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The Loeb Apostolic Fathers: The Challenges (Again)

This will be the last of my three blasts from past discussions of my translation of the Apostolic Fathers; in it I explain the difficulties involved in producing a “facing page translation” edition of ancient texts (“facing page” means you have the original language text — in this case Greek — on one page and then across from it, on the other page, your English translation)


To continue my thread about translating the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs….

So, the editor at Harvard Press, Peg Fulton, asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of doing a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loebs. She wasn’t offering me the opportunity then and there. She was suggesting that I write up a prospectus that she could take to the board of the Loebs, in which I described the need for a new edition and explained how I would go about making one. After I thought about it for a while, and got advice from my friends, I decided to go for it. I had never (ever!) planned doing a serious translation project for publication. I had lots of other things I wanted to write – scholarly monographs, textbooks, and so on. But I thought it made sense to do it, both personally and professionally. So I wrote up the prospectus and the editorial board agreed it was a task that needed to be done – and so they offered me a contract. This project would be unlike anything I had tried before.

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Another Translation Project: The Apocryphal Gospels
The Apostolic Fathers: Serendipity Strikes



  1. Avatar
    Pattylt  October 31, 2017

    Bart, perhaps you will be answering this in a further post: As you compare various texts that may express different ideas, how do you determine that your biases aren’t influencing you? Do you discuss with other experts? I remember one of your best statements was about scribes that made the texts say what they KNEW the text was really saying! Just wondering how you prevent the same tendency. Wow, what an undertaking.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2017

      This is something scholars do *all* the time (at least the good ones) — work hard to make sure their own biases and preconceptions do not determine their conclusions. One has to be willing to admit at every point that they may be *wrong*, and see if the evidence points one way or the other. Some scholars are (much) better at that than others, but all realize that it’s important to do. (That would be the difference btween, say, a critical scholar of the Bible and a fundamentalist who already knows the answers to the questions before looking into them)

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  October 31, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I know this is a little inside baseball, but was this translation the kind of thing a university would look at when considering tenure?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2017

      It would carry a *little* weight, but not a lot; most research universities are looking for scholarly monographs when it comes to tenure and promotion. so something like this might be a nice add-on, but anyone who relied on such things for tenure would have a very difficult case to make.

  3. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 31, 2017

    I bought a book about the Ante-Nicene Fathers over the summer, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I think what you were referring to was a 10 volume set. Several reviewers said Loeb’s is more accessible for the lay reader, so I just ordered the first volume.

    What confuses me are terms used for these books. There’s books for the Ante Nicene Fathers and books for the Apostolic Fathers. What is the difference?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2017

      Ante-Nicene Fathers are all the proto-orthodox church fathers prior to 325 CE. That would include the Apostlic Fathers (who make up a chunk of vol. 1 of the ten-volume standards collection of the Ante-Nicene Fathers). But it would include everyone, including such figures as Tertullian, Origen, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria etc etc etc. The Apostolic Fathers refers to a group of ten proto-orthodox authors (mainly) from the early second century.

  4. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  October 31, 2017

    When you write these things, including your popular books for the non-scholar market, do you get paid the full amount of the contract or do you have to share it with UNC Chapel Hill? If you do share it, what percentage do you get?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2017

      Ha! Great question. But no, book contracts are not part of the terms of employment, so the university has no right to any of it.

  5. Avatar
    Silver  October 31, 2017

    “And, of course, in the midst of that next translation project, I really regretted not sticking to my guns! It was as hard as the first one….”
    You can’t leave it there! Have you posted about this next step on the blog already, please?

  6. Avatar
    Stylites  October 31, 2017

    Difficult, but very beautiful. I am thankful to own the Loeb Apostolic Fathers. You were successful in putting life into these writers of long ago. Thank you.

  7. Avatar
    ardeare  October 31, 2017

    Google Translate has gotten me into some serious trouble a couple of times.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2017

      Right! I wouldn’t trust it, especially for ancient texts!

  8. Avatar
    Judith  October 31, 2017

    For me, just reading what you had to do to produce a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers was a challenge (decide which principles of translation to follow).

  9. Avatar
    4Erudite  November 1, 2017

    I am no scholar but I do try and read a wide range of translations when researching, when possible. I prefer seeing what is considered by scholars to be the most accepted translation as well as alternative (scholarly) translations for full perspective in coming to my own conclusions. I think it is very helpful and beneficial, for non-scholarly people like myself, to read more than one translation in some cases.

  10. Avatar
    Tobit  November 1, 2017

    Considering the difficulty of translation, why do you think there are so many new Bible translations being produced? Someone’s eager to do them!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2017

      I often wonder the same thing. *Publishers* like new translations because they can make a lot of money. But the translators? My hunch is that they think they’re work can make a big difference to the world at large. I guess.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 1, 2017

    Wow! What a task!

  12. Avatar
    Bstevens  November 1, 2017

    Remember when white asked you if you had ever researched the apostolic fathers? I loved your response.

  13. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  November 3, 2017

    I meant to comment yesterday on your class load at UNC-CH that allows you to do more than teach and grade tests. Why do you think state universities have been spared the budget ax that forever plagues K-12 public education? I can imagine our cave-dwelling politicians wanting to fund “important” things like law and technology, but (liberal) religious studies programs?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      State universities are a major boon to the states’ economies and research is an important feature that differentiates these institutions from smaller colleges. If they weren’t research oriented, it would be much harder to get the best faculty, and that would hurt the reputation, which would hurt the enrollments, which would hurt the economy, which would hurt everyone. So that at least is *part* of the reason.

  14. Avatar
    modelthry  November 3, 2017

    A couple of comments:

    1) I discovered the Loeb series while working my way through Bart’s publications, and they’re really beautiful books. Also, they’re compact, almost pocket sized, making it easy to take Hermas with you to the beach.

    2) Anyone who is interested in parallel translations might want to know that the Loeb series also includes Eusebius and Josephus (two sources referenced frequently by Bart, especially Eusebius). But beware, I think they must have published a new edition of Josephus at some point, because I’ve seen apparently older versions around with different volume numbers. So if you’re picking them up one by one second hand, make sure you know what you’re getting.

    3) I decided to try my own hand at parrallel translation, just for fun and edification, and it took me awhile to figure out a way to keep my two languages aligned automatically paragraph by paragraph. I finally accomplished it with a free typesetting package called TeX (used by lots of academics, at least academic scientists). If anyone else wants to try a parallel translation, and wants me to send them my template so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel, I’m happy to do so.

  15. Avatar
    jogon  January 12, 2020

    Bart, how long did it take you to do the whole translation for the two books? When did you start and finish? Seems like a mammoth task!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2020

      Well, I worked on it for a few years. But I had a day job, so it’s hard to know how long it actually took. And about half way through I realized I wasn’t making much progress, and then added it up and realized I was playing way too much golf….

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