Ken Ham, Andrew Lloyd Weber and lazy KJV-only monoglots

Via Patheos blogger and New Testament professor James McGrath, I learn that Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has dismissed both of us as “secularists.”

I’m a Baptist, and our core belief in “believer’s Baptism” stands in stark opposition to the practice of involuntary baptism into the state church. That makes all of us Baptists — in doctrine, at least — advocates of secular government.

Somehow I doubt that’s what Ham meant. Maybe he’s still upset that I suggested he must be Austrian rather than Australian.

Elsewhere on McGrath’s blog, I learn something I somehow failed to notice in the dozens of times I have read through the book of Revelation.

In the bit about the “144,000,” John of Patmos offers a pretty strange version of the list the 12 tribes of Israel: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin … WTF?

James McGrath sifts through this:

The list of 12 tribes is a problem, as anyone who actually knows the 12 tribes will spot, assuming they read carefully. The problem is not just the absence of Dan, for which which many have tried to come up with an explanation. The inclusion of Joseph as well Joseph’s son Manasseh simply doesn’t make sense. The author could have omitted Dan and included Levi, and the two Joseph tribes Ephraim and Manasseh, if the aim was to omit Dan. But as it is, the list is problematic.

McGrath notes that:

Most people, if they try to rattle off a list of the 12 tribes, will not do nearly as well as the author of Revelation did.

That’s kind of him to say, but that’s no excuse for me missing this odd listing in the many, many times I’ve read that chapter. After all, I earned gold stars in Sunday school for memorizing the names of those 12 tribes. And a bit more recently, I was in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat — which means I sang the names of those tribes for months.

Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I always missed this. Seeing all those names makes me start stressing out again about having to hit the high note in “Those Canaan Days.”

Or maybe I had to clear that list out of my brain to make room for memorizing “red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and grey and purple and white and pink and orange and blue.”

And while we’re over at McGrath’s place, he’s got a good post today about “Accepting the Bible“:

Work on such matters as Hebrew linguistics are crucial. Most people who discuss the Bible nowadays on the internet and in churches are discussing English translations, which depend on the work of scholars such as linguists. Young-earth creationist groups like Answers in Genesis reject such scholarly work, and thus the literal meaning of the Bible in the original languages, when it suits them to do so.

This is the dirty little secret of “KJV-only” fundamentalist churches — those that insist the 1611 King James Version translation in English is the only acceptable version of the Bible. They never explain or admit the only real reason they insist on this: They’re too lazy to learn Hebrew and Greek.

  • Carstonio

    Three points:

    1. The misuse of the term “secularism” sounds as if it’s the same as that of “evolution,” where the Ken Hams want everyone to believe that one either favors (their version of) Christianity or opposes it. I choose not to verify this by reading the Answers in Genesis piece because I have a low tolerance for demagoguery.

    2. Is there any easy way that the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of the text can become common knowledge? Even with the internet, I get the impression that these are largely limited to the scholarly community. That doesn’t excuse the KJV-only folks, or the psuedo-literalists in both fundamentalism and anti-theism, but it does provide some context for all of those stances.

    3. My childhood imagination had two crossovers between Andrew Lloyd Webber and processed food. One was Cheese ‘n’ Chive crackers and I thought this would work with the Jesus Christ Superstar theme. The other was Velveeta, which would be in the role of Argentina’s First Lady with crowds chanting the product’s name.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gus-Hinrich/100000151807749 Gus Hinrich

    I understand that the translators working on the KJV knew very well that they didn’t know English equivalents for some Hebrew words, leaving space for future workers to fill in spaces & correct mistakes. They probably didn’t think that their version was the last & best version, either.
    That said, even as an atheist, I do like the KJV for the language. It was meant to be read from the pulpit, so it sounds wonderful.

  • Fusina

     The last line actually caused me to snort. If I’d had my usual diet coke with me, I could have possibly trashed the keyboard.

    But, it also reminded me of a story from my kids past. When they were much shorter and younger than they are now, they were (still are, actually) enamored with the mini Bonbel cheese rounds. Only, they called them baby cheeses. Now, imagine, if you will, two kids, one pre-K, one first grader, wandering about the grocery store chanting, “We want baby cheeses. We love baby cheeses.” Oh, and this was in mid December. Got a lot of bizarre looks from people.

    Velveeta…velveeta  Don’t cry for me oleomargarine I was supposed to be real butter…

  • ReverendRef

     I’ve heard it said that the three greatest influences on the English language were Shakespeare, the KJV and the Book of Common Prayer; and not necessarily in that order.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    Is there any easy way that the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of the text can become common knowledge?

    Well, one easy way is to accept the authority of Biblical scholars who speak Hebrew and Greek about what these texts say. (Not necessarily about how to interpret the Will of God based on what the texts say, if that’s your goal, but simply about the conventional meanings of the written words.)

  • Eamon Knight

     They’re too lazy to learn Hebrew and Greek.

    Yup. I’ve thought for years that KJV-Onlyism is the reductio ad absurdum of word-for-word literalism. IIUC, Muslims have a similar attitude to the Quran — which they are honest enough to resolve by insisting that no translation can ever be adequate; to read the Quran properly you simply must learn ancient Arabic. But learning an ancient language is Hard Work, so instead these modern Christian fundamentalists arbitrarily pick some translation whose authority comes from its (to them) antiquity, and canonize it as the One True Word Of God In English.

    Not just lazy, but arrogant and stupid.

  • nemryn

    The less charitable explanation for insisting on the KJV is that literalists know that their argument will  fall apart if people look at the original text and realize that the Bible doesn’t actually say what they claim it says.

  • Lori

    Most people, if they try to rattle off a list of the 12 tribes, will not do nearly as well as the author of Revelation did. 

    This is true, but then most people aren’t thought to be taking dictation from God when they’re trying to earn their gold star for naming the tribes.

    This is one of those things that makes me look at my family and think, “Biblical inerrancy. I do not think that means what you think it means.”

  • Random Lurker

    Good job making a dent!  Getting personal attention means they think you’re a threat.

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    Sir John Milton actually coined twice as many new English words than Shakespeare, but he never gets the credit.  (Probably because his works haven’t been seen on stage by millions every year for the past four centuries.)

  • http://twitter.com/jclor jclor

    I’m just shocked that not one of Mr. Ham’s 21,000 Facebook friends has stumbled over here to “witness” all over the comments.

  • Carstonio

     True. I’m suggesting that the works of those scholars should ideally be as widely available as the Bible itself. Or at least a version aimed for a general audience and not a scholarly one. Maybe start a Gideon-like organization to distribute such a version.

  • vsm

    I find the veneration of the KJV among fundamentalists amusing, considering how KJ preferred men and shipped Jesus/John. Well, at least he was a witch-hunter and a torturer.

  • Carstonio

    Whoa! Shipping is far older than I thought. Of course, Jesus/John doesn’t count as a valid ship unless one can coin a nickname for it.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Well, the availability of the text is a fine thing, but probably won’t achieve what you’re looking to achieve. After all, the cultural availability of the Bible isn’t primarily because of the text’s dissemination, but because of the vast number of people whose professional lives involve telling others what that text means, and the even vaster number of people willing to take their word for it and pay for the privilege.

  • Donalbain

    What is the French or Italian version of the KJV?

  • markedward

    I’ve read two reason for John’s omission of Dan and inclusion of Manasseh that bring the most sense to the table, even if both of them are speculative. First, a simple one, is that in Jacob’s prophesying over his sons, Dan is mentioned in conjunction with a serpent, and hence John leaves him out for thematic reasons. He adds Manasseh back in to keep the total to twelve, but then rearranges the names (a) to put Judah first for thematic reasons (Jesus comes from Judah, thus he has primacy), but also because (b) John might be following after Ezekiel.

    The final chapters of Ezekiel have a vision of a new Jerusalem, with twelve gates each having a name of the twelve tribes, resulting in a visual pattern emerging where the gates/tribes are arranged according to which of the four mothers (Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah) they descended from (it’s a bit hard to describe). John sees a similar new Jerusalem in Revelation 21, but he doesn’t name which tribe is where. In a semi-convoluted application, assign the twelve tribes from chapter 7 in the order John has them to the twelve gates, and you get a similar visualization (not quite the same as Ezekiel’s), where the gates/tribes are arranged according to which of the four mothers they descended from.

    I’ll reiterate that this is a pretty speculative explanation, but it is a cool one that only causes me to appreciate the insane amount of interweaving ‘patterns’ (the best word I can think of) that the Revelation has in it.

  • GDwarf

     

    Whoa! Shipping is far older than I thought. Of course, Jesus/John
    doesn’t count as a valid ship unless one can coin a nickname for it.

    Johnsus? Jeson?

  • Tricksterson

    I once tried to write a version of “Evita” titled “Godzilla”.  Never got beyond the opening song.

  • D9000

    Even more amusing when you consider that the AV1611 is the version authorised by and for that goddamn librul crypto-Catholic episcopal Church of England, and intended in part as a counterblast to the Geneva Bible beloved of the fundie-equivalents of the day.

    Myself I prefer Wyclif’s version, and so should the KJV worshippers: not only was JW a genuine nonconformist, a proto-Protestant and an evangelical avant a lettre, it sounds ever so much more olde-worlde and antiquy (and thus more authentic). 

    Speaking of coining words, as some people were, another amusing item is the invention of the word ‘helpmeet’ because KJVites don’t understand Jacobean English.

  • nemryn

     What do you mean? The KJV translated into French/Italian, or a French/Italian version that has as much influence on the language and culture as the KJV does on English?

  • Tricksterson

    Those two explanations are not mutually exclusive.

  • D9000

    Since they are mainly Catholics, I would suggest the Vulgate. I wonder how easy it is for a modern Italian speaker to read it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    considering how KJ preferred men and shipped Jesus/John.

    Hold on, hold on. Citation needed. Not because I’m horrified or feeling challenged in my faith (I am neither, since it is not my faith), but I want to know more.

  • Tricksterson

    Johnsus?  And anyway Jovid is older still.

  • Tricksterson

    Of course you’re a secularist Fred.  If a Real True Christian says it it must be true.  Who are you going to believe, a filthy secularist like yourself, or an RTC like Ken Hamm?

    And everyone knows the Bible was written in English first and then translated into heathen tongues like Hebrew and Greek.

  • ReverendRef

     I find the veneration of the KJV among fundamentalists amusing, . . .

    I do too, albeit for different reasons.  King James authorized a new translation as sort of a rebuttal against the Geneva Bible which was way too Protestant, and way to anti-monarchy for his tastes.  He wanted something that would show the monarchy in a much better light, and something more orthodox in tone.

    And, of course, everyone here already knows that.  But it still amuses me that the bible which was generated to protect the establishment and its church has been claimed by fringe Protestants as the only really true word of God.

  • JustoneK

    This whole post amuses me probably far more than it should.  Schadenfreude is an insidious sin.

  • Donalbain

     We all know that God wants us all to read the KJV, as the other Bibles are all evil and wrong and nasty. Sadly though, some people are not able to read the original language of Jesus and have to read French or Italian or Korean. What Bible is the correct one for THEM to read?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Why do the KJV-only fetishists not glom onto translations that are updated with retranslations from older texts not known to exist in the 1600s? Dead Sea Scrolls, lookin’ @ u.

  • JustoneK

    Because then they’re _wrong_  :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    The show “Modern Family” did a riff on this. Gloria (who is from Colombia) told Jay that his package was here.  He opened it up to discover about 1o cuter infant Saviours.  He said “Baby CHEESES, Gloria.  I asked you to order Baby CHEESES!”

  • Turcano

    The easiest way to make original interpretations common knowledge is to encourage the use of interlinear Bibles; this is the best compromise between finding the original terminology and studying languages for several years.

  • vsm

     There’s an article on Wikipedia.  The Jeson quote is towards the end, under the Villiers section.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_relationships_of_James_VI_and_I

  • http://twitter.com/Didaktylos Paul Hantusch

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but surely an omnipotent deity would manage to ensure that no human translator could manage to distort the meaning of his revelation?

  • Fusina

     To quote a person I “helped” when I worked at a christian bookshop, “I want the King James Version. I beeeeeleeeeeeeeve in the King James Version.”

    I remember thinking, that’s fine lady. I believe in God.

    I think that might be where I made my left turn into liberalism. Or at least, one of the gentle curves that caused me to land there.

  • stly92

    I was raised in a strict “KJV-only” sect. Then as a teenager, rebelled from it by embracing NIV. Lately I’ve been drifting back to KJV though. both for familiarity, and because, as You’ve pointed out, recent english translations are getting policticized and certain verses are being goosed to be less inconvenient to early 21st century american republicans. respectors of timeless truth my achin’ ass…

  • Fusina

     Young children lisping out baby cheeses does sound a great deal like baby jesus. I found it highly amusing, although since the both are now teenagers, they would really appreciate if I found it a little less amusing–in the recounting it to people who have not yet heard the story sort of way.

  • Fusina

     Exactly!!! Thank you. Now if I could just convince my Mum of this–yeah, she does have FGS, why do you ask?

  • vsm

    According to a legend, 70 Jewish scholars were commission to translate the Tanakh into Greek in the 3rd century BCE. Each man, working independently, created the exact same translation. However, a 1631 reprint of the KJV omitted the ‘not’ from “thou shalt not commit adultery”. This either means that God has power over translators but not over printers, or that Judaism is the one true faith.

  • Mark Z.

    Here’s the very first divine revelation described in the Bible:

    And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

    And here, in the next chapter, is how “the man” has relayed this deadly serious divine command to “the woman”:

    We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.”

    That’s right: the first Biblical example of one person conveying God’s revelation to another person has him misquoting it as more restrictive than it is. So begins Organized Religion.

    Which is to say that the Christian God is not an “omnipotent deity” who runs around preventing humans from making mistakes, even when divine revelation is involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    “Or maybe I had to clear that list out of my brain to make room for memorizing “red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve and cream and crimson and silver and rose and azure and lemon and russet and grey and purple and white and pink and orange and blue.””

    Drat it all, now I have a mental image of Mr. Clark as Flanders:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNFh-FVEjDM

  • Pseudony Mousie

    Wow, I noticed something in that color list: the Dreamcoat includes “mauve”, which is a little weird, because the color mauve was not invented until 1856!
    I know it’s not a big deal, given the amazingly anachronistic nature of the musical, but I doubt it was  included as an anachronism deliberately. Which makes it “interesting”.

  • Joshua


    Is there any easy way that the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of the text can become common knowledge? Even with the internet, I get the impression that these are largely limited to the scholarly community.

    The current stuff is expensive, but the internet already has a bunch of older, public domain documents. You can find original Hebrew and Greek, and interlinears. The real block is learning a bunch of other languages.

  • hagsrus

     I doubt Joseph knew chocolate either!

  • Joshua


    Lately I’ve been drifting back to KJV though. both for familiarity, and because, as You’ve pointed out, recent english translations are getting policticized and certain verses are being goosed to be less inconvenient to early 21st century american republicans. 

    Well, there are plenty of popular translations that don’t pander to Republicans. Plenty that take scholarship and accuracy seriously.

    But the KJV pandered to KJ and his political needs plenty. Plus the language is hundreds of years out of date.

  • arcseconds

    I know you’re being a bit cheeky, Fred, but I’m pretty sure it’s not simply being too lazy.

    As far as I can see, the single biggest attraction to being a biblical literalist is that you don’t have to think, and you don’t have to doubt. It’s all just there in plain English in the Bible, and you just follow what your authority figure tells you to in a way that’s so invisible to you that you think you’re reading it directly and transparently from the text yourself.

    Then these pesky biblical scholars like McGrath come up with their fancy-dancy discussions about what verses are actually in the Bible, what figures of speech ancient Hebrews used,and what words like ἀρσενοκοίτης mean.   That’s not even written in letters: it’s some kind of weird squiggle! 

    If you follow postmodern sophists dedicated to the erosion of truth and the triumph of confusion like McGrath, you’ll end up starting to think that you have to actually do some work to understand what the Bible says, and even worse that you could be wrong about what the Bible says.

    That’s scary.

    Fortunately, it turns out the translation you grew up with is the One True Bible that God intended Mankind to have all along! 

    There, problem solved.

  • JayemGriffin

    The Song of Solomon in the KJV translation is some of the lushest and most beautiful poetry I’ve ever read.

  • Kiba

    Milton coined one of my favorite words: Pandemonium. 
    It always conjures up for me images of a place overrun with pandas. Wildly chaotic pandas. 

  • zmayhem

    Nicknames, bah! In my day we didn’t have any of these new-fangled portmanteaus and nicknames and shippy GIFs. We had two whole names with a slash between them, uphill both ways in the snow, like God intended.


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