24 March 2005

NIV Apocrypha?

Three days ago I wrote a brief review of Today's New International Version of the Bible and commented, among other things, that the absence of the apocryphal books from this translation stands in the way of it becoming genuinely ecumenical. On second thought, I suspect that their absence would be implied by the larger cross-textual harmonizing approach of the NIV translation committee. If one comes to the task of translation with the conviction that any discrepancies among texts have to be ironed out to meet contemporary historiographic standards, then it would be difficult to find a place for some of the books which protestants tend to label Apocrypha.

For example, Judith is an obvious work of fiction and Tobit is very likely fictional as well. The author of the former book refers to Nebuchadnezzar as ruler of the Assyrians rather than the Babylonians (1:1). Yet the Babylonian exile is referred to as if it were past (4:3), which would presuppose that the Persians had already conquered Babylon. Judith's hometown of Bethulia defies geographical identification (4:6). There are a number of other clues in the story that its author was not intending to write literal history, or, if he was recounting an historical occurrence, may have disguised some of the names and ethnic references to protect himself and his people from reprisals. For example, "Nebuchadnezzar" could well have been Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the hellenistic ruler of Syria whose open persecution of the Jews led to the Maccabean revolt in the early 2nd century BC.

Similar discrepancies can be found in Tobit. For example, the hero's apparent personal experience of the defection of the northern tribes in the 10th century BC would make him several hundred years old by the time the story's action took place (1:4). In other words, it would be impossible to harmonize Judith and Tobit with the other books which are recognized as indisputably canonical. Furthermore there are discrepancies between the I and II Maccabees, including conflicting accounts of the death of Antiochus. The very inclusion of such books would seemingly necessitate a departure from a central tenet of the NIV/TNIV's translation philosophy. So there probably never will be an NIV/TNIV Apocrypha.

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