29 OCTOBER 1937, Page 28


The Bible. Designed to be read as literature. Edited and arranged by E. S. Bates. With an introduction by Laurence Binyon. (Heinemann. Jos. 6d.) Tuts edition of the Bible is an attempt to arrange the books of the Old and New Testaments according to their time and subject-matter. Historical books are put in one sequence, prophetic books in another. The text used is the authorised version, except in the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, where, for reasons of scholarship, the revised version has been taken: The artificial division into chapters and verses has been given up, and the prose or poetiy of the different books is printed as a modern poem or proie narrative would be printed ; with short headings to denote

a change of subject or title. Poetry is printed in italic type; and inverted commas are inserted where the text is an- oratib recta. There is a short general introduction by Mr. Laureate Binyon, a historical introduction and notes by the editor, giving the date and authorship of each book, and an appendix summarising the various translations of the texts. The print is clear and good, though not as good as the print of the best modern editions issued by the privileged presses.

The plan and arrangement of the edition are excellent. An edition of this kind was badly wanted ; it is indeed a most curious fact that the Church of England and the Non- conformist bodies have not anticipated this very obvious need. There are many reasons for the decline of institutional religion ; one of these reasons is undoubtedly the bewilder- ment of the average layman about the Bible. The clergy seem to have conflicting and esoteric views about it ; thy , multiply bishoprics, .and-build cathedrals, while they leave the faithful in doubt about the very fiLidations of their belief. Although the Bible is, probably, the best-read book in Great Britain even today, its readers are fewer by- hundreds of thousandsthan' they were one or two -generations age. It is impossible to exaggerate the effect of this decline in Bible-reading, and in the authority of the Bible for those who ' read it. It is difficult to explain to people born in this century !: the extent to which, sixty or seventy years ago, Englishmen, whether they accepted or • rejected Christian thought, were dominated by the masterful English of the authorised version ; Swinburne wrote the best classical verses of 'his time, yet when he composed a play in the Greek style, the rhythm, the words, the burden of his thought were taken, not from Greek, but from Hebrew models transmuted by the English ' scholars of the Tudor and early. Jacobean age.

It is possible that this new edition will do more than the clergy have done for fifty years to bring the English people back to the consolation and guide of their ancestors. At present the price of the book is high ; it might well be worth while making the venture of a cheap edition for people who Cannot pay more than half a crown for a book, and there is no reason why this particular book should not be issued in two or three parts.

If the edition has the wide sale which it deserves, a good many changes should be made. Mr. Binyon's introduction is excellent ; one could not wish for anything better. On the other hand, the editor's work is far from satisfactory. The notes about dates and authors are good, but they are much too short. A few pages on Jewish history and on the history of Egypt, Nineveh and Babylon would be of the greatest value. There is room enough for these pages because many of the notes, as they stand, are irrelevant or out of place. There is no need to include a Whole page of Sir A. Quiller- Couch's Essay on Reading the Bible, or to say, in 'a note about translations, that Lancelot Andrewes was "recently celebrated by T. S. Eliot." Lancelot Andrewes has been celebrated by every generation of Englishmen since his death. The reader does not want to be informed about the literary merits of the Old or New, Testarript. still less does he want puffs

in`the of iitd‘lislier,s77 unnecessary 'ape

apt:eat-4:1o. itel? dif tfie; 'tereiniah'the-- persOnat- note is stressed " ; that " for patriotic feeling the two oracles of Benin "ale unsurpassed " ; that " his (Elistirg)-- em-

phatically the world of men."

The editor is on even more dangerous ground in his short comments about the New Testament. It is simply not the case that St. Mark's Gospel " gives a clear pictuie of Jesus as the ' great revolutionary humanitarian." St. Anselm's dilemma aut deus aut non bonus may not be a fair dilemma, but it is much nearer the mark than " revolutionary humanitarian." It is possible that the very title of the edition begs an immense ques- tion. " The Bible designed to be read as literature " ; what is meant by literature ? Could one speak of " The battle of Waterloo designed to be viewed as a spectacle " ? The battle of Waterloo was not fought as a spectacle ; its significance is diminished if it be regarded as a -spectacle. The Bible is a book: It may be read- as other books are read ; but if you tread it in this way you miss the essential fact that it is a " sacred book," a book of commands, a book of judgements from which there is no appeal. It is something less and more than literature, something beyond the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy, or the plays of Shakespeare, to take three of the greatest masterpieces of writing. I once saw an old Basuto, in a dimly lit warehouse belonging to the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg (a city which seemed to me, in biblical terms, the abomination of desolation) slowly spelling out the gospel according to St. Luke. " He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted them of low degree." This book reaches beyond the content and meaning of literature, though literature and art are nearer to the creative movement of life than all the counting houses in the world. The Bible has caused murder and cruelty even beyond the wickedness of some of its own stories. It has led men towards hardness of heart ; it has numbed their minds, and blinded their intelligence. It is adamantine, and yet sublime in pity and loving-kindness. It answers everything, and explains nothing. It is terrible, and yet it is a delight for any child. It is wayward, capricious, contradictory, and yet it has one theme : a theme set out in the words, taken almost literally from its own text, E la Sua volontate a nostra pace.