This post got started after I read a comment in another blog, that said (among other things) that the Quran forbids non-Muslims from reading it. I'm not inclined to believe it: partly because Muslims whose advice I sought on where to find a reliable English translation never brought the issue up; and because I've heard and read similar claims about Roman Catholics.
Today, I finally got around to writing about Catholics, the Bible, and why most Americans don't own helicopters.
- The Bible, the Church, and Me
- Catholics Aren't Allowed to Read the Bible! Right?
- The Catholic Church Didn't Allow People to Own Bibles! Right?
- Why Can't Just Anyone Translate the Bible?
- Me, the Church, and the Bible
Many people where I grew up were virulently anti-Catholic, but my family wasn't. I think part of that had to do with my father being from a culturally-Catholic family and a reasonable man, and my mother owing her life to some very determined nuns. 2
My curiosity was roused, as I discovered that Catholics weren't the ignorant, oppressed, depraved, borderline-demonic monsters that I'd heard about. And, being the sort of person I am, I started studying the history of Catholicism and Christianity. And was 'Catholic conscious' as I learned about feudal Europe, Ancient Rome, Chinese history, and the rest of humanity's experience.
Over the years, I found out that much of what I thought I knew about the Catholic Church was either (to be polite) exaggerated, up to four centuries out of date, or flat-out wrong. Eventually, I converted and am now a Catholic.
A bad idea, but well-intentioned. A stroll through the lunatic fringe of Christianity takes you past some really remarkable 'Bible' truths. ("The Pope, the Antichrist, and Fu Manchu" (October 2, 2008)) I can see where a priest might want to discourage his people from reading the Bible, except at Mass.
Consider this possible scenario: a priest, about a hundred years back, is assigned to a parish where another church insisted that the Bible condemns alcohol, proves the Pope is the Antichrist, and says it's okay to marry your underage cousin.3 That priest might have real concerns about local Catholics being influenced by the eloquence and verve of their neighbors. And, seeing what unguided reading of the Word of God did to the neighbors, steer his flock away from the Bible. (Remember: I think that avoiding the Bible is a bad idea.)
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The Catholic Church didn't, and doesn't, allow me or anyone else to make up our own unauthorized translations of the Bible into another language. But that's not the same as not allowing people to own a Bible.
More about translating the Bible later.
Anybody in feudal Europe might have been allowed to own a Bible. That didn't mean that everybody could afford one.
The fact is that, until movable type made the mass-production of books possible, each copy of a book had to be individually made, by craftsmen and scribes. Books were, to put it mildly, expensive.
I did a little price-checking that might put the cost of an old-fashioned feudal Bible in perspective:
Back to contentsDeluxe Gift Edition - Full Size. That's for people who want all the bells and whistles.
For people in my position, the ST. JOSEPH N.A.B. (Student Edition - Medium Size) is just fine. It's got the complete New American Bible (authorized Catholic translation into American English - Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur, and everything). It costs $8.95, paperback. The one I priced just now has 1,632 pages, including maps, an index, and other extras.
So, these days, in America, you can get a Catholic Bible for anywhere from about $9 to $45 and up.
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Back to contents$50. That's for a book with 15 pages. Let's say that a complete Bible would be 1,500 pages long. That's a (wildly) optimistic estimate - and would require the efforts of 'Superscribe.'
The contemporary hand-bound blank book is 15 pages long. We're assuming a Bible, roughly the same size, would have about 100 times as many pages, or 1,500. (This is unrealistic for a handwritten book, but I'm doing a better-than-best-case estimate.)
If there's a direct relationship between the number of pages in a book and its cost, the 1,500-page hand-bound book would cost about ($50x100), or $5,000. Just pulling a number out of the air, let's assume that economies of scale can pull that down to $2,500.
That's for a blank book. No writing in it. Just blank pages.
Back to contentstwo word counts for the Bible: 774,746 and 773,692. One of those is for the King James translation. Let's say that both are on the high side, and that the Bible only has 700,000 words.
A handwritten Bible would be about 1,500 pages long - assuming that each page of the Bible is 8 1/2 inches by 6 3/4, and that a scribe could get about as many words on each of those pages as are on today's 8 1/8 inch by 5 1/2" paperback. That'd be really tiny handwriting.
And assuming that there's a scribe who can write legibly between lines that are about an eighth of an inch apart.
Just to keep the costs down, let's assume that our scribe with the teeny handwriting can write 50 words a minute: about what a decent typist can do.
At that (phenomenal) rate, it'll take our scribe 14,000 minutes to write the entire Bible. That's 233 hours, 20 minutes.
While we're at it, let's assume that this scribe's work is error-free, and so no proofreading and correction is necessary. If our scribe works 8 hours a day, it'll take about 29 days, 1 hour, and 20 minutes, to finish the job. No breaks for coffee or lunch.
Let's call this penultimate scribe "Superscribe."
Superscribe might expect to be paid: let's assume that minimum wage is good enough.
Here in Minnesota, minimum wage is about $5.25 an hour for a small employer (U.S. Department of Labor, January 1, 2009). $5.25 an hour for 233 hours and 20 minutes comes out to just about $1,224.99, rounding down.
So, assuming that the 1,500 page blank book cost $2,500, having Superscribe hand-copy the Bible costs another $1,224.99, and that ink and pens are free, each hand-made Bible would cost a mere $3,724.99.
As I said, that's a better-than-best-case estimate. More realistically, producing an accurate written copy of a 700,000-word document would almost certainly be more expensive than that.
A hand-written Bible might cost less than a helicopter, but I'm not at all sure by how much.
Even taking my moonbat-crazy estimate of $3,724.99 per copy, Bibles made the old-fashioned way aren't cheap.
And, that's why Bibles - and every other book in feudal Europe - were treated the way that high-end computers are now. Books contained valuable data, and were pricey.
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Books were very expensive pieces of specialized information technology then, and knowing how to read was about as important to most people as knowing how to program computers was in 1940.
Back to contentsNumbers) to what may be the world's first detective story, Bel and the Dragon (Daniel, Chapter 14).
Taking all that data, and translating it - accurately - into contemporary English took a team of 50 scholars about 25 years. The job could have been done faster: But the Church is careful about the Word of God. (The Preface of the New American Bible might be an eye-opener.)
Do-it-yourself Bible translations became a hot-button topic in Martin Luther's time, when inspired - or perhaps imaginative - versions of the Bible in local languages started popping up. They often just happened to support the translators' own views of how things ought to be, and some proved to be quite lastingly popular.
Even with fairly reliable translations available, people still go off the rails. Liberation theology4 and the "prosperity gospel"5 are recent examples.
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On the other hand, as a Catholic, I'm practically ordered to read the Bible:
"The Church 'forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn "the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ," by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." ' "Related posts:
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 133)
- "The Catholic Church: Authoritarian, Which Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing"
(October 2, 2008)"
- "The Bible-Believing Catholic Church"
(October 2, 2008)"
- " 'You Catholics Don't Believe the Bible,' and Other Weirdness"
(September 26, 2008)"
- "Catholic Beliefs and Practices : Don't Believe Everything You Read"
(September 16, 2008)
- "Did the Catholic Church forbid Bible reading?"
"How come Catholics weren't allowed to read the Bible?"
- Don't let the subtitle fool you: MacDonald knows what he's writing about
- "Bible Possession Once Banned by the Catholic Church!"
Bible Light "
- This apparently well-researched page apparently equates restrictions on (imaginative) translations into the vernacular with an outright ban on possession of a Bible
1 "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract."
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Quotation #26187, The Quotations Page
Not everyone who really believes that Catholics can't read the Bible, that we worship Mary, and other alternatively-factual assertions, is a bigot. I've known quite a few people who sincerely cling to what they were taught, and reject as "un-Biblical" anything that doesn't fit what they believe.
They're not, I think, bigots in the colloquial sense. Many are loving, caring people - who simply cannot imagine that what their parents and preachers taught them might not be accurate. (Technically, such intellectual muleheadedness is being a "bigot," but that doesn't fit the spiteful connotations associated with the term.)
2My mother was born prematurely, in a time and place where a shoebox, lined with cotton batting, set over a wood stove, was about as good as neonatal intensive care incubators got. I'm told that nuns, serving at a nearby (less than 50 miles away) hospital, were determined that the little girl would not die. And, she didn't.
I think my mother's own, ah, firm-mindedness had something to do with her survival, but there's no question that the nuns helped.
3 That's not quite the doctrine of today's Tony Alamo, but let's face it: some of those 'First Church of Bubba' outfits get weird.
4 "Liberation Theology" is one of those ideas that sounds good, from some points of view, but can be a real problem.
For a Roman Catholic view of Liberation Theology, I'd start with "INSTRUCTION ON CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE 'THEOLOGY OF LIBERATION'," Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (August 6, 1984; "From Rerum Novarum to the Catechism on Social Teaching," Thomas A. Shannon, in The Living Light (Spring 2001), via Secretariat of Catholic Education, USCCB.
5 The health and prosperity gospel doesn't seem to be the hot item it was about four years ago. There's an informal, and decidedly Catholic, discussion of the the prosperity gospel and related ideas in the "Health and Prosperity Gospel" discussion thread in Catholic Answers Forums.