The Common English Bible (2011) & the Limits of Modern Bible Translation

Jonathan Campbell

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review


The last fifty years or so have seen two overlapping and fascinating phenomena: the discovery and subsequent publication of the Scrolls from the Judean desert, on the one hand, and the production of a plethora of English Bible translations, on the other. More particularly, with the publication of the Scrolls now completed, those translations appearing most recently have been able to draw upon the full range of textual evidence from the Dead Sea manuscripts vis-à-vis the Hebrew scriptures.
One interesting example of the latter is the Common English Bible (CEB), published in 2011 to match the 400th anniversary of the Kings James Bible and produced by a 120 scholars from assorted Jewish and Christian backgrounds (e.g. Joel Green, Sidnie White Crawford, Sarah Tanzer) under the auspices of a consortium of North American denominational publishers.
Indeed, the CEB introduction and other materials explain two features which, it is implied, make this new English version distinct from and, presumably, superior to other ones:
(1)the translation offers a fresh English rendering of the original languages which, more than completing versions, successfully combines accuracy with a strong commitment to using an everyday or ‘common’ level of English; and
(2)the CEB, even in its most basic editions, provides the reader in its footnotes with a remarkable amount of textual data, especially when it comes to the Hebrew scriptures as represented in the Dead Sea manuscripts.

In light of those features, this paper aims to do several interrelated things. First, the CEB will be introduced briefly in general terms, with the aid of a number of illustrations. Second, and also in brief, feature (1) above will be evaluated, again with some examples. Third, and more fully, the way the CEB has employed the evidence of the Scrolls – as per feature (2) above – will be unpacked and evaluated in light of several representative instances (and in comparison with other translations).
Finally, a short conclusion will summarise what has been described and demonstrated. Included here will be a tentative suggestion that no translation adopting the traditional Bible format can accurately or fully represent to its readership the textual evidence of the Scrolls.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - 2018
EventBritish Association for Jewish Studies Conference, 2015: Atheism, Scepticism and Challenges to Monotheism -
Duration: 5 Jul 20157 Jul 2015


ConferenceBritish Association for Jewish Studies Conference, 2015


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