Holy Books are hugely important in many cultures and faiths. Even today in a largely secular society, witnesses in court are made to swear on The Bible. As a child I was sent to a Christian school, and always accepted The Bible as a pretty solid, reliable piece of writing. I was aware that it was authored by several different people, but we were never really told about the problems of its editing, translation, attributing, censoring and re-writing.
I have heard that there is one edition, called The Revised Standard Version, which is a very close translation to the original (with no artistic license permitted on the part of the translators), but this edition is very hard to get hold of, as it was superseded by The New Revised Standard Version. Curiously the RSV is very non-PC in its language and phrasing, the passages concerning women and other marginalised groups are not well received. Whereas the NRSV is more polished and PC.
I’m not suggesting that this is a deliberate censoring of parts of The Bible. I suspect that the publishers just found that the later, more PC version sold a lot better and stopped printing the other version. (There are few things in this world that cannot be explained easily by economics.) But this incident does illustrate the problems with books. I have a copy of Brideshead Revisited which has an upside down lower case ‘e’ tumbling half way down the margin, due to some typesetting error. This makes me wonder about how much we rely upon books to tell us the truth, accurately and consistently. There are several editions of The Bible which contain typesetting errors which completely alter the message. A 1631 edition known as The Wicked Bible misses out the word ‘not’ in the seventh commandment, so it reads “Thou shalt commit adultery”. As it happens that edition was withdrawn, but what if someone from a completely different time and culture were to come across a copy of that Bible, knowing nothing about it, except that it is a holy book and must be obeyed.
Several years ago one of my Theology lecturers spoke about the problems with books. Their printing, translation, typesetting. As well as their meaning, why they were written, the reliability of the author. This did not go down well, as many of the students were fairly traditional practising Christians, who held The Bible in very high esteem, and regarded the New Testament (though not so much the ancient poetic parts of the Old Testament) as a very literal truth.
He himself was a very devout Christian, who believed in the ethics and eschatology taught by Christ, so I don’t think he was trying to be heretical or offensive.
To paraphrase, he said that all the importance and meaning we ascribe to The Bible (or any other book) is highly subjective, and that the book itself is only an object, and as such can be flawed. The only thing we can ever be sure of is that there is ‘ink on the page’.