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Friday, August 14, 2020

Brazil's Ecumenical Bible

Brazilian publisher Edições Loyola has announced an updated edition of their Tradução Ecumênica da Bíblia (TEB), one that moves it from being derived from French to directly from the original languages.  The project to create a translation was supervised by Danilo Mondoni, a Jesuit theologian. He's also the Director and General Editor of the publish house doing the printing. TEB was originally published in France in 1975, and it was in 1994 that Edições Loyola produced a translation in Portuguese that was based on that version. This newest edition brings with it the most recent textual and archeological scholarship. It apparently has a unique format, which I will get into here, and although it is published by a Roman Catholic press, it is truly intended to be 'ecumenical.'

Since the 1990s this has been the only ecumenical translation available in Brazil. As a former evangelical missionary there, I can attest that I never saw it in use among evangelicals or Pentecostals. Presumably it is more common in Roman Catholic and traditional mainline Protestant churches. The notes in the new edition were created by people representing various Christian confessions, as well as Judaism. This is reportedly taken to the point that, where there are contested interpretations this is called out. In one lecture I listened to about the updated TEB someone involved affirmed that the mix of Christians included evangelicals. While this isn't something I doubt, I am skeptical that it will do anything to encourage use among conservative Christians. The involvement of so many non-evangelicals will likely raise undue suspicion, and the very different format from standard Protestant Bibles won't help its case either. Consider the following:
  • The books of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) are placed in the traditional order of the Jewish Tanakh. This means that it's divided into Torah, Prophets, and Writings, resulting in a format that will be alien to most Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant.
  • Previous editions of TEB already included deuterocanonical (aka 'apocryphal') books that are considered canonical within Roman Catholicism: Esther (Greek version that includes additional text and actually mentions God), Judith, Tobit, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah. This new version adds to those the books that are included in the Orthodox canon: 3 & 4 Esdras, 3 & 4 Maccabees, The Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalm 151. This section of writings is included in the middle, between the testaments.
To review, the format of the Hebrew Scriptures will follow that of the Jewish tradition, and a number of additional (from the Protestant perspective) books will be included in the middle. If you know anything about evangelicals and Pentecostals, and in particular the rank-and-file members of those religious traditions, this is all prone to arousing more than a little suspicion. Further, it is not a format conducive to regular use in their churches, where people customarily use Protestant Bibles following its standard format. 

Having said all that, perhaps it doesn't matter that evangelicals and Pentecostals won't use it. The market is flooded with their preferred translations already. This new, thoroughly revised and updated edition of TEB will address another need, that for a quality translation with extensive notes including the most recent research. It may not ever be a Bible used for liturgical purposes, but as a study Bible it should be excellent. 

While as a Unitarian Universalist and Humanist I don't approach scripture in the same way as Christian and Jewish people, I can both appreciate the contribution this will make to study of the Bible, and also can see potentially using it myself. Aside from my own reading, this is the sort of edition of the Bible that could come in handy when providing pastoral care to Brazilians. Although my focus will be in community ministry in Brazil and the United States, and in particular in practical terms, doubtless I'll have occasion to provide counsel, encouragement, or solace to Brazilian people. With this edition I'll be able to reference writings relevant to where they are without having to switch Bibles, or carry an expressly Roman Catholic edition with me. 

Although this updated edition is not yet readily available in the United States, if I don't find it here I'll seek out a copy on my next visit to Brazil. It will certainly be a good one to have in my personal library.