New Century Edition: Where We Are and Where We’re Going

By Jonathan S. Rose, NCE Series Editor

I often get questions about where the New Century Edition stands in its journey toward publication. For those who might not be familiar with this endeavor, the New Century Edition of the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg is a wholly unique project undertaken to translate the published theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg from Neo-Latin into English. 

To explain why it’s so unique, I want to take what might seem to be a tangent and talk about fractals. There is a particular fractal known as the Mandelbrot set, which you may have seen. No matter how much you delve down into the tiniest details of the pattern, you find an intricate pattern that repeats infinitely.

The complexity of it is astounding, and yet all that complexity derives from a simple, one-line formula.

So how does that relate to the NCE? One of the most astounding things that I have ever witnessed is the birth and development of the NCE from a tiny mustard seed to a thriving, complex tree. It started with a shared vision and has become incredibly detailed and specific: there are many policies and checklists and documents about our approach and guidelines, and each volume includes no less than sixteen parts, including extensive annotations, indexes, and reference tables. And yet how we got here was through a very simple formula:

The needs of new readers are primary.

That’s it. That simple formula explains every single thing in the NCE. For example: 

Why don’t we use abbreviations for Swedenborg’s works when everyone else always has? Oh, well, new readers don’t know what they mean. 

Why does our translation read differently and use different terminology than the older volumes? Because we can’t presume that new readers will understand the very specialized ways in which past translators have used certain terms. We need to use English words in their accepted meanings, or annotate them if the usage is a departure from what you can find in a standard dictionary. 

We try to comment on problematic material in order to help the new reader navigate some challenging statements. We want to convey to new readers the tone and style of what is being said; and to let them know when there are counterbalancing statements that might be useful to take into account in understanding the present passage. For instance, Swedenborg says in one place that angels don’t fly in the air. Well, you could take that to mean that they don’t fly, period. But new readers won’t know that there are other passages that say they do fly, so the note explains that they don’t fly in the physical air. They fly in the spiritual atmosphere where they live.

Like the Mandelbrot set, I too could go on and on and on! But I thought it might be helpful for you to see the simple formula behind all the complexity of the New Century Edition. That right there is how we got to where we are. 

A Major Milestone

On Tuesday, September 17, the NCE hit the most major milestone we have ever achieved. Lisa Hyatt Cooper finished translating Secrets of Heaven! With her completion of that long task, all of Swedenborg’s published theological works have now been translated under NCE guidelines. 

Broadly speaking, there are three main tasks involved in creating an NCE volume: translation, editing and annotating, and production. The first of these three is now complete for all volumes! There is much work still to be done to finish the other two processes, but this is the biggest milestone we have reached in the project so far. 

As for Lisa’s accomplishment, she started preparatory work in 1997 and started translating Secrets of Heaven in earnest in 1998, over twenty years ago. Secrets of Heaven constitutes 62.5 percent of Swedenborg’s published theological works, so she has had far more translating to do than all the rest of us put together. Before translating for the NCE, she was the Latin consultant (and American reader) on the latter half of John Elliott’s translation of Arcana Coelestia (the same work), for the Swedenborg Society in London; John is the only other person alive today who has done what Lisa has done, and Lisa is the only woman in history to have done so. 

I should not let this moment pass without mentioning Chara Cooper Daum, who was the only person on the planet we could persuade to be Lisa’s Latin consultant for any length of time; she began working with Lisa on chapter 2, did parts of chapter 3, and the two of them continued to work together through the end of volume 15. This duo has accomplished amazing things together. 

The very last Bible chapter in Secrets of Heaven is Exodus 40. It’s about Moses assembling the tabernacle, the “meeting tent.” Lisa was surprised by the emotion that suddenly took hold of her when she translated a particular phrase at the end of verse 33 of that last chapter. It reads, “And Moses finished the work.” 

She found herself continuing to feel emotional as she translated the next two verses as well: “And the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of Jehovah filled the dwelling place, and Moses could not go into the meeting tent, because the cloud was staying above it and the glory of Jehovah filled the dwelling place.” 

Her hope and prayer is something I’m sure we all share—that the glory of the Lord will come down and fill the text that she has now finished.

Preparing for the Future

As we look into the future, our hope is to create a new engine to carry out the vision of the New Century Edition. The published theological works were never intended to be the entirety of the NCE; from the start we envisioned further phases that would include unpublished theological works like the one traditionally titled Apocalypse Explained, or Spiritual Experiences (also published as Spiritual Diary). This future NCE will not only include theological writings, but scientific writings and correspondence as well. 

At the same time, even as we translate, the world is changing. New electronic formats have arisen, requiring us to detour to adapt our existing text into different media. The remarkable success of the offTheLeftEye YouTube channel has given us an opportunity to introduce Swedenborg’s writings to a whole new audience, but it’s also made us think differently about the process of translation as we’ve had to translate text outside of our normal routine in order to adapt to production schedules. 

We’ve come to the realization that translation is not something with a beginning, middle, and end; it’s an ongoing process, one that can never be truly finished if we want to keep Swedenborg’s words fresh and accessible for a changing society. 

With that in mind, we’ve begun the process of transitioning the NCE from a “project”—a once-and-done endeavor—to a program of the Swedenborg, staffed with editors and translators who can take the work that’s already been done and carry it into the future. 

We’ve already begun the process of training this future generation, thanks to generous grants from the Glencairn Foundation and the Asplundh Foundation. This summer, we hired our first-ever translation intern, Shannah Conroy. Shannah had a lot of Latin background before coming to us, and immediately started translating passages for offTheLeftEye and for a reprint of Sig Synnestvedt’s The Essential Swedenborg. She has also shadowed Chara Cooper Daum in her Latin consultation for Lisa Hyatt Cooper’s Secrets of Heaven. We’re planning to continue seeking interns and editors like this, not only to build up our team, but to create a base of future editors and translators who are available to anyone with an interest in Swedenborg publishing. 

Over the years ahead, the New Century Edition project will likely be morphing into something new, but we trust its mission—its simple, successful formula—will remain the same. 

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