Collector's Catalog of English Bible Versions

By Mark Mage

Seattle, WA

1999, 3-ring binder, approx. 800 pp.

Mark Mage, Editorial Assistant of this quarterly magazine is attempting a monumental task which he himself says “will never actually be complete.” I knew of his attempt for some time before ever having a copy in hand to examine and use. I was pleased when this “Second In-Process Release,” dated November, 1999 arrived for review. Our BEV Editor at the time of this work’s arrival had the only other copy.

Mark solicits assistance and proposes that his catalog become a project of the International Society of Bible Collectors. In fact, he states this in a tentative sub-title to the catalog: “A Project of the International Society of Bible Collectors.” And, the Society may well put this prospect on its agenda for deliberation at its next annual meeting. In December, 1999 Mark wrote, “I was hoping that other members of our Society would contribute more than they have.” At that time at least eight, and possibly one or two more, had made contributions to his effort.

The assistance that Mark solicits calls for members to glean through their collections for additional data or corrections, and submit them for inclusion in his computerized data-base. I pledged my help, and have to sent him six installments of information from my collection. I find that working at this task in a series of smaller work packages, taking one shelf at a time, is a feasible way for a busy person to contribute to this cause.

However, let me confess that this process is quite a demanding task. And this is a judgment our Assistant Editor must be well aware of by virtue of the fact that he has accomplished so much already in addition to his workaday life. He acknowledges that “unless a significant number (of others) see some value to this project, I doubt that it can ever be completed to meet my vision for it.” Mark explains that this project began as a selfish one, namely, to provide a means of tracking his collection, and to gather basic information on all of the English translations and translators that are extant. I consider this to be a high and very worthy goal, but I agree that it will never be even relatively accomplished unless he gets the earnest assistance of many others.

The catalog is in a spreadsheet format. For each line item, Mage attempts to provide the following information: the translator’s complete name, birth and death dates, any titles (Rev., Monsignor, etc.), degrees earned (Ph.D., LL.D., etc.), plus a brief biography. Then follows the publication year (first year printed); the complete, formal title of the work in question; the publisher’s name and location; and finally a “Remarks” column for entering any unique or unusual information/opinions regarding the translation.

Possibly none of us categorize our collection the same way Mage does in his catalog. My collection is found simply housed on a shelf that each given book will fit on, with those books of smaller size on a top shelf, those of more standard size on middle shelves, and those of taller dimensions on the bottom shelf. Mage admits that his first thought when beginning his catalog was to make it purely chronological, but it was the judgment of our editor whose advice he sought that the most common starting point in identifying/locating most translations was by the translator’s last name. So that was what he finally did, although he does qualify this by dividing the catalog into four separate listings as follows: 1) “Canonical Listing,” 2) “Re-tellings Listing,” 3) “Apocryphal Listing” and 4) “Fragmentary Listing,” all alphabetical by the translators’ names.

How does one locate the entries for Committee translations or multi-volume sets by more than one author? Mage provides two cross-indices: one by Short Title or Version Name and the other by the Publisher’s or Sponsoring Organization’s name. Committee translations can be looked up in the first index under their short title. For example, if one goes to “Revised Version,” (RV) he will find it cross-referenced to Convocation of Canterbury, the sponsoring organization for this translation. Then, by looking up Convocation of Canterbury, alphabetically, in the Canonical Listing one can find listed there the names of all RV committee members, including the Committee Secretary, Chief Editor, or whoever. If a particular translator or committee produced more than one translation or a series of partial translations during the course of their translating activities, these are listed in the chronological order of their appearance under the same alphabetical entry.

Mage’ s catalog’s primary interest is in English versions, and not in editions of the Bible, per se. In fact, he makes little attempt to list different editions of the same version, except for those that are revisions. Furthermore, in a personal letter he says that he regrets that he started to include, for example, Lives of Christ in his Re-tellings Listing. In his estimation there are just too many of them to keep track of, and they don’t really constitute “versions” in the purest sense. Consequently, Harmonies, Story Bibles, unique arrangements such as chronological, possibly Children’s Bibles are as far as he intends to go in this category.

Mage appears to have a penchant (at least relatively speaking) for completeness that some of us do not have, as well as a purist’s definition of what constitutes a version. Yet his cataloging objective is admirable and I want to be of help to him if I can, even if my collecting interests remain broader than his.

I treasure the various catalogs of Bible versions that have been published to date (O’Callaghan, Pollard & Redgrave, Herbert, Hills, Chamberlin) and find them of inestimable help in the pursuit of my collection. I commend Mark for his substantial work to date and I look forward to seeing him progress as far as he can with this project. In addition to making his catalog available in a three-ring binder, he also has plans to put it onto a Compact Disk for those who may wish to have the computerized version.