Marijke de Lang (United Bible Societies): The Reformation and revisions of the Bible

The 15th and 16th centuries saw a rediscovery and reassessment of the Greek and Hebrew sources of texts which most Europeans had known for centuries only in Latin, not only classical texts but also the Bible. Classical philology and the study of Semitic languages developed, and both ‘classical’ texts and the Bible were increasingly approached with philological questions and interpretations. Until then, in most of Europe, the Bible had been conceived of and used as a Latin text, either in the form of the Vetus Latina or in that of the Vulgate, and it was above all what these Latin Bible translations could contribute to systematic theology what had interested those studying them. Gradually, rather than the Bible’s theology, its textual form and its the grammatical sense became a more important object of study. The rediscovery of the Hebrew and Greek source texts raised the awareness that the Vulgate, the then most authoritative Latin text of the Bible, had been corrupted during and through its transmission, and at places misunderstood. The availability of Hebrew and Greek source texts of the Bible gave the humanists new tools to evaluate the text of the Vulgate and its relation to the ‘original’ texts.

The humanist era also saw a revival of classical Latin. Not only the text-critical quality of the Vulgate was studied, but also the quality of its Latin. Humanists questioned the appropriateness of ecclesiastical Latin which had been used in the medieval universities and in the Church, and sought to replace it with classical Latin.

And finally, translating as a discipline became the object of study. This is exemplified by e.g. Leonardo Bruni’s De interpretatione recta (1424/26) and Giannozzo Manetti’s Apologeticus (1458).

This paper seeks to explore how the phenomena of translation and revision of biblical texts were handled in the humanist era. Since this is a wide and varied topic, the paper will focus on a few examples of revisions and retranslations, among others by Erasmus, Calvin, and Castellio. With the help of these examples, we will try to formulate some general conclusions on how both revisions of the authoritative text of the Vulgate and new translations were viewed and dealt with by their authors and how they were received by their audiences.

About the speaker

Marijke H. de Lang did her PhD at Leiden University in 1993 with a thesis on the history of the research into the synoptic problem (16th-18th centuries). From 1993-2004 she worked for the Netherlands Bible Society as a translator/exegete in the project New Bible Translation (2004). In 2003 she was appointed as translation advisor by the United Bible Societies. She works with Bible translation projects in Europe, Russia and Central Asia.