NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) – For the past five years, Sister Mary Dominic Pitts of the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville has studied the Book of Revelation in depth.
She and 250 others are working on a new translation of the last book of the Bible in a project known as “Le Bible et ses traditions” (“the Bible and its traditions”), or the French abbreviation BEST.
The project is sponsored by the École Biblique, the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem.
“The École Biblique is a center for research, translation and study of Scripture and archeology. He is best known for his publication of the Jerusalem Bible,” explained Sister Mary Dominic.
The school was founded in 1890 in Jerusalem by Father Marie-Joseph Lagrange, a French Dominican priest, specialist in the Scriptures and pioneer of biblical exegesis. Its administration and a large part of its teachings are still in French.
Sister Mary Dominic had already spent two years writing notes on the book of Revelation when Dominican Father Anthony Giambrone, vice-director of the École Biblique, called her to do more in October 2019.
He said it was up to her to translate the five original languages of the book – the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta and the three versions of the Greek New Testament – into English, as well as to write notes on the interesting grammar, the words and more.
“Father Giambrone insisted that they ‘needed a linguist’ to comment on the linguistic aspects of the project. I think my skills with a PhD in linguistics and extensive study of language analysis were what suggested my participation in the project,” said Sister Mary Dominic.
“It helps that I’m an experienced copywriter, which helps keep footnotes well-written but short,” she told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper.
Sr. Mary Dominic’s knowledge of the three languages came from years of study. In 2001, she studied Syriac with one of the world’s experts on the language, Dominican Father Stephen Ryan, during a summer course at Providence College in Rhode Island.
“It was an accidental acquisition,” she said, noting that she “signed up just for fun, never guessing that I would actually use it 16 years later.”
She also learned Greek at Providence College, a requirement for her Masters in Biblical Studies. “I’ve been trying to keep going ever since,” she said. “I have good dictionaries and grammars (books) to work with all these languages.”
She has also been studying Latin since high school and continued her education while at the convent.
Sister Mary Dominic spends about a month translating each chapter.
“I myself translate them one verse at a time from the five versions to insert them into the BEST platform in English,” she said. “The texts I translate are the original ancient languages in their own spellings and alphabets.
“All meaningful variants are ‘stacked’ vertically in the text on the word or phrase where they actually occur, one language above another for ease of comparison.”
She said the five versions “are translated as literally as possible to ‘stay true to the text,’ especially from Syriac, a language less well known than Greek or Latin.”
Numerous footnotes at the end of each chapter are also part of the translation.
“They are coded to cover verses and cover many linguistic and socio-cultural facts never before commented upon, including grammatical features, word derivations and meanings, figures of speech, historical or other contextual facts, and Jewish tradition and Christian,” Sister Mary Dominic said.
Citing the project’s website, she said the goal of the translation is “to create the most comprehensive and useful set of notes for the entire Bible, with information of interest to both Bible scholars and casual readers. “.
As she continues to work on the translations, Sister Mary Dominic said she expects to complete the project by mid-autumn and has high hopes for what it will bring to the church.
“Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XII published encyclicals inviting modern Bible study so that the Scriptures would be open to the faithful according to the same methods that Father Lagrange perfected at the École Biblique”, said Sister Mary Dominic.
“The BEST approach contributes to the richness of Scripture, for example, the ‘Biblical polyphony’ resulting from the different versions and will restore Catholic feeling and appreciation for the many voices of God in Scripture,” he said. she adds.
Learn more about the BEST project here.
Peterson is on the staff of the Tennessee Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.