The New English Translation’s Premium Perspective

One of the more interesting recent developments in the English language world of Biblical scholarship was the production of the New English Translation (NET), which merged the obviously traditional discipline of Biblical translation with a process rooted in the modern, Internet-enabled, collaboration practices that have produced results like open source software and wikis. The idea was to make the in-process text available, on the web, for public review and comments; the hope being, I suppose, that such a process would produce a text that approached a consensus text, largely free from distortions such as denominational biases.

Being true to its software-like heritage, it was released in beta versions (as opposed to simply being called drafts), and, after about ten years or so of work by the core translation team, was eventually released by Bible.org about three years ago as the New English Translation, version 1.0. There’s much good that can be said about this effort, but I must admit to having had a very mixed reaction to it, overall.

Moreso than any other translation I’ve evaluated, the NET reads like it was written by a committee. It strikes me as dull and pedestrian, seeming to have too often reached the lowest common denominator in smoothing out its edges. The results seem like the classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth: sometimes you can only avoid offending any and all palates at the cost of blandness and mediocrity.¬† Whether the NET succeeds in avoiding denominational bias might be an open question from a denominational (or non-denominational) perspective, but it is clearly and consistently dismissive of Catholic understanding of the text – chasing off traditional understandings of contested passages with the usual reeds. The committee originally stated a goal of producing a translation of the full Protestant Apocrypha (which, of course, includes all of the Deuterocanonical material), giving it the same attention to annotation as the other books, but it is not at all clear to me if this work is going on at all, as it sat in limbo for sometime as an unfunded project, and the once-available partial draft has disappeared from both the downloadable and on-line versions.

The translation is renowned for copious, and often quite useful, marginal notes – I especially like the way the editors have categorized the different types of notes: explanatory study notes are distinguished from translation notes (which explain and/or expand translation decisions), and which are themselves distinguished from “text critical” notes that identify codex variations and the like. The group is also to be commended for providing the translation for free in HTML format – both on the Bible.org web site, and as a standalone, downloadable ebook that functions similarly to an HTML-based help file (as well as in a few other formats).

However, I’ve long been disturbed by their marketing practices with print copies. Until a Reader’s Edition was recently made available, there was no edition of the NET available in print for less than $50. Even the least expensive Reader’s Edition sells for $30. Furthermore, these are not just the prices on Bible.org, but I don’t even ever recall seeing the discounters (e.g christianbook.com) having discounts available. [Note: CBD appears to have a “reader’s” edition now at $20, so perhaps there is a thaw coming.] I don’t understand the insistence on premium pricing – it seems inconsistent with their “ministry first” approach – and I really think it’s a shame that they won’t make a low-cost edition available in hardcover or paperback. Given the limitations of the translation, I can assure you I will not be forking over $50 for a print copy any time soon – though I did purchase a CROSS-formatted electronic version to use in WORDsearch.

On a similar note, I was influenced to write this post when I received an email last week from Bible.org, pitching a collection of Powerpoint templates being sold by either an arm of Bible.org, or some affiliate (I couldn’t determine which). The offer was a set of 865 “Christmas and Thanksgiving backgrounds” for “the low price of 87.00”

Not being sure if “87.00” was actually supposed to mean “$87.00” (which seemed like an absurd price, but not entirely inconsistent with Bible.org’s “premium pricing” proclivities), I followed the link to verify. Sure enough, the collection of templates – many of which, according to available thumbnails, are slight modifications of each other – were being marketed for $87.00 (plus $5 to $35 for shipping)! Would anybody actually pay such a price? It reminded me of $50 Bibles – and that I still have a nagging feeling that something is not quite right over at Bible.org.