Random links on the Bible–the past and future of the text

We just ended 2011, the 400th anniversary of the King James Version (officially the Authorized Version) and there continues to be reflection on the translation and on its significance for the English language and on English-speaking Christianity.

An article from The Chronicle offers insight into the translation process and on the translation itself. The great Robert Alter is quoted:

Alter describes the King James Bible as a masterpiece, but a flawed one. “It is not as seamlessly eloquent as everybody remembers it is,” he says. “There are beautiful lines of poetry, and then lines which are clunky, lines which run on to a multiplicity of words and syllables, which is not only unlike the original but pretty much lacking in poetic rhythm. I don’t think they paid much attention to the sound.”

A review in the Washington Post of books by Harold Bloom and David Jeffrey on the text and its significance.

Alan Jacobs writes a provocative essay on the relationship of technology and scripture, from scroll, codex, and printing press, to the use of electronic media. Of the latter he has to say:

Thus the primary way many millions of Christians today encounter Scripture: seated a hundred feet or more from a screen on which they see displayed fifty or so foot-high letters. (Yes, these Christians know that they’re supposed to have their own personal Bibles and study them diligently when at home alone, during their “quiet time.” But how many do so?) When you consider how thoroughly such a presentation decontextualizes whatever part of the Bible it is interested in — how completely it severs its chosen verse or two from its textual surroundings — how radically it occludes any sense of sequence within the whole of the Bible — it becomes, I think, difficult to worry about the pernicious effects of iPads and Kindles. And impossible to see all screens as having the same effects.


And he concludes:

It is the book, largely as it emerged from the early Christian Church’s understanding of its own Scriptures, that has enabled much of the best that has been thought and said in the past fifteen hundred years. And its key virtues can be preserved, and perhaps even extended, in forms other than the paper codex. By contrast, screens that allow only minuscule chunks of text to be displayed at any one time — and that effectively remove from perceptual awareness context, sequence, and narrative — do violence to the book qua book. If Christians forget, or forget more completely than they already have, the integrity and necessary sequentiality of their holy Book, and of the story it tells, that would be a catastrophe for Christianity.

As much as I want to agree with him, my own experience is that I rarely access the text of scripture except in electronic form. He’s right that doing so decontextualizes it, but the ease of access, and of reading is so much better. And that’s not the case only for study or sermon-prep. I also do the daily office primarily on line.

For an example of violence done to the text, see John Shelby Spong’s recent piece.


On the bodily resurrection (and Bishop Spong)

John Shelby Spong will be speaking at First United Methodist in Madison this weekend. The retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, Spong has made a name for himself as a fearless of advocate of what he calls “progressive Christianity” and the need to reinterpret scripture and tradition in light of what he understands to be contemporary modern world-view, dominated by science. He also rails against fundamentalists.

I’ve heard him speak over the years,, had a conversation or two, and read at least one of his books. I don’t find his approach or his conclusions particularly helpful or insightful, although I’ve been told by more than a few people that reading Spong has saved Christianity for them.

As an example of what I find problematic, here’s an essay of his from 2003 on the resurrection. He goes through the New Testament evidence for the resurrection, mentioning Paul’s discussion in the opening verses of I Corinthians 15, and the fact that Mark records no resurrection appearance.  He concludes:

When these biblical data are assembled and examined closely, two things become clear. First something of enormous power gripped the disciples following the crucifixion that transformed their lives. Second, it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world.

In order to make that case, he has to claim that Paul never asserts Jesus was raised on the third day. But that’s nonsense. He does it right there in I Corinthians 15, the text Spong cites in favor of some sort of spiritual vision. True, Paul equates his own experience of the Risen Christ with that of the other disciples; that’s his claim to apostleship, but in order to do that he has to assert that his experience of Christ was the same qualitatively as that of the other disciples as well.

Moreover, Paul is using the fact of Jesus’ Christ bodily resurrection from the dead to defend the belief in the bodily resurrection of all believers. To claim that Paul did not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead is utterly wrong. We may not like that he did, we may have a hard time believing it, but it is crucial to Paul’s theology, crucial to the faith of the writers of the New Testament, to Christians down through the ages to our own day.

The resurrection, whether we like it or not, believe it or not, accept it or not, is crucial to Christianity, because it says something about human being (that we aren’t just disembodied souls, but enfleshed). It is linked to the Incarnation because we believe God became flesh and dwelt among us. If you want to reject the resurrection, you might as well toss the Incarnation out as well. The resurrection is also ultimately linked to Christian notions of the nature of God and of creation itself, that the material world was created good by God and is capable of and included in, redemption.

More about Spong’s visit to Madison here. I won’t be going, but then I won’t be going to hear  N.T. Wright either (Anglican Bishop of Durham, England and a prominent conservative New Testament Scholar). Info on his talk is here.

I will probably go to hear Elaine Pagels, however.  Not that I’m in any closer agreement with her than the other two. Her lecture is both local and free. Info here.