Monday 28 November 2011

Giving the Jerusalem Bible a Belt

On Mondays I tend to start my week reading over the Gospel for next Sunday, moving on later days to commentaries. Next Sunday we will read the beginning of St Mark's Gospel, and, as usual this morning, I read it first in the Greek, and then used various translations to get the best sense. But I discovered a peculiarity. In 1:6, the strange clothing adopted by St John the Baptist is described:

καὶ ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔσθων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον.

The Vulgate has:
Et erat Joannes vestitus pilis cameli, et zona pellicea circa lumbos ejus, et locustas et mel silvestre edebat.

And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and he ate locusts and wild honey.

The English Standard Version (basically RSV) has:
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt round his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

All pretty straightforward (the translations, I mean, not St John's clothing). However, when we come to the Jerusalem Bible, we get:

John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. 

Strange. Where's the belt gone? A problem of the Lectionary, I thought; these things aren't unknown. I've even discovered a passage in a Gospel where the vital word 'not' is left out (though I can't remember where). But I went to my JB and checked. No belt. Okay; the plot thickens. What about the New Jerusalem Bible?

John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey.

Just the same as old JB, in fact. 

Perhaps there is a variant text in the Greek; this Sunday's Gospel had one; either 'Watch' or 'Watch and pray'. But no, there seems to be no disagreements among the Greek versions; John did indeed have a leather belt.

Finally, I tracked it down in the Jerusalem Bible (original) French version:

Jean était vêtu d'une peau de chameau et mangeait des sauterelles et du miel sauvage.

But a footnote adds:

Var: Jean était vêtu de poils de chameau et se ceignait les reins d'un pagne de peau.

There we are. But nobody else seems to think that not wearing a belt is an option. It's just a JB oddity, and, no doubt, they have found a manuscript to back them up, but not one that anyone else seems to have found.

It raises a point, though: what are we supposed to hear at Mass? The biblical critics' version, or that which the Church asks of us in the Latin original Lectionary?

On another point in this verse, the commentary by Dom Paul Delatte, once Abbot of Solesmes is delightfully French: for him it isn't enough to know that John ate locusts (sauterelles; grasshoppers)—he wants to know what they tasted like!

Les sauterelles de Palestine sont longues et fortes, grosses à peu prés comme des crevettes, et, assaisonnées de certaine manière, elles en ont le goût, paraît-il.
Palestinian grasshoppers are long and strong, roughly as big as prawns, and seasoned in a certain way, it would appear that they taste like them.
I have a delightful image of French gourmets haring off to the Judean desert and demanding salade des sauterelles avec sauce Marie Rose, perhaps followed by Gâteau du Foret Noir. Or perhaps not.

—and (a later thought) it seems that Delatte considered that John the Baptist might well have enjoyed his sauterelles assaisonnées de certaine manière. Perhaps with a glass of light Chablis?

Thursday 24 November 2011

St John Fisher

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that the Archbishop of Westminster has written a book about St John Fisher. It is now available, published by Alive Publishing.

ISBN 976-1-906278-13-7
or go here.

There is a very real danger that, simply because a man is Archbishop of Westminster, a book might (a) be published and (b) be dismissed by serious scholars.

This book is a real contribution both to scholars and to Christians generally who want to know more about Fisher. At the book launch last night in Archbishop's House, the eminent historian Eamon Duffy admitted privately that he had expected to have to 'flannel', because of who the author was, but he acknowledged that this work genuinely breaks new ground and contributes to our understanding of Fisher, not just as martyr, but as theologian and pastor. That is no mean accolade from our foremost English Reformation scholar.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, who also spoke (and what an extraordinary man he is—the father (maybe with Haigh) of revisionist Reformation history) made the comment that whereas St Charles Borromeo has been considered the patron saint of the clergy, St John Fisher has an equal—if not greater—claim to the title. I have long thought this, and am delighted to hear it reaffirmed by so great an authority.

Professor Scarisbrick also mentioned Archbishop Peter Amigo in his talk, something that, I thought might set the foundations of the home of Cardinal Bourne a-trembling. But that's another story.

Do I recommend the book? Well, I've yet to finish it, but so far, I recommend it very highly. It is high time that St John Fisher was written about as confessor (in the old sense); as a genuinely holy and intelligent man who was saintly in his life as well as his death. It is good, too, to set him in his context and compare him to his contemporaries.

As for the launch, somebody asked me why I was invited. I said I didn't know, but I was pleased to be there. Thinking about it, I think that it was probably a mistake, and that they had meant to invite Fr Tim Finigan.

On other matters, I do apologize for the thin posting; parish work has been very pressing, extraordinarily so, and I've not been feeling at all well. Say a prayer, please. 
No, don't assume it's anything serious; just lurgies, but debilitating ones. Good for my soul, if not my body.