Saint Teresa of Jesus said that God is even in the pots. The founder of the order of the Discalced Carmelite nuns, in addition to being a representative of golden age literature, used this metaphor to emphasize the idea that the numinous not only shines in solemn ceremonies, but also in small everyday acts. Now, where there is no doubt that we can find God, saucepans and churches on the sidelines, is in bookstores. Not in vain thirty million people buy a copy of the Bible every year in some corner of the planet, and many of these readers are not even believers. This is what can be deduced from the quantity of sacred writings of a lay character –understanding by layman that which does not emphasize the religious meaning of the text, but rather the literary, cultural or historical one– that are being published lately.
The two most obvious examples of this phenomenon are found in the publishers Clave Intelectual and Blackie Books. The former has just launched the first volume of the collection The Books of the Bible, directed by Santiago Gerchunoff and Gonzalo Torné, and aimed at publishing free translations of the “typological kidnapping” (sic) to which the 73 books that make up the Old Bible are subjected. and the New Testament. The editorial understands by typological kidnapping those "paratextual limitations with which the text is often presented: tiny print, double column, excess of erudite apparatus." According to the press release, "the project precisely seeks to offer a reading experience free of all these limitations." The first title, Exodus , has been translated by Torné himself and contains a prologue by Carolina Sanín, and in the coming months there will also be released versions of Genesis, the Book of Job and Ecclesiastes, the Books of Samuel and Esther, Judith, Daniel and Jonah.
Gonzalo Torné considers that, more than a version, what he has done is a "translation of translations", that is, a translation from some of the different bibles available today: the King James, the bear and the interdenominational , the latter in its translations into Spanish, Catalan, Italian and French. With all those copies on the table, he has translated, and also fictionalized, Moses' journey through the desert. “It has been a bit of a Borgesian game in which I have tried to influence the most literary part of the narrative –comments Torné–. This is very typical of classics like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Beowulf, or The Book of Benji, which are often translated as focusing on aesthetic rather than philological pleasure.”
Javier Alonso sought exactly the same thing in his “secular and direct translation of the Hebrew” of Genesis published by Blackie Books at the end of 2021. The Liberated Classics collection – in which this title is framed, as well as the Odyssey and the Iliad – aspires to break with certain preconceived ideas that we all have about these books –the most important of which is that they are boring–, while trying to modernize the archaic language that characterizes them. With this intention they published the Liberated Book of Genesis, which is accompanied by a terribly accessible critical apparatus and with paratexts by Sara Mesa (written for the occasion), Voltaire, Kierkegaard, Nick Cave and others.
But the surprise is not that a publisher as avant-garde as Blackie Books has decided to bet on a book as little modern as the Bible, but that its Genesis has sold more than two thousand copies. In fact, given the reaction of the readers, the director of the collection, Pau Ferrandis, is already considering releasing the Apocalypse and some of the Gospels. Ferrandis attributes the success of his Genesis to the suppression of the dogmas overlapping the text and to the search, as in the case of Clave Intelectual, for aesthetic pleasure before the theological one. “The publication of books such as El infinito en un reed, by Irene Vallejo, has made many people approach a literature that until now they saw as complicated, inaccessible, boring –says Ferrandis–. I think the field of reading has widened for a lot of people and that's where the versions of the Bible that are being published come in."
In addition to the popularization of brainy topics brought by Vallejo, the reasons for this editorial coincidence can also be found in the longing that people feel for a culture –the religious one– that in truth continues to structure our society, even when they no longer find the context appropriate to manifest. “The Church has ceased to be the mediator between the sacred texts and the people –adventures Gonzalo Torné–. In the Protestant tradition, the reader faces the texts alone, draws his own conclusions and speaks directly with God, but in Catholicism we need the mediation of the ecclesiastical institution. And now, in the 21st century, that intermediation is no longer valid for a type of citizen who seeks to understand the religious phenomenon for themselves. In a way, these versions are books that, without denying the temple, dispense with the temple. Andreu Jaume has a similar opinion about this phenomenon: “In a society that has become decidedly secular and has almost completely got rid of Christianity, the interest in the Bible may be the same as that in Greek mythology. The power to impose religion that the Inquisition had has disappeared and now there is a truly sincere interest in knowing what that Christian civilization was that has come to an end”.
Andreu Jaume's opinion comes into play because he has been responsible for the new edition of La Biblia del Oso that Alfaguara has just published. It is a case of four volumes that, in total, reaches 3,500 pages and that, in some way, also avoids the aforementioned typographic hijacking. In 1987, Alfaguara already published this modern and annotated edition under the direction of the theologian and canonist José María González Ruiz; in 2001 he brought it back to the market without additions and amendments; and now he repeats his efforts to make it known to the general public with the supervision and an introduction of the editor and critic Andreu Jaume. And these reissues are important because, in reality, The Bible of the Bear is a monument to the Spanish language whose existence was hidden from believers. Its translator, the Hieronymite monk converted to Protestantism Casiodoro de Reina, took it clandestinely to a printing press in Basel in 1569, skipping with this action the inquisitorial prohibition of translating the Holy Book into vulgar languages, and consequently having to flee from Spain to avoid his death sentence. In fact, a smuggler named Juanillo, of whom we only know that he was a hunchback, was burned at the stake along with the copies of The Bear Bible that he dared to introduce across the French border.
To understand the importance of La Biblia del Oso in culture in Spanish, we must assume that, if Luther's Bible created modern German and if William Tyndale's did three-quarters of the same with English, Casiodoro de Reina's could have definitively transformed the relationship we all have with our language. However, at that time, Spain was the main defender of Catholicism and, in its eagerness to control all information concerning God, the ecclesiastical authorities prohibited the dissemination of the aforementioned Bible, making it so unknown to the common people that even practicing Catholics Today they are unaware of its existence. Fortunately, the echoes of the Inquisition did not prevent some of our great writers, including Saint John of the Cross, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio and Juan Benet, from letting themselves be carried away by its influence. “From the point of view of language, Casiodoro de Reina did the work of at least a hundred writers, since his translation tested both epic and lyrical, elegiac and hymnical tone, making Spanish resonate with a variety of unpublished timbres”, explains Andreu Jaume, before adding that “The Bible of the Bear should figure, together with Don Quixote or the Spiritual Canticle, among the most important works of our canon”.
The Catalan publishing industry is also making an effort to modernize or even correct the translations we had up to now. The phenomenon of secular bibles in which Spanish publishers are immersed is not detected in our environment, but there have been attempts to do something similar to what Joan F. Mira did in 2004 with his Evangelis (Proa). In this regard, one of the most interesting novelties is the translation that Armand Puig i Tàrrech has made of Els Salms in hebreu, grec, llatí i català (Ateneu Universitari Sant Pacià, 2021), a volume that pays homage to the first translator of the Canonical Bible, Saint Jerome, on the 1,600th anniversary of his death. The other surprises are on the way: the first will come from the Albada publishing house, which at the end of the year will present a Bible translated into modern Catalan directly from the Greek originals. The project started some years ago by the doctor in Theology Ferran Blasi, but his recent death meant that the work was completed by also doctor Jordi Jarne. According to one of Albada's directors, Toni Piqué, "this Bible will be the Ferrari of sacred texts, that is, a text that respects tradition, but with a notepad capable of making reading easier for all types of readers, from the academic to the citizen who loves to read. We have sought a more ascetic than doctrinal vision and, furthermore, we have managed to adapt the texts to contemporary Catalan”.
A bilingual edition (Hebrew and Catalan) of Els salms is also underway by Josep Batalla, former head of the Obrador Edèndum publishing house. There are still a couple of years to go before the edition sees the light, but his translator ensures that his version starts from the literary perspective without betraying the original Hebrew. “The Bible that we handle today, the interdenominational call, has adapted the language to the sensitivity of the contemporary listener, with the intention that they feel comfortable listening to or singing the psalms –explains Josep Batalla–. Because the dynamic theory defends that, faced with a somewhat foreign Hebrew expression for us, the translator must use a modern expression that provokes in the listener the same effect as that of the original in Hebrew. What I am doing, however, is keeping the Hebrew expressions, vocabulary and imagery from two thousand years ago, without making the text inaccessible to the average reader.”
Josep Batalla is concerned about the tendency to turn the Bible into something too foreign to the original and distrusts the secular versions that are being published lately. And, so that we understand his uneasiness, he gives an example: “Now it is fashionable to use the term vengeful God to refer to the God of the Old Testament, but it is a tremendous mistake, since the Hebrew word used in the original should not be translated as revenge, but as vindication. Therefore, it should be translated as vindictive God. Unfortunately, mistranslation is taking over and the meaning of the Scriptures is being betrayed." Even so, Batalla agrees with the theory that secular Bibles are emerging to satisfy the cultural cravings of a type of reader who, lacking religious training, yearns to understand the world in which they live. But he also issues a warning that, as before, he prefers to express through an example: "The religious liturgy contains a tremendous number of protocols: costumes, movements, prayers, chants... And yet, now there are priests who replace all that decoration by a mere guitarist by the altar. Obviously, the parishioners enjoy listening to the guitarist, but there is no doubt that this simplification is depriving the liturgy of its depth. And, precisely for this reason, more and more people are going to hear mass at Montserrat. There the liturgy is presented with all its grandeur and splendor, and the impact it has on us is not the same”.