The double-dyed villains of the Apocrypha

Posted: 28th November 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

In a previous post, I noted the use of “triple-dyed villain” (NEB) and “double-dyed villain” (REB) to describe the character of Haman in the Greek version of the book of Esther:

We find, however, that the Jews whom this double-dyed villain had consigned to extinction are no evildoers; on the contrary, they order their lives by the most just of laws and are children of the living God, the Most High and Most Mighty, who for us as for our ancestors has maintained the kingdom in excellent order. (REB: Esther 16:15-16)

In my recent reading of 1/2 Maccabees, I’ve run across the idiom again in the description of Nicanor, commander of Demetrius’ army and bitter enemy of Israel:

Thus Nicanor, that double-dyed villain who had brought along the thousand traders to buy the Jewish captives, was with the Lord’s help humiliated by the very people whom he had dismissed as of no consequence. (REB: 2 Maccabees 8:34-35)

And again:

The double-dyed villain retorted, “Is there some ruler in the sky who has ordered the sabbath-day observance?” (REB: 2 Maccabees 15:3)

Interestingly, the NEB also uses the “double-dyed” idiom variant in Maccabees rather than the more hyperbolic “triple-dyed villain” language that was used in Esther. So of the six instances found so far between the NEB and REB, only the NEB passage in Esther uses “triple-dyed”.

That said, while the Jerusalem Bible and New Jerusalem Bible use “archscoundrel” in the passage from Esther, they *do* translate “triple-dyed scoundrel” in both passages from 2 Maccabees.

The complete Jerusalem Bible was first published in 1966; that of the NEB in 1970. It is well established that the initial work on the NEB Apocrypha was dissolved and the project restarted under the guidance of Professor W.D. McHardy, who also led the work on the NEB OT (cf. About the New English Bible by Geoffrey Hunt). Is it possible that there was literary influence from the Jerusalem Bible project into the later phase of the NEB Apocrypha?

I must also comment that I’ve just noticed one of the members of the NEB Apocrypha Panel under McHardy and a translator of such was William Barclay, one of my favorite theological writers – my affection for the NEB just went up another notch or two!

There’s really no conclusive point to this post other than noting a few more instances of this idiom, plus the Jerusalem Bible variant. I just like blowing the dust off literary phrases that we don’t hear today!

  1. Tim says:

    Interesting! I hope you are enjoying your reading through the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha. I decided to take a look at the three passages you noted in the NAB and they all translated the term differently. It is interesting to not that the NAB somewhat follows the JB in Esther, although I am not 100% which translation was completed first. Although the complete NAB was published in 1970, a few years after the JB, the much of the NAB OT was completed a during the late 50’s and 60’s.

    Esther: “But we find that the Jews, how are doomed to extinction by the “arch-criminal”

    2 Macc 8:34: “The accursed Nicanor, who had…..”

    2 Macc 15:3: “”At this the thrice-sinful wretch asked if there was a ruler…”

    You gotta love translations!

  2. If I use the NRSV as my “literal” reference, the original Greek is something along the lines of “thrice-accursed”, so the NAB is actually fairly literal – but there sure is something appealing about using a more colorful idiom as the NEB/REB and N/JB do…

    I’m really appreciating my Oxford “Complete Parallel Bible” (NRSV, REB, NAB, NJB) when it comes to the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals!