Friday, December 18, 2020

What We Cannot Know unless We Know the Bible

John Stonestreet and Shane Morris of Breakpoint at Christian Headlines

"The Great Books, argues Luther Ray Abel, have been largely abandoned. And, our culture-wide unfamiliarity with the great books can be directly attributed it our culture-wide unfamiliarity with the Good Book. An undergrad from a small liberal-arts school, Abel is consistently surprised that his peers do not know even the best-known accounts in the Bible. 'When a class must stop at almost every biblical reference in the poetry of Emily Dickinson—so that a student or the professor can explain who John the Baptist was or why the Book of Revelation is kind of a big deal—the quality and pace of instruction decline.'"
This marks a change from the days of the first edition of Great Books of the Western World (54 volumes, 1952). Discussing the selection of the works in the set, Robert M. Hutchins wrote in the Preface,
"Readers who are startled to find the Bible omitted from the set will be reassured to learn that this was done only because Bibles are already widely distributed, and it was felt unnecessary to bring another, by way of this set, into homes that had several already. References to the Bible are, however, included in both the King James and the Douai versions under the appropriate topics in the Syntopicon." (The Great Conversation, volume 1, p. xvii)
Syntopicon being the neologism applied the the extensive topical index to the entire set.

The Introduction to The Syntopicon (vol. 1, p. xiv) in the second edition (60 volumes, 1990) notes it continued to include references to the Bible, but as to the book itself,

"The Bible is not included as part of the set, since there is no definitive version acceptable to everyone."
In the Foreward to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, with the Apocrypha, Expanded Edition, Revised Standard Version (1977), Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger explained steps taken so that "this edition can serve as a common Bible for Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox readers alike." While that generalization might not literally include every Protestant denomination, it might be an example of an edition that could be included if there is ever another edition of Great Books of the Western World in a time when it also cannot be assumed few households are without a Bible.

Mortimer Adler's discussion of the preparation of the second edition of Great Books of the Western World in his second memoir, A Second Look in the Rear View Mirror (1992), included this.

"One other omission that was probably a mistake on our part was not including references to the Koran (qur'ān) along with the Old and New Testament in the Reference section of the 102 chapters of the Syntopicon." (p. 141, n. 4)
From that step, proceeding on to selecting a translation of the Koran to include might be more problematic than the Bible has been. On the other hand, there is The Koran Interpreted (1955), by Arthur J. Arberry. He says in the Introduction,
"I have called my version an interpretation, conceding the orthodox claim that the Koran (like all other literary masterpieces) is untranslatable..."

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