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Thursday, January 25, 2007

'Every Bible is the flawed work of human hands.'

Anthony Grafton reviews "In the Beginning," an exhibition of ancient Bibles at the Smithsonian that ended a few weeks ago, and its companion book, In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000, for the New Republic. His essay offers a good summary of what the history of the Bible reveals:

The Bible, in some general sense, may well be the Word of God. That is not a scholarly question. But the materials collected in this show and in its book make clear, beyond any possibility of mistake or confusion, that no single Bible in any language represents that Word without error or impurity. Every Bible we have — in Armenian or Latin, Greek or Hebrew — is the flawed work of human hands. Every one of them derives from beautiful but imperfect handwritten books like those displayed here, many of which, perhaps most, omit verses and texts that a modern American would normally expect to find. Only by reading each version — sometimes, each of the many versions of a version — in context can we see what they meant to their creators. . . .

The only reason to believe that a particular Christian (or Hebrew) Bible represents the Truth is that it supports beliefs drawn from other sources of conviction. To say this is not to attack religion or to say anything against the power and the glory of the Bible. On the contrary, it is to appreciate more fully how much the Bible meant to the men and women — Jewish and Christian, Eastern and Western — who first wrote its books, and their successors through the centuries, who read them and reproduced them with a care and an artistry that are foreign to our own civilization.

(Anthony Grafton, "Getting the Word out," New Republic 1.22.07, reg req'd)

Related: Back in 2002, I wrote a post on why Unitarian Universalists ought to take the Bible more seriously. See also John Buehrens's essay, "Why bother with the Bible?" (UU World, July/August 2003).

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 25 January 2007 at 8:01 AM

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h sofia:

January 26, 2007 02:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

Interesting! A few weeks ago I attended a service at Rainier Valley UU Church in Seattle and the preacher was a translator who spoke about the myriad of Biblical translations. He pointed out how translators bring pieces of themselves into their work.

Even though I'm not a Christian, I think people are missing out on a great opportunity when they fail to see the Bible as a living document, and insist (based on what evidence?) that it is fixed.


January 26, 2007 03:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

I discussed something very similar on my blog recently.

I am currently reading Misquoting Jesus which discusses this very thing.

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