Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ben Irwin asks an intriguing question.  Might modern Biblical illiteracy be explained by the fact that there aretoo many Bibles out there?

At synagogues in and around Galilee, young Jewish children would memorize large chunks of scripture. We’re not talking about your average memory verse; we’re talking whole books. In truly exceptional cases, a student might memorize the entire Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Each Sabbath, the community would gather for worship. They would celebrate as whatever scroll they had in their possession was carefully unfurled to show everyone that the words were still on the page. God was still speaking to them.

They had nothing like our access to the Bible. No one dreamed of owning his own personal copy of the scriptures. Most rural synagogues were lucky to have one or two scrolls, and whatever they did have was likely shared on a rotating basis with other nearby synagogues.
Yet they loved the text. They couldn’t get enough of it — literally.

Irwin goes on to list four types of Bibles (not translations) that are particular problems, one of which is thehaute coutre Bible.

Then, a little more than 10 years ago, Bible designers started playing with new materials and color combinations. Many of the designs they produced were stunning. Suddenly, people didn’t mind being seen in public with their Bibles.

Before long, there were more bindings, styles, and color choices than you could shake a stick at. The whole process of designing a Bible began to look more and more like something out of the fashion industry. There were even seasonal Bibles — a spring line and an autumn line.
The result? The Bible became yet another accessory, one you could color coordinate with your outfit, if you liked. But the thing about accessories is that they’re…well, accessories. They’re add-ons. Attachments. They’re not the sorts of thing you reorient your whole life around, which is what the Bible calls its readers to do.

Another of which is the choose-your-own-Scriptures Bible.

Factor in the ongoing digital disruption, and we’re rapidly coming to a point where you’ll be able to create your own customized version of the Bible — something one technology expert aptly dubbed the Franken-Bible.

Don’t like the translators’ choice of wording? Swap it out for an alternate rendering in the footnotes. Or mix and match from all your favorite translations. You don’t even have to know Greek.

Celebrity pastors could make their own Bible versions with the push of a button and market them to their followers. Imagine that. Echo chambers everywhere, each equipped with their own Bible, tailored to their own distinctive theology.

Despite all these changes, Irwin is still hopeful.

It’s not too late to chart another course. It’s not too late to remember that while the Bible was given for us, that doesn’t make it ours to tailor as we see fit. Scripture, as it turns out, is not that interested in catering to my personal “felt needs.”

It’s not too late to remember that the Bible is not just another commodity — that the whole point of owning and reading the Bible is not so I can fit bits and pieces of it into my life, but so I can fit my life into its story.

I think Irwin’s thesis has a lot going for it.  If I’m in the market for a Bible, how seriously should I take the Unemployed Librarian Blogger’s Bible if I see it at the store?  And if you buy a Bible because it goes with one of your outfits, you’re eventually going to start treating the Word of God as the fashion accessory you consider it to be.  Nothing more.

No comments: