Sunday 27 September 2015

The Cassirer New Testament

This is the first in a series on obscure Bible translations. I've restricted the candidates to those I've been able to personally acquire and examine. 

Heinz W. Cassirer. God's New Covenant: A New Testament Translation. Eerdmans, 1989.

Heinz Cassirer was the son of a famous German philosopher. But Heinz was no slouch himself, a Cambridge University lecturer (later Glasgow University) and like his father Ernst an authority on Immanuel Kant. Raised a secular Jew, he embraced Anglican Christianity after studying the letters of Paul. His obsessive interest in the New Testament resulted in a translation which was published posthumously in 1989 and was endorsed by both F. F. Bruce and Thomas F. Torrance.

Cassirer's translation aimed to bring a Jewish perspective to the New Testament using contemporary but formal English. Here's his translation of Matthew 7:15-20.
Be on your guard against false prophets, those who come to you dressed up as sheep while inwardly they are rapacious wolves. By the fruit which they bring forth you will be able to recognize them. Do people gather grapes from a thornbush, or figs from thistles? By no means. In the same way every healthy tree yields good fruit, while a decayed tree yields worthless fruit. It is impossible that a healthy tree should bear worthless fruit, just as it is impossible that a decayed tree should bear good fruit. Every tree failing to yield good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire. Well then, by the fruit which they bring forth you will be able to recognize them.
There are some further sample verses online. After Cassirer's death the manuscript was prepared for publication by his colleague Ronald Weitzman. In the introduction Weitzman wrote: "There is no denominational bias, no ulterior motive, to sway the integrity of this translation, which must be allowed to speak for itself. The classicist and philosopher approached these texts with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder, eager to find out for himself exactly what they were saying." Allowing for a certain fulsomeness that you expect in this kind of introduction, it still rings true. Remarkably, Cassirer only began reading the Bible at age 49.

For those interested in Bible trivia, a distinctive flaw occurs in Luke 11:32 which reads that the people of Nineveh "were not led to repentance". The word 'not' is of course an error that neither Cassirer nor Weitzman spotted in time.

I'd argue that this is a much more interesting choice than, say, N. T. Wright's recent NT offering. This version does what all good translations should do; roll off the tongue well when read aloud. Regrettably God's New Covenant apparently never went beyond its first edition, so securing a second hand copy is now the only option available.


  1. Jewish convert Cassirer couldn't have been too happy with Christianity's rising anti-Semitism, already evident in the NT canon.

    1. What anti semitism in the Greek Bible? That is are aware that most of the NT was written by Jews?

  2. I find great acceptance of this translation in public out-readings in NYC. It sings! How Cassirer achieved the grasp of English idioms as a non-English-born speaker shows a considerable skill, as well as the skill that makes this translation unique--understanding of Aramaic/Hebrew idioms and thought-forms which he does into beautiful English.