Sunday, September 7

Some Comparative Comments on the First Look at the Didache Bible

I’ve always lamented that there does not seem to exist a good one-volume study edition of my favorite (because I think it’s the most accurate) translation of the Bible, the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV-CE).  There are, of course, the multivolume series of the Navarre Bible (with their inclusion of the Vulgate Latin and annotations based on the Fathers, Doctors, and Magisterium of the Church) as well as the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (similar to the Navarre Bible, but no Vulgate and annotations based more on modern scholarship).  Compilation volumes comprising various individual volumes of both Navarre and ICSB have appeared (in the latter case, mainly a one-volume New Testament which I have in the Kindle ebook edition), but neither is published in a one-volume full Old and New Testament edition.  All existing one-volume RSV-CEs have hitherto kept annotations to a bare minimum, mainly an occasional translation note and cross-references on the same page with some not very extensive “Explanatory Notes” relegated to a few pages at the end of the Old and New Testaments respectively.  That’s the case with both of the RSV-CEs that I own:
  •         Scepter’s RSV-CE [henceforth cited as S], and
  •         St. Benedict Press’s Catholic Scripture Study International edition of the RSV-CE [CSS]
Of course, there is a third “RSV-CE” that I also own:
  •         Ignatius Press’s RSV-2CE “Ignatius Bible” [IB]
… which brings the Explanatory Notes to their proper pages of the text, which is a “Second Edition” of the RSV-CE incorporating various textual changes, mainly removing the “archaic” “thee’s” and “thou’s” from the Psalms.  There are other changes as well, mainly covered in the Wikipedia entry [LINK].  Personally, I prefer the more exalted tone of the original RSV-CE over the 2CE, but overall the changes are relatively minor and I can live with them. 

Nevertheless, none of the above are particularly useful as a “study edition” RSV Bible, even though one touts itself as such!  To be fair, CSS does have a lot of other good study materials included – Catholic Apologetics Bible Verses, “Faith Fact” essays on such things as why “Sunday is the Lord’s Day,” “The Biblical Origins of the Mass,” and so forth, a Calendar of Readings including both Sunday and Weekday lectionary cycles, and a Topical Index, as well as a couple of timelines and maps that could frankly have been much better than they are – but for in-depth study of the Bible itself it is sorely lacking.  Really, the nearest thing to a one-volume RSV study Bible for Catholics is still the old New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Expanded Edition – a Protestant version!, albeit explicitly “An Ecumenical Study Bible.”  Which, over 25 years ago, I “faked” into an RSV-CE by penciling in the handful of textual changes that were necessary and made a pocket inside the back cover into which I inserted a photocopy of the Explanatory Notes from an old Catholic Truth Society RSV-CE paperback!  Not an ideal solution, although the NOAB+A annotations are superb.

This situation looks to be changing, however.  Back on the Fourth of July, the Catholic Bibles blog [LINK] announced the forthcoming Didache Bible with Commentaries Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church [DB] [LINK].  From Ignatius Press, it appears to be a joint venture with Midwest Theological Forum, apparently to be a companion to MTF’s Didache Series of catechetical books.  Quoting the product description from Ignatius’ own website [LINK], Catholic Bibles blogger Timothy posted the following: 

Available October 2014.
The Didache Bible presents extensive commentaries on all books of the Holy Bible based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It includes the complete text of Sacred Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, using the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition. This Bible version is considered by many Catholic leaders and authors, including Peter Kreeft and Scott Hahn, as the most beautiful English translation of the Bible today.

  •        Twenty-seven full-color biblical maps, including the journeys of Jesus Christ.
  •         Common questions about the Faith answered in 106 apologetical explanations.
  •         Comprehensive, forty-four-page glossary and a topical index.
  •         Available in leather or hardcover
  •        Useful for students and adults studying Scripture.
  •        Ideal for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Catholic Faith.
  •        Accessible by all people in its level of scriptural scholarship.
  •       Large 6" x 9" size
  •        Gilded edges and a placeholder ribbon on the leather edition
  •        Both editions are sewn
The only other pertinent specification from Ignatius’ website that he did not carry over was the total length of 1960 pages.

I was immediately intrigued, but unprepared to preorder the Didache Bible based simply on the blurb – “extensive commentaries on all books of the Holy Bible based on the Catechism” could mean different things. 

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Catholic Bibles blog released an authorized “First Look” at the interior of the Didache Bible [LINK], along with the following other information:

A couple other items relating to this new edition:
  •        The leather used will be bonded leather
  •         The bonded leather cover will have the same look as the green hardcover
  •         Sewn binding on both editions
  •         Publication date is October
  •          RSV-2CE translation
  •          The maps look different than what is found in the ICSB and standard RSV-2CE editions
Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words, so the best part of the post is a picture of interior pages of the Didache Bible:  
For a closer look, go to the "First Look"
post at Catholic Bibles cited above
I immediately pre-ordered the Didache Bible in the leather edition – and have since been instrumental in at least two other people doing so as well.

But yesterday afternoon, while doing something entirely different, I somehow started wondering what could be gleaned from a comparison of what we know about the forthcoming Didache Bible (assuming the bloggers and commentators thereto, as well as the Ignatius Press website itself, are 100% accurate – until the Bible actually appears, we cannot know anything for certain, and some things could still possibly change) with the other RSV-CEs.  I initially intended just throwing a quick comment at the Catholic Bibles blog “First Look” post, but as usual my “quick comment” has grown beyond that scope, into this small tome of somewhat more than a thousand words.

Shown in the “First Look” picture is DB p. 1264, covering Matthew 3:17b-4:14a plus annotations – The Temptation of Jesus.  The corresponding pages in the other editions are, approximately in all cases since all restart the page numbering with the New Testament:
  •         S p. approx. 1013 (of approx. 1260 pages total, i.e. approx. 80% through)
  •          CSS pp. approx. 1247-8 (of approx. 1550 pages total, i.e. approx. 80% through)
  •          IB p. approx.. 855 (of approx. 1070 pages total, i.e. approx. 80% through)
  •          DB p. 1264 (of stated 1960 pages total, i.e. approx. 65% through)
(Incidentally, I prefer having one continuous pagination in the volume as DB apparently does.)

So it’s immediately apparent that DB does include some pretty substantial back-matter, else I would expect the total pagination based on the placement of the Temptation narrative at p. 1264 to be more like 1580 pages.  Approximately 420 pages seems a bit much for the stated extras, “Twenty-seven full-color biblical maps…, … 106 apologetical explanations, … [a] forty-four-page glossary and a topical index [of unknown length unless its included in the 44-page glossary]”; is there more?  … Or could the stated total pages be in error?  Note that the map, which appears to be from a section of maps rather than scattered inserts (note the page heading), is paginated as 1723.  Map sections are so stereotypically the last item in a Bible that I remember like it was yesterday a friend of mine thirty years ago jokingly answering the Trivial Pursuit question, “What is the last book of the Bible,” as “Maps!”  At least I think it was a joke.  Could it be as simple as a typo of perhaps “1960” for “1760,” which, given this is a map of David’s Kingdom and just one of a stated 27 full-color maps would make the selection shown approximately 72% of the way through the total pages – not quite so far off the norm.

As far as overall dimensions goes, the stated “6" x 9" size” is “large” indeed – larger than I really prefer – but to be expected and right in line with both CSS and IB.  I really prefer the leaner dimensions of S at about 5.5” x 8”, but including any extensive commentary while keeping a legible type-size is going to require a large format.  Given the stated number of pages, I expect DB is going to be a thick Bible as well.  Very approximate thicknesses of my existing RSV-CEs are:
  •         S = approx. 1.125”
  •         CSS = approx. 1.5”
  •          IB = approx. 1”
Scaling up based on announced page count, DB may verge on 2” thick – about the same as my NOAB+A – depending on what weight of paper is used, I assume comparable to IB.

Looking first at that page from Matthew:
  1.   All DB fonts – text, headings, and annotations – are a standard Times Roman-esque full-serif style.
  2.  Based on line-length, the font-size of the DB scriptural text seems to be slightly smaller than CSS.  The notes are, of course, somewhat smaller than that.
  3.  The DB scriptural text seems to take up about 45% of the page at the top, followed by a narrow band including the cross-references – about 5% – while the commentary is about 50%, the full bottom half of the page.  S, CSS, and IB are all almost entirely scriptural text, of course, with minuscule annotations, and not worthy of attempting to quantify.
  4.  The cross-references look pretty standard.
  5.  The commentary is not, as I feared as one possibility, simply quotations from the Catechism matched to verses.  It is also not the same as the ICSB New Testament – I had wondered if this were a rumored full, one-volume ICSB Old and New Testament I have seen mentioned from time to time in comments on the Catholic Bibles blog.  It appears to be entirely original, a full, seemingly very anagogically Catholic, commentary with parenthetical references to the appropriate paragraphs of the Cathechism. 
  6.  Entirely missing from DB are any translation notes (which do appear in the other editions for this passage).
 My thoughts: 
  1.  I like the fonts in DB better than either CSS or IB, which both mixed a “normal” serif font for the text, annotations, and page headings with a bold sans serif font for the text section headings.  I find the IB mix particularly unappealing to the eye.
  2.  It looks like the type is going to be very clean and legible.
  3.  I wonder if this page is average as to its proportions of text to notes?  I suspect not, based on the near identical pagination with CSS – 1264 vs. approximately 1247.  In fact, the text that appears here is about the equivalent of one full-page column in CSS, therefore about half a page.  Which implies to me that the annotations in the Old Testament are going to be considerably less extensive.  Or it could be just that there is considerable variation from page to page, and this happens to be a particularly “heavy” commentary.  The only RSV I have to compare it with, realistically, is the NOAB+A, which does vary considerably from page to page, averaging between an eighth and a quarter of a page of commentary (more the former than the latter), and the corresponding page with the Temptation narrative (approx. p. 1175 of approx. 1900 – both are very rough estimates, not counting forematter and the fact that the “Apocrypha” are all pulled out of the OT to behind the NT) has notes totaling about a quarter of the page.
  4.  Nothing to comment except that I like the placement of the cross-references, and the colored lines setting them off.
  5.  From what I can see, the commentary looks very thorough and of excellent quality, not overbearingly modernist in tone – thoroughly orthodox.  Exactly what I would expect from Ignatius and MTF.  I like.
  6.  I do think total omission of translation notes is a mistake, unless those are worked into the commentary.  The one translation note in the IB is to “my beloved Son” in verse 3:17, which continues from the previous page 1263 and makes it just possible that the variant “Or my Son, my (or the) Beloved” is given on the previous page in a note covering the verse in its entirety.  We’ll see.
Just a couple of observations and thoughts on the map and the doctrinal summary pages shown (smaller) in the same “First Look”:
  1.  The map looks good, a definite improvement over IB or CSS (S has no maps – shame on them!), but nothing can compare with the standard Oxford University Press Biblical maps in the NOAB+A. 
  2.  The doctrinal summary, “An Apologetical Explanation of the Sacrament of Baptism,” looks to be exactly comparable to the “Faith Facts” pages inserted into the CSS.  I just hope those pages – and the maps and other ancillary materials – are not printed on the heavier weight, glossy paper like the ISS does and which I detest.  Are these pages going to be likewise scattered through the text, or all gathered at the end?  My gut says scattered – notice there's no page number.  I would prefer gathered at the end, and that might help account for the pagination mystery.  Or are those pages even counted in the pagination? – CSS does not, and notice there's no page number.  I’m anxious to see if they’re going to release a detailed table of contents, but most likely we’ll have to wait for the Didache Bible to be released to find the answers to this and so many other questions.
Overall, although there are details I wonder about, absolutely nothing I see or surmise here dampens my enthusiasm for this Bible.  I think it is going to fill a desperately needed void in Catholic Bible studies.

So far my comments have only concerned the interior of the Didache Bible as shown in the “First Look.”  The interior is, of course, the most important part of any Bible – or book, for that matter.  But being matched to an attractive exterior is to be desired.  I hope the cover is worthy of the interior.  In that, IB does not by itself inspire hope.  My quibble is not the “busy” nature of the cover.  Although like the Catholic Bibles blogger I generally prefer a plain, unadorned front cover, I have no problem with the icons on the front of IB – they definitely and proudly shout, “Hey, I’m not a Protestant Bible!”  I have read of people having problems with them fading very quickly, however.  That’s probably because of the texture of the cover material itself, or rather the lack of texture – my IB has a hard, smooth, stiff, almost waxy, feel to it that I don’t find appealing.  I much prefer the soft, noticeably textured leather (even if bonded, as is S) cover of S and my NOAB+A.  Both of those have the “floppiness” I like in a Bible.  I can’t explain it, but it just feels right.  IB – and to a lesser extent, CSS – does not.  My feeling is, however, that we’re going to get something like IB on this Bible – which I can live with, but it deserves better.  I do hope, as one of the comments on Catholic Bibles alleges, that the leather is black rather than green, but I can live with either.

And those are my thoughts.  “A picture is worth a thousand words?” – How about 2500 words?

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

EDIT:  The roll-out of this Bible has been odd, to say the least.  A few weeks ago it was announced on the Catholic Bible Blog as being delayed [LINK], and I got an email from Amazon to that effect -- and that my pre-order was cancelled.  I could, however -- and did -- sign up to be notified by email when it became available again.  A few days after that, however, the active link just above went "dark" (or rather, generic) and I found that the entire product page at Amazon was gone.  D'oh!  Then, a few days ago, CBB announced it as "confirmed" to be released in December rather than October [LINK].  It does appear in the new hard copy catalog mailing I got from Ignatius a few days ago, but as of earlier today it does not appear at all on  And the "mystery" regarding the pagination remains....  [10 Oct]

1 comment:

  1. Kent,

    I do wonder how much commentary one will find in books like 1 & 2 Chronicles, some of the wisdom books, and the Deuteros? With your analysis, I also wonder if the page number is correct?