Friday 13 April 2012

Cover to Smother

Updated April 17.

This is a tale of two very different "chronological Bibles," both coming out of Britain, one currently in print, conservative evangelical, and non-scholarly; the other dating back thirty-seven years, emerging from the Catholic tradition, and based on critical scholarship.

The first is likely to be sitting on the shelves of a Christian bookstore near you, an abomination known as Cover to Cover: Complete.  It's the Bible Jim, but not as we know it.  Some jokers have taken the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, an atrocity in its own right, and rearranged its bits and pieces to reflect that imaginary "grand narrative" so beloved of fundamentalists and old-time Calvinists.  Great bleeding chunks are severed and repositioned according to the fantasies of the editors, with little thought to distinctions of genre, authorship, or probable time of writing.  A dumbed down proof-texting-friendly mish-mash for a dumbed down readership incapable of the mildest critical thought.  This is the kind of Bible resource guaranteed to lower your IQ with no effort needed whatsoever.

For starters (literally!) they begin with John 1:1-2, then Psalm 90:2, before locking in Genesis 1:1.  Isn't that special.  Then, taihoa a mo' mate, it's across to Isaiah 14:12-17 ("Satan cast out of heaven") and a slab of Ezekiel (28:13-19) before resuming in Genesis 1... and then it's only half of verse 2 before flashing back to Isaiah (45:18) and hauling verse 4 of Genesis 2 out.  After all that the "chronology" resumes (briefly!) with Genesis 1:2b-8.

This is apparently based on something called "the Reese chronology." 

How do they justify this?  By marketing it as a 'reading plan'.  The subtlety of that classification is, one suspects, largely lost on the kind of folk who buy it.

Doubtless it's selling well.

If that's enough to make you despair, or consider converting to the Baha'i Faith, then consider first the second publication - dating from that far off year of 1975 - called The Bible In Order.  This is an edition of The Jerusalem Bible in which the text has been arranged according to estimated date of composition, using modern critical scholarship.

The result is fascinating, even after more than 35 years.  With the benefit of hindsight there are judgement calls that might go in another direction today; the commentary provides a much sunnier view of the historicity of the Exodus, for example, than is credible since satellite images of the Sinai have been scrutinized for signs of mass migration.  But overall this is an amazing achievement.  The text begins at Genesis 12 with the stories that set the scene for the Exodus.  The early chapters of Genesis, bolted on to the rest of that book at a later date, appear here after the Solomon narrative in 1 Kings.  The earliest psalms are cautiously identified and printed following the main body of Proverbs (which excludes the first nine chapters).  And so it goes.  You could lose yourself in this thing for weeks on end!  Remarkably, this is the work of one scholar, Joseph Rhymer of Notre Dame College, Glasgow (now St. Andrews College), and proof that, as a rule of thumb, Catholic biblical scholarship - especially as communicated to a lay audience - has much greater credibility than most populist evangelical offerings.

The only place you're likely to find The Bible in Order is a good second hand bookstore (nod here to Evermore Books where I sourced my copy... sorry, the only one in store).  But if you're into third rate rubbish, the shelves at your nearest Christian retailer in Great Britain or other English speaking countries outside the US - this is surprisingly a British imprint - are probably heaving (heaving also being the appropriate reaction when you find one) with Cover to Cover: Complete.

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