Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bible Buying Oddity

So here I am at Borders, and out of curiosity I drift over to the bible section. And what I find is really quite surprising.

If you wanted to buy a copy of the RSV, you would have been out of luck; they didn't have it. And they had a single edition/copy of the NRSV. Jerusalem Bible? They didn't have it, nor the newer edition either. New English/Revised English? Ditto. NASB? Nope. Today's English? I don't think so.

So what did they they have? Well, they had a few oddities, such as a copy of the Lamsa translation of the Peshitta. They had a fair number of New American Bible editions. But mostly what they had were King James, New King James, New International, and New Living Bible. Oh, and the English Standard Version, which, if you haven't run across it before, is a recent "conservative" redaction of the RSV.

Travelling over to Books-a-Million, I found a somewhat more restricted selection, plus the Holman Christian Standard Bible in various versions. It is apparently an attempt to produce an inerrantist formal equivalence translation (in other words, to replace the NIV, whose dynamic equivalence model ended up being criticized by almost everyone).

For an Episcopalian, the situation is passing strange. We have a canonically designated list of translations we can use, and hardly any of the bibles available at these general interest bookstores are on it. Of the current list, only the KJV, NAB, and NIV are (apparently) readily available, which is particularly an issue since the RSV is the reference version of scripture readings. So what we have is a very archaic Anglican bible, a heavily criticized RC bible (which is particular a problem because of the many textual reorderings), and a heavily criticized fundamentalist bible.

But even more interesting is what this says about what they think the bible market looks like. Now, some of this is surely distorted by publisher marketing issues. The Holman and the ESV are new translations; the NLT and NKJV and Holman are owned by specific publishers. But even so, what we see is a mass market which, with the exception of the Catholic NAB, is completely occupied by theologically conservative translations. From a strictly textual or translational perspective, they are not all conservative; the Holman, for instance, uses a modern textual basis, and the NLT is paraphrastic. But they are all connected to radically conservative Protestant groups.

What this would appear to say is that mainline Protestants are not an important bible market anymore-- or if they are, that they can be satified by strictly ceremonial copies of the KJV. You can't buy the preferred mainline versions in a regular bookstore. (I'm tempted to venture down to the Adventist bookstore, just to see.) Now, I haven't been to a Barnes & Noble, nor have I been to a variety of Borders shops. And who knows, maybe in a different city or state I might see something less odd. The two stores I did visit, however, are in two quite different communities.

And I also am not sure how long things have been this way. I haven't bought a bible in years, not because I don't own plenty (I have something like twelve different translations), but because I've come to rely on on-line bibles, except for liturgical use. For that I use my trusty RSV Common Bible, which I've had for a long time.

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