Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who Possesses the Real Trash Bible?

A certain “pastor” in his latest rant on his website:

goes off on the Qu’uran as he presents an image of it in a toilet bowl. (One wonders how and where this guy collects these images. While he accuses atheists of running websites tantamount to “smut”- his site actually proves that his material- including assorted degenerate cartoons, comes closest!)

Anyway, he goes off not only on the Qu’uran but the Catholic Revised Standard Edition of the Bible (which has had most of the egregious errors of translation corrected), the Book of Mormon and so on. Meanwhile, he exalts the King James version (KJV) as the one and only standard. But is it?

Let’s examine the claim at some length.

Perhaps the best authority on these issues is former evangelical and current Biblical scholar Prof. Bart D.Ehrman (‘Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why’, 2005).

Ehrman correctly notes that first, no stable extant versions of the bible existed before the invention (by Johann Gutenberg) of the printing press. This invention changed the whole game for the production of books, and for the Bible in particular. Before Gutenberg’s press, transcribers produced different copies of the same text by accidental and intentional variations. There was no standard format because obtaining any particular copy was a matter of the luck of the draw. If you were at the right place, and someone had a specific copy you might get one, otherwise you were out of luck. Thus tens of thousands of differing copies with different errors, translations etc. could make the rounds.

With the Gutenberg printing press all that mess became a thing of the past. By enabling the printing of books with moveable type one could finally guarantee every page of every book produced looked the same as every page of every other book- with no variations in wording. Essentially, what was set in print was set in stone.

The first major work to be so printed was Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible which required six full years to produce (1450-1456). In the next 100 years, some fifty editions of the Vulgate were produced by various printing houses in Europe. Not surprisingly, for well over 1,000 years, scholars throughout Europe had come to believe the Vulgate was THE Bible of the church. (Somewhat analogous to current evangelicals believing the KJV is the “true Bible” and all others are pretenders or forgeries)

Meanwhile, as Ehrman points out (p. 76) the Greek Bible was thought of as “foreign in theology and learning”. Not until the intervention of a Spanish cardinal named Ximenes de Cisneros, was the Greek Septuagint NT melded with the Hebrew Old Testament, and the Latin Vulgate into one multi-volume edition of the Bible. This edition was also published in a variety of languages. The final edition was ready by 1517, but didn’t actually appear until 1520 since (as a Catholic version) Pope Leo X had to permit it. Distribution finally occurred ca. 1522.

Where does the KJV fit into this picture? It seems that as Ehrman notes (based on his extensive research) the King James is almost entirely based on assorted "scholars" transcribing or translating the wrong text. (op. cit., p. 209). As Ehrman notes (ibid)

The King James version is filled with places in which the translators rendered a Greek text derived ultimately from Erasmus’ edition, which was based on a single twelfth century manuscript that is one of the worst that we now have available to us!”

This is also confirmed by other biblical textual scholars, including Geza Vermes (‘The Authentic Gospel of Jesus’, and James Allegro, John Dominic Crossan)

Ehrman goes on to observe that it’s little wonder most modern translations (such as the Revised Standard version) differ from the KJV, since the modern translations are based on the correct Latin Vulgate text translations, not the erroneous hodge-podge of Erasmus. Thus, the claim the KJV is “the only divinely inspired work” could only be true if the divinity that did the inspiring couldn’t discern the worst quality of mishmash text from the best. In which case, this isn't a divinity any sane person would wish to follow!

Well, maybe “he” was blind?

As Prof. Ehrman goes on ibid;.)

“The King James was not given by God -but was a translation by a group of scholars in the early seventeenth century who based their rendition on a faulty Greek text. Later translators based their translations on Greek texts that were better…but not perfect”

But beyond this, Ehrman’s key point (much as Oxford scholar Geza Vermes) is that all the differing versions have been changed in ways large and small – including: the New International Version, the Revised standard version, the New King James, the Jerusalem Bible, and the Good News Bible.

All therefore bear some level of defect, and the trick is to find one which has the fewest defects or false translations, or mistranslations.

Clue one: the KJV is not that one!

While Prof. Ehrman points out that all modern translations “continue to transmit what is probably not in the original text" (e.g. Mark 1:41, Luke 22: 42-43, and Heb 2:9), the KJV takes the cake in possessing the largest majority of these. The fallout from this is that anyone who consistently quotes from the KJV is quoting and spouting nonsense.

In other words, the KJV comes closest to being a total work of fiction with the least interjection of historical elements or reliable biographical material. It’s fine as an elegant English language work, but much like Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ or ‘Romeo & Juliet’ – fantasy stories. But not to be taken as serious, literal works embodying history or fact.

When I studied the bible in my Loyola University Theology class in the mid-60s, I still recall the opening remarks of our Jesuit Professor- Rev. Junkett:

“Read the King James in your off hours for nice, relaxing entertainment. It’s a great work of literature. But for God’s sake, don’t confuse it with being the word of God. That it surely isn’t!”

I heartily concur!

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