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Translating the Apostolic Fathers

In my last post I answered a question about whether I would ever publish a translation of the New Testament. (Short answer: almost certainly not!). But I want to take a couple of posts to talk about the work of translation.

There is a very big difference between being able to read an ancient text in its ancient language (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, whatever) and producing a translation of it for publication. You might think that it’s all basically the same thing: if you can read it, you can publish a translation of it. But as it turns out, it’s not that simple.

I didn’t realize this for years and years, until I started publishing translations of ancient texts. My first experience was about fifteen years ago now, when I was asked to do a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. Here I’ll give some background on that project and the series it appeared in, and in the next post I’ll talk about the difficulties of producing a translation.

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The Apostolic Fathers: Serendipity Strikes
My Translation of the NT?



  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  October 28, 2012

    I asked a question in an earlier blog about what it is that we can empirically know that is historically accurate in the Gospels and you suggested that I read your book “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of The New Millennium”. I ordered the book and it is now on my Kindle in line for reading.

    I am not unfamiliar with what you are writing. I was exposed to it a bit when in seminary in the 1960’s, by reading Scot McKnight’s emphasis on Jesus as thoroughly Jewish and what he calls the “Jesus Creed,” from reading James Tabor’s book “The Jesus Dynasty,” Some of Bishop Spong’s Christian Exile books and blog entries, Barrie Wilson’s “How Jesus Became a Christian,” and now reading your books (Misquoting Jesus, Jesus, interrupted, Did Jesus Exist).

    I see that I am being led farther and farther into a position that Jesus is not what orthodox Christian theology presents, and viewing Jesus in a far different and more accurate way: a human being who led a human life having a profound agenda that led to his death. The Church arose after his death for reasons far different from what Jesus preached.

    As I move into the final years of my life, I am left with a spiritual void. That is as it should be since I do not want to believe in false promises or fairy tales. Yet I seek to find meaning in all of this…in life, in creation. I fear that I am moving in your direction or to a practice that is non-theistic yet personally fulfilling as when I was involved in Buddhist meditation and ethics.

    This is not a question I expect you to answer. I simple see us moving into a post-Christian age without anything to replace it. I’m not sure what will fill the void.

    Thank you for listening.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 28, 2012

      Yes, I agree, that’s the big quesiton for former believers: what to put in the place of faith (and God and the meaning of life given by one’s faith commitments, and so on….). I do try to answer the question for myself in my book God’s Problem, which is less about biblical scholarship (although there is some of that there) and more with how we wrestle with the big questions.

      • Avatar
        toddfrederick  October 29, 2012

        Yes…another book to add to my list. :>) I like to read so that’s good.

        In your book, “Did Jesus Exist?”, I’m finishing the chapter dealing with “Unity and Diversity in First-Century Judaism.” That is the best review of Judaism at the time of Jesus I’ve ever read. I would not hesitate to give that chapter to newbies to the New Testament in a Church Bible class who can’t make heads-nor-tails of all those groups. It was concise and made very clear sense to me. I learned a few new things, such as it was the Sadducees who had Jesus turned over to Pilate, not the Pharisees, who seem to play a larger role in challenging Jesus theologically (the Law), but did not play a role in the local government which was more of a threat. Very good chapter.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 29, 2012

          I”m heavily dependent on E. P. Sanders, Judaism Practice and Belief. He’s a real expert, and it’s a really good book!

          • Avatar
            DPeel  November 5, 2012

            I recently read “How Jesus Became Christian” and found it to be a fascinating book. It gives a different view than I had been taught. I found myself wanting to ask a person who is a self-professed “Christian” if they are a “follower of Paul” or of “Jesus”. I am developing an interest in Judaism around the time of Jesus (including reading a book about Hillel) and will get the Sanders book.

    • Avatar
      Christian  October 29, 2012

      Post-christianity is a major issue, as foreseen by Nietzsche. The lack of philosophical thinking from the New Atheists on this issue is a major weakness. In France, the most popular philosopher is Michel Onfray and he writes abundantly about this. Unfortunately, of his numerous works only “The Atheist Manifesto” has been translated to English, but it is a polemical writing, of little help here. If you can read French, I highly recommend his short book “La puissance d’exister”, which is a philosophical programme he offers the reader to work out in their lives, covering many aspects. Although I am an admirer of Onfray, because he is a practical philosopher with a great heart and impressive knowledge, I find highly disappointing that he is a mythicist, maybe due to reading the famous Belgian situationist Raoul Vaneigem. Anyway, give it a try.

  2. Avatar
    James Dowden  October 28, 2012

    I’m probably anticipating your next post here, but do the Loeb series editors have certain favored translation styles/rules that underlie how the English page is usually much easier to follow with to the Greek/Latin than certain other editions?

  3. Avatar
    Maurices5000  October 31, 2015

    So do you reject the idea that Polycarp was a disciple of John?

    Do the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers predate the Apostolic Church Fathers? I would have thought that Clement and Polycarp would have been Ante-Nicene. Where does Justin Martyr, Origen, Iranaeus, Tertullian fall? Why don’t you inlcude these men as Apostolic? They are all ante-Nicene.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2015

      Yes I do.

      You have a lot of questions here! I’m not sure I can get to them all. Not enough hours in the day!!!

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