“The Age of the Bible”

H/T: The New Yorker (here)

An American King: Noah Webster’s Holy Bible

Posted by Jill Lepore

“There was once a man whose name was Job, who feared God and eschewethéd evil. And there were borne unto him seven sons and three daughters. And his substance was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses. Then Satan said, Doth Job fear God for naught? And the Lord said: Doest thy worst. And behold, Satan slew all of Job’s animals, and every of his sons, and each of his daughters. And then he smote Job with boils, from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And Job rent his mantle and said, “Let the day perish, wherein I was born.”

Or so, more or less, saith the King James Bible, until Noah Webster undertooketh a revision. The King James was first printed in 1611, just when the English began crossing the Atlantic. They brought their bibles with them. Because the Crown held the copyright, it was illegal to print an English Bible in North America. But when the Continental Congress banned British imports in 1775, that ban included bibles so, even before the Revolution was over, Americans started printing them. “I tell you this is the very season and age of the Bible,” Mason Weems wrote in 1801. But Webster considered the King James ungrammatical, obsolete, and filthy. He also thought Americans didn’t need any king’s bible; they needed their own translation: an American bible. For a while, he thought Americans even needed their own alphabet. He’d published his American spelling book in 1783. In 1800, he declared his intention to compile a “Dictionary of the American Language,” a monumental work that took him a quarter century (and which I wrote about for this magazine in 2006). In 1829, the American Bible Society announced its plan to put a King James by every hearth. Webster found that horrifying, and set to work undertaking a his own revision, explaining, “I consider this emendation of the common version as the most important enterprise of my life.”

Webster’s “Holy Bible … with Amendments of the Language” appeared in 1833. In it, Job no longer eschews evil; he shuns it. “Shun seems to be a more correct word,” the grammarian explained. Also, no one is borne unto Job but is instead borne to him: “The first syllable un adds nothing to the signification or force of to, but by increasing the number of unimportant syllables, rather impairs the strength of the whole clause or sentenced in which it occurs.” Do to other prepositions as you would do to unto. Wherein, therein, whereon, thereon: “inelegant.” Eschew them. Then, too, think of the savings: by slaying the un in every unto, Webster spared the reader thirty-four pages of close-set type. Except that, in Webster’s, thou shalt not slay. Nor slew. Thou shalt kill. You can spit in Webster but you can’t spew; you can only vomit. And, while we’re at it, you can’t plague anyone, although I believe it’s possible to afflict them, if you really muck up their holy books.

There is a great deal of sucking in King James. (It was often said, in the seventeenth century, that the good book itself “gave suck.” “Milk for Babes, Drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments” was the title of a popular catechism.) Not in Webster’s. Job was “nursed.” Other infants are “nourished.” Men have no stones in Webster, and women no teats. Maybe that’s part of why there is no fornication; there is only lewdness, and not much of that, either, because no one has legs, for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve have naught but limbs. In Isaiah 36:12, a favorite passage of schoolboys, there are men who “eate their owne dongue and drinke their owne pisse”; Webster has them “devour their vilest excretions.” (If there had been snot in the scriptures, Webster would have made it mucous.) When Jesus has been dead for four days, in the King James (John 11:39), “he stinketh.” In Webster, “his body is offensive.” Webster explained this kind of thing this way: “Language which cannot be uttered in company without a violation of decorum or the rules of good breeding exposes the scriptures to the scoffs of unbelievers, impairs their authority, and multiplies or confirms the enemies of our holy religion.” He had very little faith in his fellow men.

The King James is four centuries old this year, an occasion for tributes and conferences and exhibits. No one remembers Webster’s. The King James has made many a reader swoon; Webster’s, not a one. Consider the carnal beauty of the twenty-second psalm: “I was cast upon thee from the wombe: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” Webster, who slew mothers the way knights slew dragons, re-wrote this as: “I was cast upon thee from my birth: thou art my God from the time I was born.” In King James, Job curses the very light “Because it shut up not the doores of my mother’s wombe, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.” In Webster’s, Job regrets that light prevented not his birth. In the King James, Job asks, “Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the bellie?” In Webster’s, there are no bellies. And give up the ghost: that’s pagan. Instead, Webster’s Job asks, “Why did I not expire at the time of my birth?” It’s got the syntax of a question on a form prepared by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Webster began revising the King James when he was threescore and ten, or what he preferred to call seventy. (“It appears to me most eligible to retain but one mode of specifying numbers.”) Abraham Lincoln, born in 1809, sucked the King James, and good thing. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” If Lincoln had been weaned on Webster, the Gettysburg Address would have stinkethéd.

Dusty Shelves

H/T: Christ is in our midst (here)

“The prophets wrote books, then came our Fathers who put them into practice. Those who came after them learnt them by heart. Then came the present generation, who place them on shelves without using them.”

~4th century saying, Desert Fathers

An Honest Mistake

The Pseudo-Polymath had a link on his Monday post (here) about an incident which at first sight might sound too exaggerated to be real. The link actually takes you to the story posted on Jihad Watch (here) about a girl Faryal Bhatti…

“….a student at the Sir Syed Girls High School in Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) colony Havelian, erroneously misspelt a word in an Urdu exam while answering a question on a poem written in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The word in question was ‘laanat’ instead of ‘naat’ – an easy error for a child to make, as the written versions of the words are similar.

According to the school administration and religious leaders who took great exception to the hapless student’s mistake, the error is ‘serious’ enough to fall within the realm of blasphemy, Saturday.

The clarification is made in the comments regarding her mistake:

Lanat or La3an, the word العن literally means in English ‘anathematize’ (.ie: a ban or curse solemnly pronounced by ecclesiastical authority and accompanied by excommunication; this is the closest meaning in English) or more commonly ‘curse’. When someone makes the du3aa of La3an upon a person, they are essentially asking Allah (swt) to withdraw His mercy from that person/people and give them punishment for their evil actions.

Whereas Naat means praise in Urdu (it’s hamd in arabic) and is found in sentances about Muhammad.

praise and extolling of Prophet Muhammad

It’s funny, as one commenter rightfully noted, something like this would have ended up on Children Say the Darnest Things in our Western Christian culture but instead has turned into a witch hunt after this little girl.

The Cross is our Victory

On today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we commemorate with a strict fast two events related to the Holy Cross. First, we prayerfully and liturgically remember its discovery in Jerusalem by the empress Helen. Once it was found her son, the emperor Constantine, ordered that a church be built on the spot it was discovered.  On the following day, September 14 (27 according to the Old Calendar) a festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross established.  Secondly, we remember today the Cross’s return to Jerusalem after being captured by the Persians. It was held in captivity for fourteen years until the emperor Heraclius defeated the Persian emperor Khozroes II and concluded peace with this son Syroes and the Cross was returned to the Christians.

The empress Helen was declining in years at the time she was sent by her son to find the True Cross. And finding it was no easy task. For a long time her search was very unsuccessful. But then she was directed to a certain elderly Hebrew named Jude who told her that the Cross was buried where the temple of Venus stood. The pagan temple was demolished at once and after some search they discovered the Tomb of the Lord and not far from it three crosses. The board with the inscription ordered by Pilate was also found but not attached so they had to discern on which of the three crosses was was the Savior crucified.  And in order to be certain which one was the True Cross the patriarch alternately touched the crosses to a corpse. When the Cross of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross was found.

You know, the Cross was hidden under a pagan temple for quite some time. About 300 years. And when someone finally set out to search for it God didn’t reward them with a quick find – St. Helen had quite a search.  Ironically, even though this feast owes a great amount to her she didn’t survive until the consecration of the new church in honor of Christ’s Resurrection and that first Exaltation in 335, she died in 327.

The message of the Cross is victory but not our victory.  Yet, paradoxically it is only when we accept it as God’s victory that we see just how much it is not only ours but our only true victory.

A Friend In Need

H/T: Serbian Orthodox Church Western Diocese website (here)

From St. Ambrose (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series Vol. X; Eerdmans pg. 88):

“Do not desert a friend in time of need, nor forsake him nor fail him, for friendship is the support of life. Let us then bear our burdens as the Apostle has taught (cf. Gal. 6:2): for he spoke to those whom the charity of the same one body had embraced together. If friends in prosperity help friends, why do they not also in times of adversity offer their support? Let us aid by giving counsel, let us offer our best endeavors, let us sympathize with them with all our heart.”