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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Parallel Bibles: S. Bagster & Sons'

I take a risk in admitting that I have jumped into another series which will run in parallel to my continued exploration of Ps. 68 and the names of God.

However, I could not help but look for an appropriate response to these posts, Why are Christians satisfied with English-only Bibles? and Christianity is cross-cultural and cross-linguistic. The truth is that I am not sure of the answer.

On the one hand, Christianity seems to be a religion of translation, transmitted across cultures. The phenomenon of tongues was attested to in Acts 2:8. Peter puts the case well. On the other hand, I have a considerable interest in diglots and the like and I wonder, along with Iyov, why they are not more popular. I cannot think of Christians as those who are not attached to such things. I use a KJV-Greek diglot, 1901, regularly, and the Pagnini Psalter I refer to often is a Hebrew-Latin diglot. My impression is that diglots were quite prominent in the history of the church.

I am going to undertake a few posts on polyglots, parallel versions and interlinears, picking from one century and then another as the spirit moves. In this post I am going to reproduce the intoduction to the Catalogue of Samuel Bagster & Sons' Polyglot Bibles and Biblical Works, 1860.
    There are not many who can consult with confidence a display of Eight or Nine Languages; but the number is very great of persons who read with facility as many as two, or three, or four languages. To meet the wants of such, the Hebrew Text of this Polyglot Bible, as well as all the various Versions of which it is composed have been issued as separate and independent Volumes, of a pocket size; and to admit of their combination together as Diglot Bibles, and Edition of each has been prepared, which will interleave page opposite page with any other.

    This principal feature commends the plan of these Works specially to notice. The various languages are single, separate Volumes, complete in all respects, and yet afford their possessor, without trouble of inconvenience, the assistance of the costly editions of the libraries.

    An individual purchases a single language, and proceeds to study it-be it Greek, French, English, or what it may; he desires to compare the object of his study with another translation, or with the Original, and, possessing himself of it, he finds, to his inexpressible comfort, that he has only to refer to the same page, and part of the page, to obtain the desired comparison. He afterwards adds another and another Version to his library, and finds the same principle carried through the whole; and he obtains a Bible of two, three, four, or more languages, not only convenient for comparison with one another, but adapted to the various uses single pocket volumes. This arrangement affords the purchaser also the opportunities of providing himself only with those languages he may acquire; and supplies his wants in the most convenient, elegant, as well as inexpensive form possible.
I can't imagine that there is anything like the following in print now, although software is probably able to reproduce a similar effect. This is only a drop in the bucket of interleaved versions that Bagster & Sons' offered.
    Hebrew and English Scriptures, interleaved
    page for page, fcap. 8vo., price 1/5/- $6,25—Turkey
    morocco, $10
    Ditto, with a Hebrew Lexicon, 6/- $1,50 extra.
    Ditto, with the Greek and English New Testament
    Scriptures. This convenient pocket volume contains the
    Original Text of both Testaments with the Authorised
    English Version interleaved, price 1/15/- $8,75—Turkey
    morocco, $12,50
    Ditto, with Hebrew Lexicon and Greek Lexicon,
    10/6 $2,63 extra.
    Hebrew and Greek Septuagint, interleaved;
    with various readings, price 1/10/- $7,50—Turkey
    morocco, $11,25
    Ditto, with Greek New Testament, 5/- $1,25 extra.
    Ditto, with Hebrew New Testament, 5/- $1,25 extra.
    Hebrew, interleaved with the Vulgate
    Latin, price 1/4/- $6—Turkey morocco, $9,75
    Ditto, with the Greek New Testament, interleaved
    with the Vulgate Latin, 8/- $2 extra.
    Hebrew, with the German Version,
    price 1/4/- $6—Turkey morocco, $9,75
    Catalogue ; S. Bagster and Sons. . &
    Hebrew, interleaved with the French
    Version, price 1/4/- $6—Turkey morocco, $9,75
    Hebrew, with the Italian Version,
    price 1/4/- $6—Turkey morocco, $9,75
    Hebrew, with the Spanish Version,
    price 1/4/- $6—Turkey morocco, $9,75
    Hebrew, with the Portuguese Version,
    price 1/4/- $6—Turkey morocco, $9,75 %*
    The New Testament in Hebrew, or Greek, may be bound up with
    any of these Polyglot Bibles, 5/- $1,25 extra ; or the Greek New
    Testament, interleaved with either language, may be added, 8/—



At Fri Nov 16, 03:25:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thanks, Suzanne. I should clarify that I am not dissing polyglots. The New Testament I most regularly consult on my desk is a diglot of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition and the RSV on facing pages.

At Fri Nov 16, 04:33:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for this series of posts. Isn't it a conversation we need to have?

You ask, "Why are Christians satisfied with English-only Bibles?"

I'm summarizing some of the answers, here, from Peter's and Iyov's related posts lest that's useful (it is to me):

1. Diglots cost too much to produce.
2. Christians are:
2.1 ignorant
2.2 lazy (content with a linguistic "dumbing down")
2.3 proudly independent (with a "belief that they have in the 'English Bible' everything necessary for salvation and edification")
2.4 just like other monolingual / monoliterate groups (such as diaspora Jews around the first Christian century; such as Euro North Americans generally in their entire history)
2.5 afraid to intimate others in public, or to come across as know-it-all at church.

Suzanne, in your comments, you expressed surprise at the dearth of diglots in the church. John Hobbins, you suggested there'll be a comeback in the use of these and perhaps polyglots even ("Mark my words.")


To answer the production cost / economics question, let me ask another:

Isn't the internet revolution overcoming this? I can find online (either on particular websites / programs or by opening multiple windows on my computer) the original texts and translations side by side together. And, through internet booksellers, I've purchased both my diglot LXX and my diglot NT, the same one Peter reads. (I could not find either stocked in any local bookstore).

To answer the ignorance question, I ask another:

Don't computer resources make education easier? First, as an example, my pastor (a Greek major as an undergrad with M.A. and Ph.D. in theology) had no idea that existed until just weeks ago (and he primarily worked with paper texts for NT studies). Now he uses Zack Hubert's rich and user friendly resources for Greek and English all the time.

Second, readers will more and more experience the benefits of bi-lingual and multi-lingual Bible reading as they find it accessible and easy. Some of the benefits include "interlation."

That word is coined by Mikhail Epstein but the experience is verified by many of us. Below is Epstein's definition he's entered into Merriam-Webster online:

interlation (noun) : (inter+lation; cf. translation) - a variation on the same theme in two or several languages; in contrast to translation, the roles of "source" and "target" languages are interchangeable; a verbal art based on figurative (metaphoric) relationship between languages.
Bilingual or multilingual persons have no need of a translation, but they can enjoy an interlation, a contrastive juxtaposition of two or more texts running in two languages (Russian and English versions of Nabokov's memoirs). Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation. By contrast, interlation doubles the power of poetry" —Mikhail Epstein, article "The Role of the Humanities in Global Culture", 2001

Do others agree with John that things are changing? Are we more open to diglots because of the internet and to a new taste of the benefits of interlation?

At Fri Nov 16, 07:48:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I didn't think you were. I wonder if you would comment on the prices of these "interleaved" Bibles.


I had intended to quote this from your most recent post.

Translation involves the “both and” not just the “either / or.” Translation, if done right, gets at the second meanings, and new meanings emerge. Scholars such as Thomas Conley (in his article “The Greekless Reader”) may suggest that no translation is really worth much in the study of Greek texts. But Conley just doesn’t understand translation, and its value. Translation, if done right, is both contemplation and enjoyment. Translation, if done right, is what Mikhail Epstein calls interlation. Especially when the translation is lined up with the original text, there is interlation, or a “stereotext.”

To respond to your last question J. K. I am asking why parallel versions went out of style in the first place. Or have they? Obviously all of us use them.

At Fri Nov 16, 10:24:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I bought my diglot for about $2 US. And I could tell you where you can buy them for that, but that subsidised price is usually only for local people. My main point was that they are necessarily more expensive and larger than regular Bibles. And the vast majority of Christians cannot read the original language, and neither they nor I see any good reason why the should learn it. So not surprisingly these diglots do not sell well! Well, they were selling quite well in the country where I bought mine because at the time this was the only English language Bible text available in the country.

At Fri Nov 16, 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I was wondering if you could decode the price for the Bagster interleaved copies. The idea of interleaving pages had quite intrigued me.

I am thinking through this question and asking

a) are diglots really less popular among Christians

b) have they always been

c) is the reason cost or something else?

I am just exploring the topic in an open-ended way, and wondering what the trends are.

At Fri Nov 16, 03:10:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Ah, I understand the question. I'll convert into modern units, although of course the pound is worth considerably less now than it was then, even against the dollar.

1/5/- = £1.25
6/- = £0.30
1/15/- = £1.75
10/6 = £0.52½
1/10/- = £1.50
5/- = £0.25
1/4/- = £1.20
8/- = £0.40

The basic reason why diglots are not popular with Christians is that no one sees any good reason for buying something which they cannot and will not use and can see no good reason to have.

At Fri Nov 16, 09:45:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I can see from your blog that I should be communicating with you in Bliss Symbols - or how about the semiphore alphabet? And do you carry your wireless laptop with you as you pace? ;-)

I, on the other hand, am a nicely balanced multimodal whatsit, nothing the least bit unusual.

At Sat Nov 17, 05:08:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Nice comment, Suzanne. I probably would pace as I wrote if I had a suitable input device. Maybe I need voice recognition software, or perhaps that's too aural for me.


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