Editing the Bible in Egypt

Ideas and Issues
Coptic Bible

Greenville   I’ve learned a little bit about editing over the last decade or so by having both written a couple of three books, edited one, and edited Social Policy every quarter. It’s a laborious and thankless process that strives for perfection, but always falls woefully short of the mark.

This morning I reviewed the final proofs on more than twenty chapters of my new book coming out later this month, Nuts and Bolts: The ACORN Fundamentals of Organizing that has been an off-and-on piece of work and writing for me for over a dozen and maybe fifteen years. I’ve been through it front to back already three or four times, page by page. Now in the final, final go through, I should do it a fifth time, but I won’t. I’ll just look for obvious errors and try to sand down the last rough spots, but even as I put it to bed, I know that I could pick up the whole book in a couple of months and rewrite it from start to finish if I had the patience and willpower and make it a better book. I won’t do that. I want to think and work on other things, but, it makes me think about the big book, the Bible.

Sunday school teaches you a lot about “divine inspiration,” but there’s no disagreement that the Bible was written by men doing the best that they could. The New York Times had a fascinating article about the computerized programming and scanning efforts that are probing an ancient text written in Coptic, the language of Egyptian Christians. When the Organizers Forum visited Cairo after the revolution we also made a trip through the Coptic area and visited a huge open air Coptic church built into a sandstone rock hillside that was one of the most moving and amazing cathedrals I have ever visited. The Coptics are of course now a persecuted minority in Egypt in a shameful blight on the country, and its lack of tolerance or appreciation of its own deep and diverse religious history. Until conquered, when Arabic became the dominant language, Coptic was primary for the first 500 or so years AD when Egypt was also a dominant center of Christian practice and scholarship with Alexandria second only to Rome. As the Times reported it, “There was a profusion of gospels and other writings in the early Christian era. It wasn’t until 367 AD that the approved canon, the familiar list of books in the Old and New Testament, was specified by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria.”

Now computer scientists, librarians, and religious scholars are soon going to be able to start reading a codex that has sat waiting for 50 years to be read and more than a thousand years to be understood. They are trying to match the text there with the text that later became the book of Acts in the Bible. Would it shake the fundamentalists to reckon with the fact that the Bible and their faith is a historical and man-made phenomena or would they appreciate even more deeply why it was important to keep reading, keep writing, and keep editing until they had the manual right for the institution they were building? Having even my small glimpse of the process, I’m in awe of the product, no matter how many voices were heard, versions were written, editors involved, and final clerical adjudicators consulted. There’s no reason to believe there was any mystery about the magic that it takes to build such an institution and its guidebooks, when it is enough to appreciate and admire the process.


Please enjoy David Byrne’s Everyone’s Coming to My House.

Thanks to KABF.