Monday, November 26, 2012

Condensed Bible(s)

This advertisement appeared in Sunday's NY Times book review (and in many other places I'm sure). Roy Peter Clarke explains the origin of the project:


Gene Patterson, an extraordinary writer and editor, decided to undertake one final, audacious act. On a laptop from his sickbed, he created a streamlined version of the King James Bible. It turns out that even Moses needed an editor.
The Old Testament was just too long, concluded this famous son of the South, too discursive, too beside the point. There were great stories in the Bible, some of the greatest ever told. But it was too hard to get at them and to see the connections. It was as if the human authors of Scriptures, however inspired by God, had found a fertile meadow and planted a patch of kudzu.
"A lot of people want to come in the house," Patterson said of potential readers and believers, "but they can't get up the steps."


Now Gene Patterson has done some extraordinary things with words in his life. He was a columnist and editor for the Atlanta Constitution in the 60's at a time when newspapers hired writers who were also editors. he got up every day and wrote a column.


The influence of Patterson's columns became legendary. Written during the classic period of the Civil Rights movement, Gene worked to convince his fellow white Southerners that they were wrong on matters of race, and that the sky would not fall if they changed. His column in 1963 on the Birmingham church bombing, in which four little girls were murdered, was deemed so powerful that Walter Cronkite asked Gene to read it on the CBS Evening News.
"A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham," wrote Patterson. "In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her." Such work earned Patterson a Pulitzer Prize in 1967. 


There are however are some problems with the new condensed edition.  Roy Peter Clarke, friend and colleague of Gene Patterson indicates that the principles by which the editing and condensing was done are idiosyncratic.


Gone are the genealogies, histories, digressions and repetitions that blocked the flow of the narrative. His goal, he says, is to reveal the "thread," a story of salvation that could be read as a book.
The details of editing Scripture are messier and more problematic.
Let's take the Psalms. Psalm numbers 2, 5, 10, 12, 13, and 21 — all gone. Certainly the 23rd Psalm, which hangs on the wall of my bedroom in all its comforting glory, must have survived the knife? Not so. "Walk through the valley of the shadow of death" prevails, but not "thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil." (In an earlier version, Patterson cut "My cup runneth over" — as if to say that nothing will runneth over in this edition — but restored the line in the end.)
In the past there have been other examples of condensed Bibles. But whether we agree or disagree with the work, and whether we have other issues with Bibles that are the result of committee work in previous generations, is editing by means of undisclosed principles the answer? I don't think so. 

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