The Christmas when I was seven my more-Presbyterian-than-John Knox grandmother gave me a King James Bible for Christmas. Notwithstanding I was hoping for a bike, the Good Book was what I got.
I guess Gran was concerned about my spiritual well-being despite the fact that age 7 I hadn’t had much chance to violate any of the commandments.
Anyway, a book was a book and I learned to read (quite well, thank you) at a fairly precocious age so I decided that since this had been presented to me, I’d make the best of the gift, and I would read it. I would read it from cover-to-cover – Genesis to Revelation.
In truth, I got to about Chapter 2 of Genesis and then gave it up as a hopeless cause. I think maybe my spirituality became a bit of a hopeless cause from that point as well.
Too bad in a way. I didn’t yet realize that there was ‘good’ even salacious stuff in the Bible. ‘Song of Songs’ for example was never much dwelt upon in either Sunday school or daily Bible readings at school. To my understanding to ‘know’ in a biblical sense meant the same as conventional knowledge as in, “Hi Rachel. Nice to see ya.” It wasn’t until later that I realized that knowing in a Biblical sense meant a much closer sort of knowledge of Rachel’s (good old Rachel) nether parts. And therefore it followed that there would be a lot of ‘begatting’.
Kind of like George Carlin’s recounting of sitting in a Catholic school class and hearing a nun iterate the word ‘cock’, as in “The cock crowed three times,” Wow, how enlightening it was for him. “Hey, man, cock is in the Bible!”
In truth throughout my childhood and youth the Bible was very much part of our lives, whether or not we wanted it to be. In school, each and every day, we had the Bible reading. Most of us (including me) paid very little attention to this imposed spiritual element in an otherwise public school system. What right had they to impose this on a bunch of kids from different backgrounds – blah-blah-blah?”
It wasn’t until later, especially after I’d become a semi-serious student of literature, that I came to realize that the tales of the Bible were integral to western culture. You don’t know the allusions in the Bible you will have a much harder time interpreting Shakespeare, Eliot, Faulkner, Steinbeck (East of Eden didn’t arise in a vacuum any more than the tale of Cal and his brother isn’t truly the story Cain and Abel) and much more.
As far as Bibles go I prefer the King James version. Aside from the fact it was the one with which I grew up, it is also the most poetic of them all. The language, while at times difficult, it also beautifully lyrical, especially in the Psalms and Song of Solomon. Don’t foist modern versions on me. They have lost the essence and early 17th century beauty of the original.
Oh, and I’ve still never finished it. It’s like War and Peace and Joyce’s Ulysses (I’ve read the dirty parts, but so have many) in that it’s likely it will never happen. Right now I’m reading Keith Richards’ autobio and the words of St. Keef are keeping me connected. If anyone ever showed there is redemption for all us sinners, he might be the one.