Editing the Bible

You have to love the pluck and persistence and creativity of the conservative movement. They always give us something to talk about.

Earlier today, I was debating as to whether to write about health care (my most frequent topic these days), or jobs, an incredibly urgent issue there's been some important articles about in the last 48 hours. And I will of course get back to those centrally important topics soon. But before I do, I have to spend a minute focused on my conservative movement friends. I really have to congratulate them on their creativity.

Some folks I know have been surprised at the level of violent and vitriolic rhetoric they have worked themselves into since Obama took office. Bringing assault weapons to Presidential events, while wearing t-shirts referencing quotes about spilling the blood of tyrants? Talking openly about secession and armed rebellion? Saying that giving women the right to vote was a bad idea? Saying that Obama hated white people? It's all been done in recent weeks by movement conservatives, openly, publicly. I haven't been surprised, because as a student of history, and a staffer for Bill Clinton, I have seen all of these rhetorical flourishes before throughout history.

But every once in a while, folks in the conservative movement surprise me and come up with something new. And this one is a doozy. Apparently the folks at Conservapedia are re-translating the Bible to make it fit better with conservative ideology.

According to Conservapedia, there is no "fully conservative translation" which properly meets their guidelines, so the project is much needed. Among other things, they want to:

  • Better explain how certain parables actually promote free market ideology, because apparently the actual language of the Bible doesn't do a very good job of that.

  • Exclude certain, "later-inserted liberal passages." Given that there is a great deal of dispute among Bible scholars over what was original language in the ancient texts and what wasn't, it will be fascinating to see what passages make their list as "later inserted." I have some guesses.
  • Identify pro-liberal terms in existing translations such as "government" and just get rid of them. It's great how you can solve these inconvenient problems so easily.
  • Conversely, of course, identify conservative words and phrases that have been mysteriously omitted from existing translations, and figure out cool ways to stick them into the Bible stories.
  • Some of their examples are fun, too. When Jesus says, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing," they are quite suspicious. That quote only appears once in the Bible, they say, plus it sounds way too liberal - it must be wrong. I guess they'll just define that as "later-inserted." And then there are certain words that just appear way too often, like laborer and labored - apparently, they will just get rid of/re-translate stuff like that, too.

    Now there are no suggestions about what this new translation might do with all those inconvenient references to the poor - feeding them, housing them, justice for them, etc. There are several hundred of those, so you would have a lot of editing to do to get rid of all that, or make it more "free market oriented." And if you just got rid of it entirely by ascribing it all to "later insertions," you would have a noticeably thinner Bible. And all those references to peace-making, the rich having trouble getting into heaven, etc.- all that would have to go, too.

    I find this kind of thing really fun, actually. I really do admire their creativity and pure chutzpah (oh wait, is that too Jewish a word?). And it's a great principle: you find something inconvenient or tricky in a beloved text, just get rid of it. Next up: The Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address.

    My belief system is more complicated than just being a Bible-believing Christian in the traditional sense, but one of my grandpas was a minister, my dad was the lay leader of the Nebraska Conference of the Methodist church, my brother is a minister, and I was raised with, and still have, the values of the social gospel. Conservative Christians have always had a lot of trouble explaining a great many passages of the Bible, so I guess this is their way of getting rid of them. But let me just share a few they will find especially troublesome to translate:

    Ecclesiastics 1-10

    My child, do not refuse the poor a livelihood, do not tantalize the needy. Do not add to the sufferings of the hungry, do not bait anyone in distress. Do not aggravate a heart already angry, nor keep the destitute waiting for your alms.

    Do not repulse a hard-pressed beggar, nor turn your face from the poor. Do not avert your eyes from the needy, give no one occasion to curse you; for if someone curses you in distress, his Maker will give ear to the imprecation. Gain the love of the community in the presence of the great bow your head. To the poor lend an ear, and courteously return the greeting. Save the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor, and do not be mean-spirited in your judgments. Be like a father to the fatherless and as good as a husband to their mothers. And you will be like a child to the Most High, who will love you more than your mother does.

    Psalm 22: 24-26

    I shall proclaim your name to my brothers,
    Praise you in full assembly:
    'You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
    All the race of Jacob, honour him!
    Revere him, all the race of Israel!'

    For he has not despised
    Nor disregarded the poverty of the poor,
    Has not turned away his face,
    But has listened to the cry for help.

    Isaiah 2:4

    Then he will judge between the nations
    And arbitrate between many peoples.
    They will hammer their swords into ploughshares
    And their spears into sickes.
    Nation will not lift sword against nation,
    No longer will they learn how to make war.

    Isaiah 10: 1-4

    Woe to those who enact unjust decrees,
    who compose oppressive legislation
    to deny justice to the weak
    and to cheat the humblest of my people of fair judgment,
    to make widows their prey
    and to rob the orphan.
    What will you do on the day of punishment,
    when disaster comes from far away?
    To whom will you run for help
    And where will you leave your riches.

    Amos 8: 4-7

    Listen to this, you who crush the needy
    And reduce the oppressed to nothing,
    You who say, 'When will New Moon be over'
    So that we can sell our corn,
    And Sabbath, so that we can market our wheat?
    Then we can make the bushel-measure smaller
    And the shekel-weight bigger
    By fraudulently tampering with the scales.
    We can buy up the weak for silver
    And the poor for a pair of sandals,
    And even get a price for the sweepings of the wheat.'
    Yahweh has sworn by the pride of Jacob,
    'Never will I forget anything they have done.'
    Will not the Earth tremble for this.

    Matthew 6:24

    No one can be the slaves of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave of both God and money.

    Matthew 7: 1-5

    Do not judge, and you will not be judged;' because the judgments you give are judgments you will get, and the standard you use will be the standard used for you. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the great log in your own? And how dare you say to your brother, "Let me take that splinter out of your eye," when, look, there is a great log in your own? Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to splinter your brother's eye.

    Matthew 25: 31-46

    When the Son of man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate out people from one another as the shepherd separates sheep from oats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you have me drink, I was a stranger and you gave me welcome, lacking cloths and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me." Then the upright will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did you see the hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking cloths and clothe you? When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?" And the King will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so for as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it tome." Then he will say to those on his left hand, go away from me, with your curse upon you, and to the eternal fire prepared for those for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food, I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink, I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, lacking cloths and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me." Then it will answer, "In truth I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to it to me." And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.

    Luke 1: 46-55

    And Mary said:

    My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
    And my spirit rejoices in God my saviour;
    Because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant.
    Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed,
    For the Almighty has done great things for me.
    Holy is his name,
    And his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.
    He has used the power of his arm,
    He has routed the arrogant of heart.
    He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
    He has filled the starving with good things, sent the right away empty.
    He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love
    according to the promise he made to our ancestors
    Of his mercy to Abraham and his descendents for ever.

    Luke 4: 18-19

    The spirit of the Lord is on me
    For he has anointed me
    To bring the good news to the afflicted.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
    Sight to the blind,
    To let the oppressed go free,
    To proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

    James 2: 1-9

    From James, servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings 'to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion.'

    My brothers, consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you, for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.

    Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously and without scolding; it will be given. But the prayer must be made with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea by the buffeting of the wind. That sort of person, in two minds, inconsistent in every activity, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

    Now this is a blog post, not a book, so the words above represent a very slim selection of all the passages conservatives are going to have to either delete as "later-inserted", or figure out how to make more "free-market friendly." There are plenty more I could mention.

    Amy Sullivan in The Week suggests that the whole project is so absurd, so laughable that it might as well be a hoax. Maybe so, but given all the other stuff our conservative movement friends have been doing lately, I wouldn't put this project past them.