Thursday, February 11, 2016

On Seeing the Gutenberg Bible

Last weekend I was in Austin, TX, and I managed (after two tries) to get to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.  I wanted to see the Gutenberg Bible, which I did, but I also got to see a copy of Shakespeare's first folio, so that was neat.

The Gutenberg Bible was completed in 1455 (or so Wikipedia tells me, making it 500 years older than me and now 560 years old) and there are 48 copies around the world.  Like the one in Austin, the copies are carefully preserved and in airtight, climate-controlled cases, of course.

My first reaction was--it's in Latin!  I had always assumed it was in German, which is of course illogical, since it was printed before the Reformation.  It also, like a medieval copy of the Bible, has illumination.  I don't know why I expected something that looked like the Ryrie Study Bible!  And it is of course very large, not exactly portable.

But . . . it is one of the first artifacts we have of the age of printing, which of course changed the history of the world and therefore it represents a huge step in knowledge, education, technology, and culture.  It's quite awe-inspiring to see it.

But . . . The Bible is not supposed to say in a case, glorified.  I won't make comparison to other religions' texts here, but we don't take our Bibles out of closets once a week in a big show; we don't say the original language is the only real Bible; we don't focus on the beautiful lettering.  Christians, real Christians, see the written Word as an integral part of their lives, not an object of veneration we can't touch.  Just as the Human Word (Christ) touched and was touched (more important than we realize), the verbal Word is to be touched and to touch us, massage us, even do "physical therapy" on us (which, believe me, can be very painful in its journey toward healing).

That's why the Bible should be studied first and devotional books, even the best ones, put aside for secondary purposes.  I say this to myself, because I have been reading Bonhoeffer and others instead of the Bible.  While  Bonhoeffer (which I will write on eventually) is profound, his books are not the Eternal World; in some cases in these books the Bible seems to be a rhetorical tool to advance an argument rather than the focus.  If we can turn off the TV, social media, and Internet, we might have time for studying the Bible and reading real classics of the faith.

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