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Is there a rigorous translation of the Bible, sponsored or produced by secular organization? Not that this translation would be necessarily more impartial, but it would be nice to have this version to read in parallel with other versions. There are several Parallel works (listed below) but they too seem to be affiliated with Christian organization or scholars.

Popular translations:

  • The NIV was sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals.
  • The KJV conforms to instructions by King James I to support the episcopal structure of the Church of England.

Parallel translations:

  • The Amplified Bible (which sources 2+ translations side-by-side) is a product of the Zondervan Corporation, the founding member of the Evangelical Publishing Association of America.
  • The Comprehensive New Testament - promising. I may read it, but also edited and compiled by Christians.
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There's gotta be a Hebrew sourced and translated OT in English out there somewhere. –  Peter Turner Jan 20 '12 at 21:40
    
@PeterTurner, true that. "Hebrew sourced" w/o religious backing would be just great. Philologists and historians welcome. –  Emile Jan 20 '12 at 21:46
    
The problem is that there are figures of speech which are not translatable and there's a "old way" of saying things. –  user1054 Jan 20 '12 at 22:04
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@DanAndrews, an etymological hurdle for both secular and Christian scholars. –  Emile Jan 20 '12 at 22:06
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@DJClayworth, true. Hence why I said that in my question. I'm just looking to study by juxtaposition. –  Emile Jan 24 '12 at 6:23
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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Society for Biblical Literature produces a well regarded translation (Logos even carries it). According to their own mission statement, they are concerned with biblical scholarship and not doctrine. Their vowed mission statement is simply "to promote biblical scholarship." They are a secular organization not affiliated with any religious organization (see comment below). Their Greek translation of the New Testament is available for free here, but I believe their translation of the Old Testament requires purchase.

Additionally, Isaac Asimov and Thomas Jefferson both have secular digests that bear some reading. (Admittedly, neither is an ad fontes translation, but they did look at sources to compile their versions.)

As for commentaries that speak to the translation difficulties that come from a decidedly secular point of view.:

  • The Oxford Companion to the Bible was the product of many well respected theological scholars, including several who are not Christians. Bruce Metzger is (was?) the chief editor.

  • Anything by Bart Ehrmann e.g. Misquoting Jesus should speak to the historical value of the source texts and give guidance.

  • Anything by John Dominic Crossan or The Jesus Seminar would also fall into this category. JDC is currently in the leadership of the SBL.

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I have heard it estimated that only 30% of the members of the SBL are professing Christians, but I cannot source that claim. –  Affable Geek Jan 20 '12 at 22:36
    
Wow @Affable. You continue to impress. –  Emile Jan 20 '12 at 22:44
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I wouldn't really call Asimov or Jefferson's works (Tolstoy undertook a similar project, btw) "translations" but rather "digests." –  Steely Dan Jan 21 '12 at 16:34
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@Steely Dan: I strongly agree. There is a difference between a secular translation (which seeks to find out what the exact meaning of the words was when they wrote them down, meanwhile trying hard to avoid making choices based on current traditions/dogma/beliefs), and an atheist "translation" which actively seeks to change or omit everything which does not correspond to the personal beliefs of the "translator". –  vsz Feb 5 '12 at 10:06
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The obvious example (as it's been recently discussed here) is the Wikisource Translation It's not complete, though, and its value as a "good" translation is debatable.

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Ron Maimon and @nickecarlo provided some insight on the Wikisource Translation. That translation seems incomplete and not at all thorough. +1 for a correct answer to my question, though I've edited the question now to specify that I'm looking for a rigorous translation. –  Emile Jan 20 '12 at 21:39
    
Ohp, we edited at the same time. :) –  Emile Jan 20 '12 at 21:42
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If you read French, the secular translation by André Chouraqui is very interesting. One nice part is that he often translates figures of speech literally, so some of the verses sound very foreign but more poetic. He also translates the names of the books and the people when possible. Also, he uses a single French word in literal translation for each use of a particular word in the original; so for the Hebrew "ruah" or Greek "pneuma" he uses "souffle" (breath), instead of something more modern like "spirit" (esprit in French). This captures the original idiom rather well, but it does make it harder for us modern folk to read it.

Here is the first part of Genesis, re-translated by me from his French into English:

Book 1: Heading.
1: Elohims (the s to underline that Hebrew "Elohim" is plural, literally "gods", even if it's the name of a single god) was creating the heavens and the earth
2: the earth was tohu-and-bohu (tohu is Hebrew for "waste"), a darkness on the faces of the abyss, but the breath of Elohims blew across the faces of the waters.
3: Elohims says: "A light will be." And it's a light.
4: Elohims sees the light: what good! Elohims separates the light from the darkness.
5: Elohims cries out to the light: "Day". To the darkness he had cried out: "Night". And it's an evening and it's a morning: Day one.
...

Like I said, it's kind of a foreign read. But then again, the Bible is a foreign anthology, isn't it.

Chouraqui also made a translation of the Qur'an; both are available online http://nachouraqui.tripod.com/id88.htm

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Chouraqui wasn't a Christian, but definitely not secular either. He appears to have been very involved in Jewish and interfaith affairs. –  George Cummins Jul 11 '13 at 21:02
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There is an update of the popular NIV translation about to come out or recently released. Whatever it's root, Zondervan (the publisher) is now owned by Harper Collins, which is in turn owned by News Corp. Harper Collins is decidedly secular, publishing many books that would definitely be out of place in a Christian home. Thus, while it involves mainly Christian scholarship, even the well-known NIV translation could no longer be said to be wholly Christian in origin. Many other common modern translations have similar conflicts of interest.

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I would not say it has a conflict of interest that is too strong for too little –  caseyr547 Jul 13 '13 at 4:45
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At the risk of stating the obvious, the entire Old Testament can be found translated to English by Jewish scholars. Wikipedia gives an overview.

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Not to respond to the obvious with the obvious, but a translation by Jewish scholars wouldn't meet the "secular" qualification of my question. –  Emile Jan 24 '12 at 6:24
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Jewish does not necessarily mean religious. Many Jews are secular. –  Steve Jul 12 '13 at 2:43
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There is always an interlinear. It is a word-for-word translation (or close to it), and with that it really shouldn't matter what the faith was of the translator.

That being said, it's not an fun read - but definitely interesting.

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