTO section as they do in the NRSV?

  5. Because there are no apocryphal books in the NAB, just Old Testament and New Testament. The print edition of the NAB includes a section entitled “Origin, Inspiration, and History of the Bible”. For some reason this text was not made available to us for the electronic edition. I quote:

    “Those books which were rejected by the Council of Hippo as being non-biblical belong to what is called the Apocrypha. These books treat largely of the incidents and events during the life of Christ not related in the books of the Bible. They are often well worth reading, as they offer much historical information not otherwise available. However, some of these stories have slightly heretical tendencies.

    “The Catholic use of the word “Apocrypha,” as defined above, should be distinguished from the incorrect Protestant use of the word. Protestants use this term to designate the seven books of the Bible included in the Catholic Bible canon, but not accepted or found in Protestant Bibles. These seven books are: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther and Daniel. Protestants call the books found in the Catholic Apocrypha the Pseudepigraphal books.”

    The Table of Contents in the print edition divides the Bible only into Old Testament and New Testament. Within the Old Testament the books are divided into Pentateuch, History, Wisdom, and Prophetic.

    Books identified in Bibles like the NRSV as “Apocrypha” are in some cases integrated into other Old Testament books. So the “Greek Version” of Esther, containing additional chapters, is simply the book of Esther in the NAB. Baruch contains the Letter of Jeremiah as its sixth chapter. Daniel contains Azariah in chapter 3, Susanna as chapter 13, and Bel as chapter 14.

    Tobit, Judith, and the books of the Maccabees are included among the historical books. Wisdom and Sirach are in the Wisdom books. Baruch is in the prophetic books. The last book of the Old Testament is Malachi, after which follows the New Testament starting with Matthew.

    So … no color code because there are no apocryphal books in the NAB. :-)

  6. [...] Craig recently wrote an article about the complexities of the New American Bible in comparison with other Bible translations (see The Challenges of the New American Bible from August 15th).  Although the article I am including today is not nearly as complex, it does provide some interesting information for those of us who are not Bible scholars. [...]

  7. David Pollette says:

    Well, Merry Christmas to me! :) I haven’t strolled through Laridian’s website in quite a while so my eyebrows raised up a bit when I saw a new version of the software… and my jaw dropped open when I saw an NAB version available! I bought them both right away :) Thank you very much for your considerable efforts in providing this translation in PocketBible format. PB has been my favorite Bible reader software since I bought my first PPC 5 years ago, but until now I’ve also had to have “product O” installed as well so I could have access to an NAB translation. Great job Laridian.

  8. How to interpret the bible says:

    I think its a good observation that you have made about the NAB. The King James Version is a great bible to use because if you get a Hebrew concordance you can do your own translations.

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