I recently received a copy of The American Literary Version of the New Testament (the fifth volume in the series of translations of the books of the bible Bibliotheca, vol V, Writ Press, Santa Cruz, CA 2021). The website for this translation presents the work as “A gently updated edition of the 1901 American Standard Version, reviewed and approved by scholars.”
The most immediate and obvious distinction of this translation is the absence of bible chapters, verses, section headings, cross references, and margin notes that have marked almost every bible I have ever held in my hand. The absence of these mainly more modern innovations was a liberating and unexpected gift.
Headings for passages of scripture, for example, have the effect of tying seemingly disparate and disconnected passages together into a cohesive narrative. The reality is, however, that these headings for sections of scripture were not a part of the original text and they do not necessarily reflect the intent of the authors or the expectation of ancient audiences. When reading the text in this more minimalist way I was stunned (yes after DECADES of daily interaction with the Bible) to be made aware anew of how minimalistic the narratives of the gospels are. Without chapters, verses, and headings stories obviously jump from one setting to another. I became more aware of the perspectival, snapshot nature of the accounts of Jesus and this had a great power! We too often assume we have all there is to know because modern translations fit the story together so neatly, particularly with the aid of chapters, verses, and headings. This rendering absent those innovations presents the gospels as what they are, perspectival recollections with gaps! Letters written by apostles more obviously become train of thought exercises, rather than carefully laid out systematic treatises that the verses, chapters, and headings can make them appear. In short, the ancient voice and geist can be sensed more clearly reading in this way.
As a translation, the presentation was also satisfying. The translation is a fairly faithful attempt at a word for word translation. It avoids the flattening of a sentiment into some sort of contemporary phrase, and at the same time finds word choices that seem to represent well the status of Scripture as a text that is something more than a common, every day communication, but rather a holy book, a book of life. Folks who enjoy the King James and like translations or versions for the beauty of language will enjoy this for the same reason, while finding it more accessible, and updated with more recent scholarship.
Of course, the volume has been designed to be artistically and aesthetically satisfying too. It’s a beautiful vehicle which elevates the beauty of God’s word.
I would recommend reading the bible in this way and this translation. Of the dozen or so translations and versions on my shelves, and the multitude available digitally, this is the first version of scripture I have read and received in a long time, that made an impression in such a profound way, simply by virtue of its presentation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.