Right now I have 8 Christian bibles in my house, and it’s kind of freaking me out because I’m not even Christian. Neil’s one day at the School of Choice convinced me that I should read and introduce the Bible to my son, given that Christian philosophy is the underpinning of Western Civilization, which is something I’m hoping he’ll understand. I figured I’d just go online and buy a bible, but as I discovered, there’s a wide variety of translations and styles to choose from, and if you’re not affliliated with a church, where they’ll just hand you their Bible, picking out which one to use is remarkably hard.
First of all, the bibles I happened to have on hand were out of the question. One is the Bickford family bible, a huge 1847 printing of the King James bible: it’s falling apart, and even rebound is going to be rather frail. The other one, nearly as frail itself, is my mother’s 1941 printing of the Lutheran Bible, in German and in Fraktur script. They’re both heirlooms, not tools, and besides, I can read Cyrillic more easily than I can Fraktur.
Helpfully, our local libraries offered multiple variations on the Bible for me to check out. Peter prefers the King James version, which he swears in what he was raised on, though I suspect (through my Bible style research) that he actually had a Douay-Rheims bible. The style is similar to that of the King James version, but it’s not the same–it’s Catholic. I checked out the King James bible and one bible reknowned for its simpler language and friendlier tone: The Good News Bible.
I liked the Good News Bible a lot. Peter called it “the ‘tard bible,” because it was far too simple a language for his taste. In the Good News Bible, the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden is more simply, a “snake” (they are the same, aren’t they?) and “the Scarlet Woman and the Scarlet Beast” in Revelation, King James version, is just “The Famous Prostitute” in the Good News Bible. Being boys, Peter and Neil got their bible jones on by reading Revelation and Neil laughed at the Good News Bible for turning monsters into fluffy bunnies: it doesn’t, but no one’s going to be quoting the Good News Bible in a horror movie either.
I was sorry to let the Good News Bible go as an option, but my son wasn’t going to be very open to using the ‘tard bible, and while I will be getting a King James bible, I think the archaic language is too abstruse to be used for practical bible study. So I returned to the library and pulled out the New Revised Standard Version and the New Living Translation. The New Revised Standard Version was the worst of all choices, IMHO: garbled and unpoetic. I did like the New Living Translation, because it was clear and authoritative, and best of all, had translator footnotes. I love translator footnotes, and thought it was rather interesting to see the translator had used both Greek and Hebrew sources for the translation, and often had to choose between them. The down side was that the New Living Translation didn’t come in a version that included Apocrypha. True, Apocrypha is fairly insignificant, but I figured if I was going to be investing in a bible, I’d like to have the one with the extra bonus chapters.
Friends were less than useless when it came to solving the dilemma, though I have to confess I only conferred with the non-Christian ones. Much as I love my Christian friends, there’s a side of them that’s always on soul patrol, and asking them for a Bible would be walking right into that. Loretta offered me the indefinite loan of a Torah she happened to have: it’s only the first five books of the Bible, but she thought it could be better because it wouldn’t be all mixed up with that Jesus stuff. I was dubious about that, since I’m still under the impression of a Torah being a huge scroll attached to an inscrutable rabbi. Maureen sardonically recommended formal Catholic catechism. On casual glance it seems like the depth of biblical education I’m hoping for, but I read the fine print, and I’m pretty sure the church expects to get safekeeping of your eternal soul at the end. That’s too expensive for my taste.
My love of footnotes drew me to the study bibles, which is probably the kind of bible I’ll ultimately choose. I have both the Harper Collins Study Bible and the New Oxford Annotated Bible from the library as well. They both use the mediocre New Revised Standard Version as their biblical text, but they have all the extra goodies, plus a whole lot more. There are reproductions of Egyptian tomb illustrations showing fifteenth century B.C.E. slaves, timelines placing the biblical stories into historical context, and maps. And there are lots and lots of footnotes. As is typical for Oxford branded stuff, the footnotes and commentary goes a little overboard in the Oxford Annotated Bible, so I’m leaning towards the Harper Collins Study Bible.
At this point, Peter thinks I’ve taken it all too seriously, because a bible’s a bible, and the King James version will suffice. And the fact is I’m still going to be fuzzy on the philosophy part, no matter which translation I use. But eventually I’m going to have to pick a bible to read to my kids, and having a lot of choices also means having to settle for one.