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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Of Biblical Proportions

Lawmakers in Texas have decided against requiring a course on the Bible in the public schools. I've been hearing a lot of these stories lately. Some politician feels that prayer in school will fix all of society's woes, so a thinly-veiled scheme to teach the Bible as cultural history is concocted. The funny thing is, the collected works known as the Bible are a fundamental part of Western culture and really ought to be taught instead of avoided.

In response to the decision, Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network said,

"I think the committee got the message that families and churches don't want the government to tell our children what to believe about the Bible."

This quote embodies the true spirit of the separation of Church and State. It is not to protect Caesar from God, but to protect God from Caesar. Here's why. If you claim you are teaching the Bible as culture, you can't legitimately use the Bible as your textbook because there isn't just one Bible. There has been translation after translation, revision after revision, leading up to what today's Christians know as the one true book. Here is a brief time-line of the translation history brought to us by

Timeline of Bible Translation History

1,400 BC: The first written Word of God: The Ten Commandments delivered to Moses.

500 BC: Completion of All Original Hebrew Manuscripts which make up The 39 Books of the Old Testament.

200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint Greek Manuscripts which contain The 39 Old Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.

1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek Manuscripts which make up The 27 Books of the New Testament.

315 AD: Athenasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, identifies the 27 books of the New Testament which are today recognized as the canon of scripture.

382 AD: Jerome's Latin Vulgate Manuscripts Produced which contain All 80 Books (39 Old Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Test).

500 AD: Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.

600 AD: LATIN was the Only Language Allowed for Scripture.

995 AD: Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of The New Testament Produced.

1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.

1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg's Bible in Latin.

1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.

1522 AD: Martin Luther's German New Testament.

1526 AD: William Tyndale's New Testament; The First New Testament printed in the English Language.

1535 AD: Myles Coverdale's Bible; The First Complete Bible printed in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).

1537 AD: Tyndale-Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible printed in English. Done by John "Thomas Matthew" Rogers (80 Books).

1539 AD: The "Great Bible" Printed; The First English Language Bible Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).

1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).

1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a Revision (80 Books).

1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament (of 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).

1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.

1782 AD: Robert Aitken's Bible; The First English Language Bible (KJV) Printed in America.

1791 AD: Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas Respectively Produce the First Family Bible and First Illustrated Bible Printed in America. Both were King James Versions, with All 80 Books.

1808 AD: Jane Aitken's Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken); The First Bible to be Printed by a Woman.

1833 AD: Noah Webster's Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary, Webster Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.

1841 AD: English Hexapla New Testament; an Early Textual Comparison showing the Greek and 6 Famous English Translations in Parallel Columns.

1846 AD: The Illuminated Bible; The Most Lavishly Illustrated Bible printed in America. A King James Version, with All 80 Books.

1885 AD: The "English Revised Version" Bible; The First Major English Revision of the KJV.

1901 AD: The "American Standard Version"; The First Major American Revision of the KJV.

1971 AD: The "New American Standard Bible" (NASB) is Published as a "Modern and Accurate Word for Word English Translation" of the Bible.

1973 AD: The "New International Version" (NIV) is Published as a "Modern and Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation" of the Bible.

1982 AD: The "New King James Version" (NKJV) is Published as a "Modern English Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James."

2002 AD: The English Standard Version (ESV) is Published as a translation to bridge the gap between the accuracy of the NASB and the readability of the NIV.

That's a lot of copying and recopying. Any child who has played Telephone (Chinese Whispers in the U.K.) or anyone who has tried to talk on a noisy dance floor knows how easily a message is obscured during reproduction. A famous and extremely pertinent example is the translation of the word almah from the original texts to mean "virgin." The word for "virgin" is bethulah. Almah is more properly translated as "maiden." That's seems like a big mistake to me. It turns a poor unwed girl who's gotten in over her head into a miracle. Then there are the deliberately altered portions, those changed by innocent monks "fixing" syntax and by Machiavellian monarchs seeking to sure up their "birth right."

You also have to teach the Torah by design and the Koran for comparison, along with those excluded Gospels like that of Mary Magdelene and Thomas. Nor can you skip the religious history leading up to the Jews. There need be comparisons between Zeus and the Yahweh of Job. The stories of gods like Mythras and Baal, whose creation myths also have them being born of a virgin, must be told alongside that of Jesus of Nazareth. And certainly other works by secular historians would be imperative.

I am an atheist, and believe religion has absolutely no place in public schools. Yet I believe the Bible should be taught in schools, under the conditions I have mentioned. Despite the true believers' claims of divinely inspired scribes channeling the Word of the Lord, the Bible is and always has been a human construct. It is impossible to understand Western Civilization or the current political climate without a firm understanding of it.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

I agree with you completely. Like you, I am an atheist, but we are definitely teaching our son all about religion, including but not limited to Christianity. Our culture is steeped in the Bible, so there are a lot of things that you miss out on if you don't know it. Unfortunately, I think it would be nearly impossible to find enough teachers who could teach a course like that without trying to stuff their own religion down the students' throats.