Scholar, 81, spent years helping to revise version of Bible

April 12, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

M. Lucetta Mowry had a part in a book read by millions. She translated and edited the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Dr. Mowry, a resident of Fairhaven in Sykesville who holds a doctorate in biblical studies, worked 16 years on the edition, which was published in 1990.

What she calls "the Bible most scholars refer to today and the one read from most pulpits on Sunday mornings" is the version Dr. Mowry and the all-volunteer New Testament Translation Committee labored over for years.

Throughout her 81 years, she has revered the book whose pages formed the basis for her life's work.

"Imagine what we would do without the giants who wrote the Bible," she said. "We would be poverty stricken."

A professor emeritus of religion at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she is still teaching Bible lessons. She leads a weekly discussion for fellow residents of her South Carroll retirement community.

Weakened eyesight makes reading the passages difficult for her, but that does not deter her spirited commentary. Years spent translating and editing have filled her memory with biblical passages.

For Dr. Mowry, the work on the new biblical edition was a labor of love, she said.

Fluent in Greek, Hebrew and several ancient languages, she joined the committee while still on the Wellesley faculty.

Committee members, commissioned by the National Council of Churches, worked from Greek texts provided by the United Bible Society, which had reviewed 5,000 Greek manuscripts and second- and fifth-century documents at the Vatican and British Library.

Committee members kept in touch with one another by mail. Each scholar could read and make notations on the entire body of work. The annual meetings lasted a full week, as members identified and discussed areas of disagreement and resolved conflicts by majority vote.

"The demanding work required intellectual stamina," Dr. Mowry said.

Eventually, the committee linked up through computers and also tape-recorded the revisions.

"Then, we could see how the changes looked in the text itself," she said. Hearing the revisions helped the committee eliminate phrases that grated on the ear. "We didn't catch them all, but as many as possible. As far as I know, there are no 'you whos.' "

She was one of two committee members chosen to edit the completed translations.

"Consistency was important because the translations took place over such a long period of time," she said. "Keeping the translations faithful to the original texts yet compatible with 20th-century English was a little like tedious house cleaning."

Dr. Mowry sees a renewed interest in all things biblical, as evidenced in three study groups at Fairhaven.

"People are wondering if the past materialism is giving them the right answers," she said.

Her background makes her an ideal discussion leader.

Born in Korea, the child of Presbyterian missionaries, she grew up surrounded by the traditions of Eastern religions. She came to the United States to study and graduated from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., during the Great Depression.

"There wasn't much to do but go on and study more," she said with a laugh.

In the 1930s, women interested in religious studies had few opportunities. Only two universities offered her the chance to work for a doctorate in her field. She was the only woman enrolled at Yale Divinity School studying for the ministry.

Dr. Mowry said that even if she had lived in today's climate that encourages women to seek ordination, she still would have chosen a career in education.

"I always wanted to teach," she said.

Many former students consider her a pioneer in the field, she said. Last week, she led a class through a discussion of two New Testament chapters.

"If our discussion takes us into next year, so be it," she said amid the laughter of her 18 students, all residents of the retirement community. "We are not going to rush."

The class reads along and takes notes, as Dr. Mowry traces the foundation for religious movements to biblical events.

"But to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

"Don't forget that verse," she said. "It is the nitty-gritty of outreach ministries today and shows our sacrifices are pleasing to God."

Humor and her personal observations often punctuate the talks.

"This passage turns toward a positive note rather quickly," she said of Hebrews 12 and 13. "The writer was probably running out of space on the papyrus scroll."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.