The NRSV almost unreadable without notes (or, a bizarre “feature” of the NRSV)

While reading the epistle to the Hebrews and comparing its rendering in various translations, I discovered the NRSV alone, among all translations, translated every reference to “man” and “the son of man” in Hebrews 2:6-8 to refer to mankind as a whole! To keep consistent, the NRSV continues to use “them” instead of “him” throughout the entire quotation from the Psalm, and even going beyond that into the author of Hebrews’ interpretation at the end of v. 8!

Bug or feature? Your mileage may vary. I think that though this is a plausible interpretation of the passage, it can hardly be called a translation. “Son of man” in Hebrews 2:6-8 could be plausibly referring to Jesus (as suggested by Hebrews 2:9 referencing Hebrews 2:7) or to mortal humans. The Catholic NABRE, quite contrary to the NRSV, explicitly adopts the Christological interpretation of the passage in its notes.

This is why I recommend never relying on any edition of the NRSV without the translators’ notes as one’s primary Bible. Now, the NRSV does have good notes; on this, there can be no denial. But a translation that is unreadable without the notes can hardly be called a translation.

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A reason to use the NRSV/ESV/NABRE over the ASV/NASB/others

The NRSV/ESV/NABRE incorporate a lot more DSS/Septuagint readings into their main OT text than the other versions.

Take, for example, Deuteronomy 32:8 and 32:43, both of which make much more sense when relying on the DSS/Seputagint in place of the Masoretic Text.

My physical copy of the NASB95 doesn’t even contain any notes at all on the page containing v.43 and doesn’t have a note for v.8 (despite the LXX version of Deuteronomy 32:43 being quoted in Hebrews 1:6!). The ASV, of course, can be excused for being written before the discovery of the DSS.

The NLT also uses the DSS readings in both verses, but that translation is too liberal in general to make a good study bible.

The HCSB uses the MT readings in both verses, but has good notes, so it gets three quarters credit.

The NET uses the DSS reading in v. 8 but curiously uses the MT reading in v. 43 without a note (!), again, despite the obvious Hebrews 1:6 issue, so it gets half-credit.

The ESV remains probably the best of the modern translations, though the generally somewhat less literal NRSV and NABRE are not far off.

Remarks on Bible Translations

Section 1

My favorite translation for most purposes is the 1901 ASV (American Standard Version). It’s out of copyright, so noone’s gonna sue ya if you use it. It was a product of a well-respected translation committee, so it’s very much acceptable for academic citation. It relies on a superior textual basis to the KJV/NKJV/YLT. It consistently transliterates the tetragrammaton instead of obscuring it with “LORD” in small caps, as most translations do. It’s fairly literal, surprisingly faithful to the original text (e.g., keeping all of Marks “kai” (“and”)s; the ESV and NASB keep most, the NRSV and most other modern translations keep hardly any) and keeps some of the KJV’s linguistic variety (e.g., pronouns), which is often quite helpful in exposing some of the subtlety of the Greek text (e.g., Matthew 20:20-28). The best online edition of the 1901 ASV (including the notes) is on BibleGateway. The CCEL and BibleHub versions are partially defective (e.g., their Revelation 19:16 wrongly has “KINGS of KINGS”, rather than, as is proper, “KING OF KINGS”). I generally prefer the principles of the American translators to those of the English Revised Version (though the English principles are better in some places, e.g., Exodus 20:13). The most obvious problem with the ASV is that its insistence on KJV English to reduce backwards incompatibility is often more a liability than an asset to comprehensibility by modern-day Americans.

As for the WEB (World English Bible; a public-domain translation loosely based on the ASV), it is the product of one man with an excessively simple website layout, and so is not suitable for academic citation. I like some of the translation changes it makes (it makes the language far more modern and comprehensible, transliterates Gehenna instead of translating it as hell, changes the transliteration of the tetragrammaton from Jehovah to Yahweh, etc.), but it tends to blunt the force of the original ASV, removing some linguistic dynamism (e.g., all of Mark’s “kai”s are removed, as is the KJV/ASV’s versatility with pronouns), and unnecessarily adds some inconsistent translation, as well (e.g., Matthew 2:11 v. Mark 15:19). Overall, I prefer the ASV.

The earlier YLT is also a very good translation on its principles, though it’s also subject to some obviously unnecessary inconsistent translation (e.g., Red Sea/Sea of Suph) and I’m not a fan of its textual basis.

Section 2

My favorite modern translations are the ESV and the NRSV, which are both basically the same translation (both are direct revisions of the 1952 RSV, itself a less literal revision of the ASV), the former with a conservative (often literal and OT-in-light of the NT) and the latter with a liberal (often figurative or gender-neutral) bent. I find it often a good idea to read the ASV, NRSV, and ESV on BibleGateway side-by-side. The NRSV is a de facto academic translation and is one of the few post-1983 complete translations of the Bible accepted by the Roman Catholic Church for private study. Neither is by any means a bad translation, with the NRSV’s greater theological liberalism in translation often leading to greater accuracy. The NASB is generally (by no means always) more literal than these, but it sometimes descends into paraphrase or unnecessarily inserts words into the text without any notification whatsoever (e.g., Mark 6:10), making it less advisable to use than the ASV.

Section 3

I do not have sufficient experience with the HCSB (a fairly unique translation; transliterates the tetragrammaton selectively, a bad decision however you look at it, but makes some refreshing and beneficial breaks from tradition in its translation), NET (said by its defenders to cut down time on explanation of the text by a third due to it often inserting commentary in place of the Bible’s wording), or NABRE (which I found surprisingly theologically liberal, not always in a bad way; i.e., it’s often refreshing) to make remarks on them, but they all have their defenders. Read them all side-by-side at this link.

The most used translation in these United States, the NIV, suffers too much from theological bias (especially against works, which it tends to translate inconsistently to suit sola fide doctrine) and unnecessary departures from literal wording to be advisable, though on occasion (e.g., Galatians 1:19) it ends up having the most accurate rendering of any translation.

Saturday Assorted Links

1. The Reaganization of Mother Jones

2. Basically my view of Obama from the very beginning (and part of why I preferred HRC 08 to him). Even his release of Manning was only because the dude went trans.

3. Interesting argument on future of medicine and DNA

4. Trump says something actually disgusting

5. Ballsiest move of the week. I’m still amazed they actually managed to do it.

6. Interesting attempt by left-wing U.S. Senators to impose a religious test for public office

7. Wise words on terrorism

8. Wise reminder on arguments from silence

A Cushion for the Trump Economy

I strongly suspect the U.S. will be in recession at some point during Trump’s first term due to the Federal Reserve once again messing up monetary policy (which I think is inevitable at some point in the next five years, at least). Thus, I expect the U.S. labor market to worsen again (though far more mildly than in 08-09 due to the absence of bubbles). However, I also expect the economy to start growing reasonably fast again reasonably soon. Why? A revival of productivity growth. Since 2011, a key headwind for the Obama economy has been a lack of productivity growth, especially in manufacturing, generally associated with the slowdown of world trade and the reduction of the 2000-07 offshoring of less productive sectors to China.

Notice that manufacturing productivity has already started rising again, beginning in September 2016. Sadly, it still has not surpassed its previous peak. But it will, more likely than not this year.

Note, my prediction would be the same under a Hillary administration. Presidents do not have much of an impact over the economy. Though it does seem the total sum of the Trump’s team’s economic knowledge is a tad better than that of HRC’s, the difference is not huge, and both have similar assets and deficiencies about them.

Outline of a Climate Treaty that might actually work (in 365 words)

Today, the President of the United States (whom I admit I voted for in a key swing state) took the correct course to pull out of the hilariously ineffective and ridiculously unfair Paris Climate Agreement. Which, of course, left me wondering what would an actually effective and fair climate agreement look like? I think the following outline below which I came up with in a couple minutes will suffice to make everyone understand the necessary scope of a climate agreement that might actually work at achieving its stated aims.

1. Convene the top four emitters of greenhouse gasses (currently China, the United States, India, and Russia).

2. Make this a binding treaty, not an executive agreement, which every country of the original four must ratify within a year after the treaty’s negotiation for it to come into effect.

3. Get this treaty to state that each of the four countries must institute a carbon tax increasing by 20 U.S. CPI-adjusted dollars per ton of carbon dioxide every year from the treaty’s coming into effect and impose climate-equivalent taxes on all the other greenhouse gasses. Absolutely no source of greenhouse gasses should be in any way exempt.

4. The treaty should be designed with the intent of one country joining the treaty each year, in order from largest to smallest emitter of greenhouse gasses (i.e., Japan in 2018 followed by Germany in 2019 followed by Iran in 2020 followed by South Korea in 2021 and so on). This is to encourage countries to compete to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions before they even join the treaty. To encourage countries to join the treaty, a flat tariff on all goods and services exports, increasing by 20 percentage points each year, should be imposed by all the countries in the agreement on the countries that don’t join in the above-mentioned order.

5. Every ten years, there is to be a verification whether the treaty countries are actually enforcing the necessary tax(es). Cheaters are to be determined by a majority of countries within the treaty. They are to be punished by mandatory retaliatory tariffs levied by all the other countries in the treaty in proportion to the cheating country’s lack of enforcement it should have done by the treaty’s requirements.

Notes on the Politics of Oklahoma

I have never been to Oklahoma (a heavily Republican state today, in which every county went for every Republican presidential candidate since Bush in 2004), but I have recently found some interesting data on its politics. As far as one can tell on a map, the state seems to be politically divided into four (actually five, if you count Native Americans as a group separate from Appalachian Democrats) groups (all of which but the first went for Trump in 2016):

1. The inner city. These are generally minorities and urban White liberals. However, these are a minority even in the urban counties of Oklahoma. By far the most likely voters to favor drug liberalization, banning cockfighting, and banning capital punishment.

2. Western Republicans. These are the most conservative people in Oklahoma, both on supporting agricultural pollution and imposing Christianity onto the state government.

3. College Republicans (really, college-educated voters, but these were traditionally Republican before this party system). Heavily concentrated in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and its suburbs. Distinct from urban liberals in that they vote heavily Republican. This is the most politically correct voting bloc in Oklahoma, as well as the most college educated. Not all are actual Republicans. By far the most Republican demographic in the state in 1976, by 2016 they were definitely to the Left of the state as a whole in their presidential voting habits, though still went heavily for Trump by any measure. The most likely Romney-Hillary voters. Generally likely to favor drug and alcohol liberalization, and the most likely voting demographic in the state to favor same-sex marriage, and quite possibly alcohol liberalization as well (though the urban liberals may tie for this).

4. Appalachian Democrats. The demographic farthest to the left of the state on some issues (e.g., public education) and furthest to the right on others (e.g., drugs, cockfighting). The least politically correct demographic in the state. Traditionally Democratic on the presidential level since the days Oklahoma became a state, but became much more Democratic as a result of the Fair Deal. Similar voting behavior to Arkansas, Tennessee, the rural Florida panhandle, and northern Alabama. This demographic still helps elect Democrats to the state House (unlike the college Republicans). The most likely Obama-Trump and Kerry-Clinton ’08-McCain voters in Oklahoma. On a map, it’s hard to separate them from Native Americans, who tended to favor Affirmative Action. Native Americans are the Oklahoma demographic most supportive of alcohol restriction. Native Americans were the least likely group to support imposing Christianity onto the state government.