“So I opened my mouth,
and he gave me the scroll to eat.”
As soon as I saw my father I held up my Bible with sparkling eyes.
“It’s mine,” I told him, still astonished.
“That’s wonderful, JoJo,” he said, smiling.
“I’m going to read it.” I surprised myself. I hadn’t really made a decision yet about it. But I realized, as I spoke the words, that it was the only thing I could do. I had been given a book, this beautiful book. Books must be read; it was my duty, and my responsibility. I had been entrusted with it, I must honor the trust. I suspected that it would have something in it about Jesus.
“Sure. You can read it. It’s yours,” my father said, already distracted with finding my sisters, gathering us together, getting us to the car, moving on to the next thing.
In the next months I made my way laboriously through my Bible’s pages, beginning with the first page, which had a pasted-in label of the church’s name, and then my name, given on June 14, 1970, in neat type.
The next page began with the “Family Registry,” lines I left empty for the next five years, sensing that I should not ask about the “Wife,” or when she was “Born” and when the “Husband” and the “Wife” had been “Married.” My mother was gone, as though she had never been. It was as though we had always been a family of one father and three daughters.
I left “Births” empty as well, and “Marriages,” on the next page. (Finally, in 1975, when Peter, my father’s youngest brother, and the love of my life, died at the age of twenty-one, I asked about the names I should put on the other pages. This was because the last page of the “Family Registry” was “Deaths.” Peter’s death broke through the barrier of silence I had surrounded my pain with. His name, in the fresh grief of death opened, just by a crack, the way for my father and me to speak, if only in a few sentences of dry information, of our own older pain.)
I gave each page its due, continuing through the frontispiece to the title page, “The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version.” Every word was precious, and solemnly read. My Bible had been translated from the “original tongues,” as old as 1611, and contained revisions from 1881-1885 and 1901 until this version in my hands, which had been “compared with the most ancient authorities” and finally revised in 1952. “You are eighteen years old” I whispered to my Bible, doing the math.
I made my way through the preface, discovering that the King James Version had “grave defects” which this Bible had corrected. What a relief! As I kept my dictionary beside me to look up the words I couldn’t decipher, I discovered that many men had labored years over the “ancient texts,” translating with much prayer and collaboration from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages.
They were so thorough that they went to other kinds of ancient versions, like the “Masoretic Text,” works in Syriac and Latin. I was fascinated with the incredible care and meticulous attention this book was given. In the summary I read, “The Bible is more than a historical document to be preserved. And it is more than a classic of English literature to be cherished and admired. It is a record of God’s dealings with men, of God’s revelation of Himself and His will.”
The summary continued about a mysterious word. “God’s Word.” I wondered what word that might be. What would God’s word sound like? Would it be in Hebrew? Was there an even older language? What meaning would The Word have? Was it like a spell? Would it be magic? In fairy tales, the names of things, in the most ancient language, carried great power.
I wondered how I would know that I had found God’s Word. It was somewhere in this book.
I read with amazement, and an increasing sense of anticipation, this word – whatever word it was – had become “flesh.” Immediately I pictured one of my father’s t-bone steaks, glistening redly on his plate. It was no wonder, I thought, that Sunday school stories were rewritten for children. This stuff was far too lurid for ordinary little girls. But I had been trusted with it. I had been entrusted with this book, and I was even more determined to read it.
I worked it out with my dictionary, and my knowledge from other sayings. According to my Bible’s preface, this “flesh” had evidently “dwelt” among men. “Live” that’s what “dwell” is. “Dwelling” is a house. “Flesh and blood” meant family, I’d heard that before. This Word had become like family, I guessed, and got a house among some men. A very powerful magic was at work, of this I was convinced.
The next page listed all the books inside my Bible. This was a new concept to me. I was familiar with chapters. But the heading clearly indicated that these were all actual books contained within the two black nubbly covers of my one book, the Holy Bible. There were two lists, an Old Testament and a New Testament. I tasted the word “testament,” enjoying its sound and flavor. I wondered how they could tell the difference between the old one and the new one.
There were more lists, all the books in alphabetical order, what a gem! There are no books that start with “B,” how unusual, I thought. “F” was missing, as were “Q,” “U,” “V” and “W,” but I was gratified to see “Z” was well represented.
Then came the subject lists. There was law, here, and history. There were poetical books, “major” prophets, and “minor” ones (I reassured the minor prophets that I respected them just as much. It was my way to help the small and overlooked feel protected and loved).
Then came the gospels and ho! What was this?! The early church! Apparently “Paul” was given much space, as there were a great many letters of his which had been added. “Other letters” came after Paul’s and finally, one prophetic book. I checked back to the major prophets, and the minor prophets, and puzzled over this strange subject heading. One prophetic book at the end of the Bible. Oh yes! It was in the “new” testament. This section was bookended, front and back, with some helpful hints on “abbreviations” and the “reference system.”
The next translucent page, with a satisfying crinkle, announced that we had come to the Old Testament. I paused and gave the moment its due.
(Next, “In the Beginning…”)
[Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]