Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bible Study

Along with my regular Agatha Christie reading, I have decided to tackle another literary work that I've long neglected. I'm going to attempt to re-read the Bible. And I think, yeah, I might even blog about it a bit. Though probably not regularly.

Now that I've lost half my readers, I'd like to tell the remaining two or three of you what I plan to do. I'm going to take my old High School Bible, an LDS King James Version, and read it daily while doing a handful of on-line research. I find it of great interest how much the King James Version of the Bible and Shakespeare both affected English literature... I did graduate with a degree in English, after all. I'll blog any particular thoughts I have about what I'm reading (but not daily). From my own perspective, without any goal. I don't want to convert anyone to my beliefs (which aren't exactly settled at the moment anyway) and I don't want to find any "true" meaning of the text, except in regards to how I perceive it. I hope to educate myself a bit and get rid of a few preconceived notions I think I may have. Otherwise, I'm mostly reading it as a work of literature, much like I read Agatha Christie or my comics.

As for my own history with the Bible, well... most of you know or suspect that I grew up in a very religious family. I was taught the Bible from the moment I could read, and continued to read it regularly up until I was in college. I had some slightly intensive study of the Bible for a couple of years in high school, along with regular Sunday readings. I took a Bible-as-literature class in college and enjoyed it greatly, in part because I was so familiar with the source material. I began to despise religion in general when members of the Campus Crusade for Christ started to harass me, and they pretty much drove me into my current non-religious state. I have nothing against the religion I grew up in, although the actions of some prominent members have disturbed me greatly. I tend to think that religion itself is pure, like any philosophy. It's when it is put into practice by flawed humans that it begins to have problems.

Eh, I'm getting off-topic. I'll probably say more as I go along, though, it's hard to get me to shut up once I've started. If you want to avoid these posts, I'll be sure to put "Bible" somewhere in the title of the post, and one of the labels will always be "Bible" as well.

For my first post, I want to talk about the Introduction to the King James Version. This translation was made by 47 scholars under the orders of King James I of England. The effort was started in 1604 and ended in 1611 with the publication of the first edition. The edition I have is very different from that first edition, as the language itself has changed immensely over those 400 years. To get an idea of the rocky history of this version of the Bible, read Wikipedia and follow some of the citations. While I was raised with the belief that this version is the most correct of all English translations, looking at the history of the book throws that claim into doubt... along with every other English translation!

But I digress... the introduction itself is printed in the version I have, and can be read here, starting with "TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE JAMES..." and ending just before "THE TRANSLATORS TO THE READER". I admit that I'm always delighted when I read this. The obvious toadying to the King is fun, and the intro also manages to put the whole book into historical context with the Church of England. My book does not include the reader introduction, which I've just read now, and really enjoyed as well. What can I say, I'm a history buff. It's fascinating how all of this fits into the history of England as well as the history of Christianity itself. I love this bit:

Thus not only as oft as we speak, as one saith, but also as oft as we do anything of note or consequence, we subject ourselves to everyone's censure, and happy is he that is least tossed upon tongues; for utterly to escape the snatch of them it is impossible.
It seems they knew their translation would not be popular, and were forestalling the reader from criticizing them by pointing out that everyone gets criticized, even the best of humanity! And this bit gives me chills, being a child of America and the concept of dividing Church from State:
It doth certainly belong unto Kings, yea, it doth specially belong unto them, to have care of Religion, ...yea, to know it aright, yea, to profess it zealously, yea to promote it to the uttermost of their power.
This had to be an argument against Papacy, which was the enemy of the Church of England. Another little fascinating historical bit. The intro goes on to say that the Bible is full of the word of God, and that no man can be complete without it. Then it explains that a translation is needed because of that... you can't expect everyone to learn another language to study the scriptures. Then they describe the historical translations of the Old Testament into Greek and Latin, and how they are flawed. They then give a history of translations into "vulgar" languages to prove that they aren't doing something blasphemous, as if it's been done so many times before it must be ok to do it again! Then there's a quick slam against the Church of Rome not allowing unauthorized translations, and an answer to critics who ask why the previous English translations aren't good enough. Another long section goes into the validity of translations of a Holy Work, with tons of metaphors. They even admit they are going on too long:
But we weary the unlearned, who need not know so much, and trouble the learned, who know it already.
Next they cover the need for changes between translations by pointing out all the different Catholic versions of the Bible. Then they describe what they translated from (the "original" Hebrew and Greek) and how long it took them compared to other versions (a LOT longer: "twice seven times seventy two days and more"). They also explain why their margin notes do not explain the text, like previous versions of the Bible did, and admit to using different words that mean the same in English to vary the text in places. Then they finish with this:
Many other things we might give thee warning of (gentle Reader) if we had not exceeded the measure of a Preface already.
Uh, no kidding? That was one LONG introduction, and yet it was probably necessary for this particular version of the Bible.

Well, that was fun. Next time, I'll actually start to read the text of the Bible.