Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gay Christians Still Say the Darnedest Things!

Rather than expand my original post (it's long enough already), I think I'll just add individual examples of the misinformation gay Christians like to dispense so lightly. I found this one in Peter Hennen's Faeries, Bears and Leathermen: men in the community queering the masculine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), a study of alternate constructions of masculinity among gay men. Early on, he describes a conversation he observed at a leathermen's retreat (page 7):
Rob and his new friend Lance are having an animated discussion. Somehow, their free-ranging exchange settles on arcane points of Christian dogma and biblical interpretation. Both of them demonstrate an amazing knowledge, not only of specific passages from the Bible but also its various editions. They are especially familiar with the subtle differences between the King James and Catholic Bibles, including the deletion of the books of Ruth, Timothy, and Apocrypha from the former. … Astonished, I ask them how they each know so much about this subject. I learn that Lance is a former seminarian, and Rob tells me that his interest stems from his current religious pursuits.
It's hard to tell who gets the credit for the mistakes, since we must read the conversation filtered through the observer, who is evidently not very knowledgeable himself. (Dammit, Duncan, I'm a sociologist, not a biblical scholar!) But it was published in an academic book, and though the errors don't affect Hennen's main subject, they're representative of the ignorance displayed by those who possess "amazing knowledge."

I don't know how "amazing" it is to know something about the "various editions" of the Bible, a phrase that's hard to make sense of to start with. "The Catholic Bible" isn't just one edition; the Catholic Church has primarily used a fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, for most of its history, but (especially after the Vatican II ecumenical council of 1962-1965, which affirmed the Church's mission to provide biblical texts in the "mother tongues" of Catholics) there have been many new translations for Catholics, some from the Vulgate and others from the original languages. (I'm partial to the first edition of the Jerusalem Bible myself, though I'm not a Catholic.) The King James (or Authorized) Version is not an edition either; it has gone through many, some of which update the 17th century spelling and some of which correct typographical and other errors. The text was standardized in 1769.

But it appears that by "editions" our amazingly knowledgeable leathermen had in mind different decisions as to the books each "edition" includes. This, known technically as the canon, is a very different matter. The Catholic Bible includes in the Old Testament books and parts of books, the Apocrypha, that are not included in the Jewish canon. So did most early English Protestant translations and the first editions of the King James Version. Eventually, though, the Apocrypha were removed from later printings of the King James Version, and they're not found in most Protestant translations today. I have seen study Bibles which include the Apocrypha, partly because those editions are meant to be used by all Christians, and partly because the Apocrypha are important for the understanding of early Christianity. You can still get the King James Version translation of the Apocrypha if you want it, usually published as a separate small volume.

[P.S. I just reread this, and realized that Hennen seems to have thought that "Apocrypha" is a single book, not several books.  Oy.]

It's possible that Peter Hennen's new acquaintances were discussing just these minutiae, which went over Hennen's head. But Ruth? Timothy? I can't find any indication that Ruth or the two Epistles to Timothy (not usually called "books") were ever excluded from the Authorized Version, or why they might have been. Even Martin Luther, who wanted to exclude Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Revelation from the Bible, left Timothy alone. (If anyone can point me to information to the contrary, please send e-mail.) Leaving First and Second Timothy out of the New Testament in particular would make more than a "subtle" difference; they've been immensely influential on Christian doctrine, and one verse, 2 Timothy 3:16, is a mainstay of evangelical apologetic.

So, who gets the credit/blame here? I don't know, but I can't help wondering why the fact checkers and academic readers who vet the texts of university press books didn't notice this strange digression, and point it out to the author or editors.

(image credit)