By Jack A. Urquhart ©2012 (1500 words)
Last week I received an e-mail from a stranger—a response to a comment I’d posted at an online publication.
“Beware what you commit to the Internet,” a much more cautious friend is always telling me; “you never know when someone may come looking for you.” And there it was, the proof of his wisdom…blinking from my computer screen.
It all started when I read an online article reporting a southern clergyman’s remarks on the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. Specifically, the cleric had opined (in terms unmistakably toxic) that church members should eschew any political party that supports gay rights. I believe my comment, posted at the web site, went something like this:
It seems inappropriate for a clergy person to be dictating virulently phrased political instructions from the pulpit.
Words to that effect.
A few days later, the aforementioned e-mail arrived; here is the text:
Dear Lost Homosexuol (sic): The Lake of Fire yawns for you! Remember, our savior, Jesus Christ, is the only way to God. Study the KJB! In the end, every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess him to be so.
My immediate response was:
- Says who? followed by
- KJB? What does the former Soviet Union intelligence agency have to do with this?
- And then, the obvious: Why would this person take the trouble to message me?
It took me a while to think it through—to settle on the probable explanations to the questions noted (I can be slow on the uptake):
- First: It’s The Bible, dummy; that’s ‘who says’;
- More specifically, The King James Bible (KJB); [Not the K G B. Duh!]
- And finally: I live in the American South, the land of evangelicalism and religious proselytizing; the land of Biblical inerrancy and ‘our-way-or the Hell-way’—any one of which is sufficient to explain a response from a stranger.
Why be surprised, then?
But I was.
I was surprised because the timing of the unexpected e-mail was so precipitous.
You see, as a matter of curiosity I had lately begun a study of the Bible’s history (an informal, layman’s study, admittedly, and not part of any ‘born again’ epiphany). And my online critic’s e-mail caused that curiosity to crystallize around a question that must have been percolating at the back of my mind. Specifically, I found myself wondering if there were many others here in the South who, like this Baptist boy, had reached adulthood without having acquired—despite decades of Sunday School, not to mention annual stints in vacation Bible School—a historical perspective of the Bible? Had all that Sunday schooling been an education or something else … dare I suggest it—an indoctrination?
So I decided to take some of what I’d gleaned from my Bible studies over the last few weeks, a few pearls of KJB history, and to compose (and no, I don’t mean to imply that I’m casting anything before swine) the following ersatz brain teaser. I decided to put together a little pop quiz for my e-mailing Zealot—not that I’d any intention of forwarding it along.
So, here is my quiz; feel free to test yourself if you’re so inclined.
1. King James I undertook the Biblical translation bearing his name for which one of the following reasons:
a. The previous version of the Bible featured an unattractive font
b. His predecessor and cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, had mandated the project in her will
c. The previous version of the Bible (the Geneva Bible of the Protestant Reformation, circa 1560) included objectionable anti-monarchist notations.
2. The translation of the KJB, undertaken between 1604 and 1611, was the work of:
a. Three angels, working temp status, under a contract executed by His Majesty, King James I, and the Archangel, Michael
b. Eleven Biblical scholars claiming to be Jesus’s original disciples in reincarnated form (Judas was still doing time as a snake).
c. 47 scholars—some of them poorly versed in Greek—working in three teams.
3. The translators of the KJB used which of the following as their source material:
a. An annotated version of the Ten Commandments
b. Illustrated papyri discovered in the Great Pyramid of Khufu
c. Previous Greek translations of the Gospels that were themselves translations of translations from the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts.
4. The italics featured in most versions of the KJB are:
a. Words attributed to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Old Testament Burning Bush
b. A glitch in the typesetting effected in 1611 by employees of Robert Barker, the King’s Printer
c. Portions of the Greek text of the Bible that the translators couldn’t quite decipher (i.e., the translators’ best guess at an English equivalent)
5. How many textual revisions to correct errors and ‘refine’ meaning have been effected to the KJB since 1611?
a. None. The Archangel Michael, acting on behalf of God, certified the translated text ‘inerrant’ in 1611.
b. Only one. Subsequent theologians changed Matthew 1:18, which previously read “Mary was found to be with Child” to yield a word-for-word English translation of the Greek text—the result, “Mary was having it in the belly.”
c. Over 100,000
6. How many Bible verses are commonly cited to condemn homosexuality in the KJB?
a. 365, one for every day of the year
b. 69 (for obvious reasons)
7. How many of those purportedly anti-gay verses were spoken by, or have been attributed to, Jesus?
a. Every single one, fool!
b. Sheeze, such a Doubting Thomas! You are this close to being turned into a pillar of salt!
8. In translating the Greek text into English, the KJB’s translators rendered the word, arsenokoitēs [ἀρσενοκοίτης] as “abusers of themselves with mankind.” What other meanings have been attributed to this word by Bible scholars?
a. Friends of Dorothy
b. Show tune aficionado
c. A perpetrator of incest and/or rape; one who exhibits weakness or effeminacy; a practitioner of prostitution and/or exploitative pederasty
9. Which book(s) [Chapter and Verse] in the KJB purportedly deal with the threat of male-on-male sodomy?
a. Book of Bruce, Chapter 77 verse 99
b. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
c. Genesis 19:1-29 and Judges 19:1-30
10. Two KJB stories deal with hosts who protect their male guests (purportedly) from homosexual gang rape (see 8c above); the stories are God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and the story of the Levite’s concubine. In both stories, how are the male guests protected?
a. The hosts douse the mobs with saltpeter
b. The hosts provide the mobs with farm animals for fun and games (see the Prophecies of Rick Santorum)
c. The hosts satiate the mobs by giving them females from their own family (and wouldn’t that have been passing strange, given the supposed proclivities of the rabble)
11. What became of the Levite’s concubine (see story referenced above)?
a. Her charms and allurements restored the members of the homosexual mob to a state of righteous heterosexuality and she went on to become a renowned sex therapist
b. She abandoned the Levite, became a prophetess in her own right, and went on to write the Book of Judith (the text of which male ecclesiastics subsequently banished to the Apocrypha)
c. She was thrown to the mob, sexually assaulted all night long, and then subsequently chopped into 12 pieces by the Levite (Judges 19:29)
12. True/False: The books of the KJB New Testament are arranged in chronological order.
See answer key below.
So…how did you do?
Okay, lest this little scholastic enterprise seem designed to denigrate the good, the admirable, the worthy life teachings found in the KJB, or any other version of the Bible, I hasten to make clear that that is not my intention.
Rather, I mean to suggest that it is perhaps more appropriate to eschew didacticism, and to consider the tenets of the ‘Good Book’ within their cultural and historical contexts. I mean to suggest that perhaps it is better to spend our time culling the passé from the timelessly relevant, and then applying some old-fashioned common sense to what’s left, before embarking on any life-shaping endeavors (including proselytizing to strangers via the Internet and other venues).
I mean, for goodness sakes—isn’t it obvious that the scriptures have, for centuries, been filtered (countless times) through the fallible minds of translators, scribes, and printers? Isn’t it likely that they have been shaped by the cultural perspectives of numerous civilizations (for example, the ancient near East’s first and second century insistence on male superiority)?
Anyway … that is my conclusion. And, yes, I know that some folks will say—as my e-mail respondent has—that having abandoned the tenet of Biblical inerrancy (not to mention having embraced the dreaded ‘homosexuol (sic) lifestyle’), I am thus a lost soul. But I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure it hasn’t gone missing yet—my soul, that is.
And while I don’t pretend to know the mind of God (Heck! I can’t begin to fathom the enormity of ‘God’), I can’t help thinking that Mind, if ‘mind’ is even an appropriate analogy, is far too grand and too inclusive to have settled on a single path—much less a single inerrant textual road map—as “the only way” home.
That thought (along with the forgoing ‘quiz’ thrown in for fun) is how I might have chosen to answer my e-mailing zealot—had I been inclined to do so.
But who knows? Maybe I just did?
Answer Key, Quiz:
1 – 11: c.
Extra Credit: False.
- Surprising Differences in Bible translations across the world Daniel B. Wallace, Bible.org
- Marcus Borg (“Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” (2001)
- The New Testament scholar Richard Hays (PBS Frontline, What the Bible Says, Assault of Gay America)
KJB Bible passages commonly used to condemn homosexuality:
- Genesis 19:1-29 (God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah)
- Judges 19:1-30 (the rape of the Levite’s concubine)
- Leviticus 18:1-30
- Leviticus 20:1-27
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-17
- 1 Timothy 1:3-13
- Jude 1-25
- Romans 1.