Part 1, in case you missed it, is here. Again, maybe these won’t be surprising to you. But you never know, maybe they will.
4) It can vary in length
The word Bible comes, via Latin, from the Greek biblia, meaning ‘book’ and ‘books’ – it’s a single book and a collection of books. However, not all these collections are the same. What’s included in a given collection is called ‘canon’. The Protestant canon has 66 books. The Catholic canon has the same 66 and also includes seven ‘deuterocanonical’ books – Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira (sometimes called Sirach or Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees. The Greek Orthodox canon has 76 books, while the Ethiopian Orthodox canon has 81.
Of course, there’s also what you might call the ‘in-practise’ canon – the bits of Scripture one actually engages with. I suspect for a lot of people today this comprises Genesis 1, Psalm 23, John 3.16, 1 Corinthians 13 and maybe Leviticus 18 or a bit of Revelation. I’m not sure that, say, Nahum or Philemon or even Ecclesiastes get the same air-time (sadly). What’s your ‘in-practise’ canon?
5) It doesn’t come pre-packed with apostrophes … orspaces … rvwls…
Bible translators draw on a range of source texts when producing new scripture translations: the Hebrew Masoretic texts, the Greek Septuagint, the Hebrew Dead Sea scrolls, the Latin Vulgate and more. Shockingly, these don’t share all the grammatical and formatting characteristics of modern English (Russian/Mandarin/Portuguese/whatever). For example, punctuation doesn’t exist in ancient Greek (what would Lynne Truss say?!) More than that, it doesn’t use spaces between words or paragraphs – soyoujustgetastringorblockoftextlikethis. Ancient Hebrew, meanwhile, doesn’t have any written representation of vowels – srt f lk ld schl txt spk.
You can probably imagine some of the challenges this presents for translation. The art and science of accurately and faithfully translating scripture is an entire subfield of academia so I won’t try to go into detail now. Suffice to say, translation is a tricky business! (Maybe we should start a ‘sponsor a translator’ scheme; those I’ve met would certainly value your prayers).
6) Most of all it’s narrative (not, incredibly, bumper stickers)
I think it’s easy to get the impression that the Bible is mostly made up of finger-jabbing dictats (“thou shalt not…”) or chintzy fridge magnet aphorisms (“God helps those who help themselves” – spot the deliberate mistake). Now, estimates vary but something like 70 per cent of the Bible is actually written as narrative; that is, in story-form. Pages-long narrative accounts might not be so convenient for media soundbites, tweetable prooftexts or the fridge magnet industry, but should it affect the ways we encounter the Bible? How?
Image by Creation Swap