At the heart of Willis Barnstone’s monumental “Restored New Testament: a New Translation with Commentary, including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas” is purity, poetry and the human condition.
One of the most prolific and erudite scholars, translators, and poets (in one) the world has known, Barnstone makes a valiant effort to give the world a glimpse of the original New Testament or Covenant. Beginning the journey that must have taken him a lifetime (along with colleague Marvin Meyer in the Gnostic Gospels) he sheds light on both the historic context of the texts and the humanness that bring it into eternity. “The picture of primal nakedness covered by a colorless mean cloth, of hurting bodies that speak with needs of the weak and poor, ensures that the gospel tale, independent of faith, doctrine, commandment, fearful warnings, and metaphysic, will always reach those with eyes to hear and feel the human condition of the spirited body waiting on the earth.” This is, in other words, a New Testament that is new, because it is old and rarely conveyed in original intent and context. This is a perspective that few, if any of us (other then Biblical scholars) may ever have had the opportunity to experience. This is a testament that speaks the compassion and glory of Jesus (“Jeshua,” in the original Greek, or “Yehoshua” in later Hebrew), without the additional later dogma, church rules, or political layering we’re used to.
Why yet another translation? As literary styles, interpretations and language change – and translations fold into other translations – most of us do not have access to the original texts, generally in Aramaic and Greek. Original translations into English were done fairly recently; Wyclif’s in 1380 and Tyndale’s in 1525, King James in 1611. What of the original languages remains? How is it different from what we now know? We must always take into account that every witness, every testament has been interpreted and filtered. After all, the original accounts of Jesus Christ’s teachings, then passed only orally from generation to generation are also filtered through many hands and accounts. Professor Barnstone explains, “I undertook a new translation of the New Testament to give a chastely modern, literary version of a major world text.” He leaves faith and denominations, polemic and proselytizing aside. We don’t need to be linguists or scholars to appreciate this major contribution to Biblical literature.
This is a large, and thorough book, in addition to the Canonical and Gnostic Gospels, Barnstone categorizes the “Letters of Shaul/Saul/Paul,” the “Letters Attributed to Shaul/Saul/Paul,” “Three Late Pastoral Letters Attributed to Shaul/Saul/Paul,” “General Letters,” “Shimonian Letters,” “An Apocalyptic Letter,” “Anonymous, Acts” and “Apocalypse.” It’s a whole new collection. The author carefully explains his multifaceted reasons, stemming from the fact the Jesus was Jewish, to this being a new take on the Hebrew Bible, Anti-Judiasm, Evangelism and Apologetics. It’s clear the author(s) expected controversy, and headed it off at the first pass. This allows us to get right to the text.
I find these new, old translations fascinating, if only for the variety of such familiar Biblical proper nouns: “How Yeshua be Yosef Became Yeshua the Mashiah and Jesus the Christ,” and in the glossary, “God the Father” is Abba, Adonai, Yhwh, Yhvh, Jahweh, Jahveh, Jehovah, God or Lord. There is much more, however.
“The Restored New Testament” is a book to own, as a reference, and as a way to return to history, original meaning, and to gain a new understanding of the most important book we have ever known. I will look to it again and again my whole life long.