This just in — It appears that Darton, Longman & Todd (publishers of The Jerusalem Bible) will be publishing The Book of Jonah, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, on 20 July 2009. I have really mixed feelings about this. It feels like a real stretch, and I would be willing to wager a tidy sum that the text will simply be a word-for-word reprint of the same Book of Jonah that has been available in The Jerusalem Bible for forty years now. On the other hand, it’s convenient to be able to buy a copy of just the one biblical book Tolkien is known to have worked on (instead of the whole JB). And what a nice cover! :)
What do we really know about Tolkien’s translation? Not as much as we’d like to, but some. First of all, Tolkien did not translate Jonah from the original Hebrew as is so commonly supposed ; rather, the text he worked from was a French translation from the Hebrew, so one step removed . It has also been reported that Tolkien translated the Book of Job, but the best evidence we have suggests that Tolkien did no more than look over a draft trans-lation by another hand, and perhaps not even that much . Tolkien also produced a sample translation of the first chapter of Isaiah, but we have no reason to suppose it was used in the preparation of that book for publication.
Finally, and perhaps most troubling in light of this new book, Humphrey Carpenter reports that Tolkien’s translation of Jonah “was extensively revised by other hands before publication” . If Carpenter is correct (and I have no reason to doubt it), and further, if my guess is correct that the text will simply be the same as already in print, then what have we gained by this new publication? How much of the final published translation is even in Tolkien’s own words? Not much, according to Carpenter. And so indeed, where is the value?
Now, on the other hand, were we to get notes, jottings, and drafts of the translation, revealing something of its intermediate stages and giving insights into Tolkien’s approach, along with facsimile pages in Tolkien’s hand and an insightful introductory essay to go along with all of this — well, then I would be delighted to eat my words. The only bit of hope: The Book of Jonah (trans. Tolkien) is supposed to be 104pp., even though the Book of Jonah itself is extremely short (only about three pages in The Jerusalem Bible). But I’m still skeptical at this point. How about the rest of you?
 Scull, Christina, and Wayne G. Hammond. The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, Volume II: Reader’s Guide, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006, p. 468.
 See also Scull & Hammond Reader’s Guide, p. 437ff.
 Kilby, Clyde. Tolkien and the Silmarillion. Wheaton (IL): Harold Shaw Publishers, 1976, p. 54. I suspect this was simply a slip, but one which unfortunately has been taken up and repeated many times. According to Scull and Hammond, “[o]n 26 January 1958 [Jerusalem Bible general editor Alexander] Jones solicited Tolkien’s opinions of a first draft of most of the Book of Job” (Reader’s Guide, p. 437), but that seems to have been the extent of it — at least, so far as anyone can now verify.
 Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977, p. 274.