"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber
At the end of June I'm off again, for three weeks at a university in South Korea and a visit to Kyoto, Japan, then in August we will be in Guatemala looking at one of the world's greatest challenges: how to grow a lot of food sustainably on small farms. Come along!
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Oregon Coast #2 A Biblical Lifetime
Charles Vanderpool and a Biblical Lifetime
This is not a travel-related posting,
as most of mine are, although it begins on the Oregon Coast. It’s a little
story about a man who, with no previous experience or education, devoted 27
years of his life to re-translating every word of the Bible from Greek into
English, word-by-word and side-by-side with the Hebrew.
1366 words, reading time four
For my first night on the Oregon Coast, Fodors, the travel
guide, led me to the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, named not for a strand but
for a famous bookstore owner in Paris.Sylvia Beach was her name and she ran Shakespeare and Company, a Left
Bank literary headquarters for Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, et al in the
post-World War II heydays. It’s still going strong today.
Each of the hotel’s 20 rooms honors a famous writer.I was assigned to Oscar Wilde, across from
Dr. Seuss and down the hall from Mr. Hemingway.
Newport is a bit of a barn as beach towns go but on the lower,
Bayfront section there is a quite charming quarter surrounding the hotel, with
bookstores, cafes, an art center and an Irish pub.However only a working class bar a few steps
away was showing the Notre Dame-Southern California football game when I went
No sooner had I ordered than a tall fellow who seems to know
everyone asks if he can join me.I’m glad
for the company but warn him that I’m nutty when Notre Dame is playing, doubly
so against USC.This doesn’t bother
him.(I’m reminded of a T-shirt I saw in
way, way remote corner of Guatemala in
August which read “I’m for UCLA and anyone playing USC!”)
Charles turns out to be a fascinating guy.I lost track of the Notre Dame game and we
talk into the night.The next day I move
up the coast but we talk by phone, I visit his home and we went to dinner.
Charles was a poor college student, he says, failing at
language and barely getting by at Valparaiso, a sectarian college not far from
Notre Dame.His early life and career
were undistinguished but 27 years ago he found his life’s work as a translator
and publisher of the Bible.
You’d think the world wouldn’t need another translation of the
Bible.What’s left to be done,
particularly by someone with no previous preparation or aptitude?When he said God asked him to do this I might
have walked away.When he wondered if
our meeting was an accident or if he is a Messenger, well, that was not
promising either.But we kept talking.
“God has seen fit to write an instruction manual for living—the
Bible.” So begins one of his books.God
“breathed” his word into earthly language; precisely what God said is of utmost
importance, of course.This is best
understood through the Greek language.
The Old Testament was recorded in Hebrew but the later books
were recorded in both Hebrew and Greek.While Christ’s everyday language was Aramaic, Greek was the
international language at the time and the Epistles were written in Greek to
people who spoke Greek (if also another language).The writers of the New Testament read the Old
Testament in Greek, VanderPool says.Greek
was the basis for all subsequent bibles in the Latin, Syria and Coptic
scriptures. To understand God’s message, Charles taught himself Greek, traveled in Greece and immersed himself in biblical
scholarship, for which thousands have had better scholastic training, he
The result is “The Apostolic Bible Polyglot,” now in its
third edition.Every word of the Bible
is rendered in Greek, in bold, with the English below it.Above each Greek word or set of words a
number or numbers.These numbers refer
to Hebrew words and their English equivalent.This numbering system was developed by James Strong in l890 in the first
“Concise Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible” and contained 8,674 words .Strong also developed a “Concise Dictionary
of the Words in the Greek Testament” with 5,624 English equivalents of Greek words.
Bibles with one or more languages in proximity are called “Interlineal”
bibles and have been published many other times in history.Van der Pool says his is “the first
numerically coded Greek Old Testament.” This allows the student to study both the old
and the new testament in the same language.
Rendering the correct word and the correct understanding in
English (or any other language) requires understanding the true meaning of the
words in Greek and Hebrew and choosing between them, of course, and understanding
the context in which they were used originally and subsequently.An enormous task!For example, when to choose the Hebrew or the
Greek version of portions of the Old Testament?
His bible contains not only the three-part translation (1,600
pages) but an “English-Greek Index “(like Strong’s original text, perhaps) and a
“Lexical Concordance.”The Concordance contains
all the Greek words, all the corresponding numbers for Hebrew words using the
Strong numbering system, and—apparently—all the places that word is used.
Charles says he did not set out to publish a new bible.It grew out of his private study.He had a foundational text and then acquired
microfilm copies of a 1519 bible and a l709 Greek Old Testament, working his
way forward in time.What he often saw
were “paraphrased” bibles.
“A paraphrase Bible does not exhibit the original language,
as the translator can choose whatever English word suits his taste,” he
writes.“Each translator has the awesome
privilege of choosing which vernacular word to use for the God-breathed word of
the original.”Which Van der Pool has
To publish hard copies he has several times sold everything
he owned.He is in Newport after selling
his mother’s trailer following her death in Southern California (he had taken
care of her) and investing the proceeds in his Bible and a house near the
beach. I took home a first edition, a gift worth more than $100 and probably a
lot more since this was his last copy of that edition.A
third edition was to be delivered within weeks, made possible by a wealthy Texan
who distributed his second edition to Texas
prisons for free.
Van der Pool makes his bibles freely available on the
Internet. Learning to do so is an exacting and every changing skill. He also
offers free online classes on aspects of the Bible.Understanding the true meaning of each word
or group of words and the message it provides to guide people’s lives is his
life’s work.(You can get there by Googling Apostolic Bible
Polyglot or www.septuagint-interlinear-greek-bible.com.)
He walks with a decided limp because he needs an operation
but there is neither time nor money.On
my last day he was re-siding his house hours before the season’s first storm
I asked about the accuracy of the Bible since some modern
scholars have poked holes in it and modern critics such as Richard Dawkins and
Christopher Hitchens have condemned religious texts without exception. To what
extent is the story of Jesus historically accurate, I ask?
Van der Pool seemed less than interested in the dispute and
the least bit defensive. It’s not on his radar.He’s more interested in the prospect of selling his bibles and meeting
other scholars in England in the summer of 2015.
Is he a Messenger to me of some sort, the way an angel
appears to someone in the Bible saying “Have no fear” and then telling someone
to sacrifice their son?(See a brilliant
treatment of Job by Joan Acocella entitled “Misery” in the December 16 New
Yorker.) At our dinner Charles expresses
the hope that God will “smack you upside the head;” however he’s as mystified
as I am about whether there’s some larger intention behind our meeting.
When I came to his house, my name had been added to the list
of those he prays for each day.Christopher Hitchens did not welcome believers who prayed for him but
I’m glad to be remembered and to respect and commemorate the work of Charles Van der Pool.