Saturday, December 09, 2006

Reading the Entire Bible

I recently finished reading the Christian Bible. I'm not saying this to brag. Finishing it is very much not the point. I'll expand on this idea in a later post. I'd have read it sooner, but it is a rather large book, and it's inconvenient to carry around. Historically, one got the choice of a large physical book, or really small print. Really small print was an option when i was younger, i suppose. And also, Post-It notes hadn't been invented. (These make excellent book marks, showing not just the page, but the exact spot where one left off).

Another practical problem is that the language of the Bible is not modern American English. Even if the translation is modern, terms and idioms are used that either aren't common in every day use, or mean different things. Maybe it's something simple as "Adam knew Eve". The biblical writers also often meant more than one thing when they wrote anything. So, let's say the bible explained the "Adam knew Eve" bit by saying "Of course he did. They hung around together all the time!". That would be ambiguous too. And the Bible writer would probably mean both obvious things.

All this adds up to slow reading. It's easy to get information overflow, so you have to take your time. Read a little at a time, on a regular basis, like daily. One needs to go slow enough to give it time to sink in, but fast enough so one still remembers the context. That's why Christan educators always suggest study on a regular basis. And even so, the book of Revelation is just impossible.

I solved many of these practical problems by reading the Bible on my Palm Pilot. The entire Bible can be stored on one. In fact, the King James Bible will fit (compressed) on a single 3.5" floppy disk - less than 1.44 MB. If you get the right reader, the Palm can display text in a fairly large font with high contrast. The Palm itself is fairly small, and can do other things than allow you to read this one book. For example, it can keep your phone numbers, addresses, appointments, grocery lists, notes, and for me, a chart of the night sky and observation log. When you are done reading for a session, the Palm automatically remembers exactly where you were.

Reading the Bible on the Palm raises a new problem, however. Copyright. The King James Bible is in the public domain. I can do anything i want with it. It isn't modern American English. I started reading the King James version because it was the only version that i knew was public at the time. Part way through the Old Testament, i switched to the Douay-Rheims version, which had been posted to Project Gutenberg. This version uses slightly more modern English, and has some "extra" Catholic books. More recently, the WEB - the World English Bible was posted on Project Gutenberg. This is a much more modern English version, and has some minor commentary on some specific translation issues. It is my current favorite public domain version.

In my opinion, all versions of the Bible should be public. Sure, making a Bible translation is time consuming and expensive. Christian organizations should eat the cost. I mean, the Christian imperative is the Great Commission - teach all nations. The Great Commission does not say you must keep tight control over the Bible. Nor does it say you must make great steaming gobs of money with this best-seller. They can still make paper editions available, and charge for it. But getting the Bible out in electronic form can allow a wide audience to customize the experience. This can be a make-or-break difference, as it was for me. So, there's no excuse.

While i have a license to an electronic copy of the New Revised Standard Version, a very modern and readable translation, the license does not allow me to do whatever i want with it. So despite having paid more for it than all the paper Bibles i own combined, i was not able to put it on my Palm Pilot and just read it. It's stuck on the computer i bought it for, and that's that. That makes it good for certain reference uses, and only when i'm at home, and the computer (now 19 years old) is working. I also have a paper copy of this version. It's in very good condition, which just shows that i've hardly used it.

Reading the Bible on a computer may not be for you. Maybe paper is for you. I'm just relating what worked for me. Now that i've read it, i may put a new copy on my Palm, optimized for looking up references. Or maybe not. The main thing that seems to be good for is refuting Bible thumpers who hit you over the head with a verse out of context. While it may be fun to argue, these people are seldom convinced of anything, and more heat than light is generated.

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