You can’t keep a Good Book down, and even the Soviet Union may be coming to terms with the Bible.
On August 11, the atheistic government released a 456-page compendium of Old Testament stories from the Creation to the Apocrypha. Observers say it’s the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution that Bible material has been available to the public without anti-religious commentary.
Long lines of people waited to buy the book, and the press run of 100,000 copies was sold out “within a few minutes,” reported Henry Shapiro, Moscow correspondent for United Press International. The volume, which he said will become a “collector’s item,” was handsomely illustrated with religious paintings and sculpture by such Renaissance masters as Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Rembrandt.
Red-watchers are not sure why the book was published by Politizdat, the government house specializing in political-sociological material for a high caliber audience. But a U. S. government expert on Soviet publishing said one thing is sure: a Politizdat book has the “official O.K.”
The Soviet government may be trying to counter the influx of foreign Bibles caused by grass-roots demand behind the Iron Curtain.
Another explanation could be growing sophistication and luxury. Shapiro reports on a talk between Indian Ambassador Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (now president of India) and Josef Stalin near the end of the Soviet strongman’s life. The Indian asked Stalin why he did not permit publication of the Bible, which all humanity—religious or atheistic—regards as a great literary and historic masterpiece.
Stalin replied that he had to build a “solid material foundation for this country before such luxuries as Bible-reading” were encouraged.
The volume may be part of a new phase in the government’s war against religion, adopting a sophisticated Bible-as-literature and religion-as-history line to replace former diatribes. A year ago, the Young Communist journal Komsomolskaya Pravda said government repression, rather than creating atheists, drives believers underground. It then explained that “it is pertinent to recall that religion is not an idle fiction. Religion is a historical phenomenon that has existed for thousands of years, up to and including the present.
A similar attitude infuses the preface to the new book of Old Testament stories. Polish editor Zenon Kosibovsky and the Russian translators state explicitly that they are atheists and see no divine inspiration in the Bible. But they consider it “a monument of world literature reflecting the life of many generations of ancient people,” UPI reported.
The Old Testament is approached as a collection of historic documents, popular legends, laws, ritualistic prescriptions, and myths “whose sources relate to varied epochs and social orders.” The Communist editors naturally revel in the revolutionary tenor of many passages.
UPI said Kosibovsky offers numerous footnotes “to explain rationally” the material. Much of them are based on theories of higher criticism familiar to Protestants in the West. But the commentary is limited to the preface and footnotes, Shapiro said, and there is “no apparent effort to change the text or the sense of the story for propaganda purposes.”
By contrast, the Soviets have published hundreds of books and pamphlets in recent years that mix carefully selected biblical material with opinion and ridicule for anti-religious or political purposes.
Asked about recent biblical material published in his nation, a Soviet spokesman at the embassy in Washington, D. C., referred to a French version of the Gospels “with some humor added,” a book of religious commentary by bitter agnostic Mark Twain, and a discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
On a less sophisticated level, Reds around the world have used the Bible’s familiar format and prestige to push their own ideology.
The Missionary Crusader told this summer of three “updated” Bibles in the traditional format available from Communist-front booksellers in Africa. The True Bible, it reports, is published in four languages by the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and “purports to debunk, unmask and expose the lies and falsehoods” of Bibles disseminated by missionaries in the past 150 years.
A second book, The Illustrated Bible, uses mostly illustrations to aim an anti-Christian message at illiterates and semiliterates. A third, Stories from the Bible, has such political cartoons as Cain, an American GI, killing a Vietnamese Abel.
Last Christmas, the South Korean embassy had a New York display including Korean Bibles published with Communist insertions. In Luke, after Jesus gives his disciples very unmaterialistic counsel against being anxious about food or clothing, the following insertion appears:
“The United Nations, having had its name abused by the American Imperialist, has reduced to a belligerent in the aggressive war against the Korean people.”
In Viet Nam, books of Red propaganda have turned up this year in the typical Bible format.
Shapiro’s UPI dispatch said that “with the exception of the few Russians who have seen the limited editions of the Bible published by the Russian Orthodox and Baptist churches, millions have grown up without having seen the Scriptures.” One result: nearly two generations of intellectual leaders in a nation of 225 million souls are “illiterate” on one of the great masterpieces of all time. Such common phrases as Tower of Babel or Mark of Cain are meaningless. Shapiro believes the new book will be a “gold mine” for intellectuals.
An American expert said that the Bible is often quoted in Soviet literature but that the source is almost never given.
M. S. Handler, writing in the New York Times earlier this year, reported what may be a related development—“a slow reawakening interest of Soviet intellectuals in religious philosophy.” Even though they are ignorant of church history and theology, they have been stirred up by reading the influential French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and such non-Christian writers as Sartre. An Orthodox observer told Handler the growing interest in humanism and religious philosophy may present a “potent and dangerous ideological and aesthetic counter-force to Marxism,” whatever happens to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Another trend, Handler said, is a growing “underground church among the peasants and villagers who, deprived of regular churches and priests, are practicing religious rites in secret.” Soviet government restrictions have produced a significant split even in the more visible church. The most sensational development was a challenging plea for religious freedom from two young Moscow priests, in widely circulated open letters to Soviet President Podgorny and aging Orthodox Patriarch Alexei. The letters were printed in Religion in Communist Dominated Areas, a fortnightly prepared by the International Affairs Commission of the National Council of Churches.
The two priests support a cultural view of religion. (“Like a mother to her child, the Orthodox Church gave birth to and weaned the great culture of Russia!”) And they praise the early Bolshevik regime which, “by God’s grace, freed the Russian Church from its long sickness—the degradation of the highest church powers to the level of a governmental office.”
But, they say, things have now dipped to Czarist depths again because the patriarchate has knuckled under to the government in “unconditional submission.” They list the results: official registration of baptisms, which makes Orthodox priests into informers against the faithful; mass closing of churches, monastaries, and seminaries; the virtual end of home and cemetery services; the “anti-evangelical, heartless, and illegal practice of estranging children from the church”; and “the foul intervention of atheists in the appointment of the clergy.”
Alexei has suspended the troublemakers, but they doubtless represent a considerable group that wants freedom from state controls at whatever price.
The NCC periodical reports this high-powered conflict extends beyond Orthodoxy. Next month, it will print documents showing a similar split between Baptists who seek survival by accommodation with the government and those who crave independence.
The appointment of Presbyterian minister John Steidl to head adult education in the Episcopal Church has been criticized by some because there were qualified Episcopalians available for the post. Roman Catholic observer Dale Francis says Presiding Bishop John Hines made the appointment, knowing it would be unpopular, to take “his church a little closer to union with Presbyterians.”
A Vatican tribunal upheld the suspension of radical California priest William DuBay (see March 18 issue, page 44) and ordered him to withdraw his Doubleday book The Human Church. He refused, and threatens to sue the church in a civil court if he is not granted a church trial.
On September 15, the Rev. H. B. Sissel leaves as the United Presbyterians’ secretary for national affairs in Washington, D. C. He will direct the Community Relations Board in Dade County (Miami), Florida, which advises county government on relations among religious, ethnic, and racial groups.
The Rev. David Williams McClurken, an Episcopalian, becomes number-two staffer on the Broadcasting and Film Commission, National Council of Churches.
The Rev. Ulysses Grant Murphy, 97-year-old retired missionary living in Seattle, received a scroll from Japan’s Minister of health, Zenko Suzuki, thanking him for his efforts to abolish licensed prostitution in 1899.
James L. Magmer, 43, top journalism teacher at the University of Detroit, applied for leave from the Jesuits and married 28-year-old Lois Olstrom, a divorced X-ray technician. Weeks before, the former sociology chairman at U-D, Father Lawrence J. Cross, had married Joan T. Renaud, a former nun.
Taylor C. Smith will move from New Testament professor at Berkeley Baptist Divinity School to religion professor at Furman University.
Leonard L. Holloway, development vice-president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was named president of Mary Hardin-Baylor College, a Texas women’s school.
John S. Tremaine, Methodist church music director in Macon, Georgia, will head up the music program at Asbury Theological Seminary.
Harold L. Longenecker, Baptist pastor who heads the Rural Home Missionary Association, was named president of the Montana Institute of the Bible, Billings.
Some 48,000 Indonesians sat through a Bandung rainstorm on the closing night of a city-wide campaign by Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, and 2,000 responded to the invitation.
Miami’s 2,350-member Northwest Baptist Church led the Southern Baptist Convention in 1965 with 345 baptisms. In Sunday School enrollment, nine of the ten leading SBC churches were in Texas.
The American Jewish Congress is making what it calls the first legal challenge of public school classes held in churches and synagogues. A constitutional petition filed with the New York State Supreme Court opposes the practice in Rockland County’s overcrowded Ramapo School District.
Southern Baptists have contributed $120,000 toward construction of a new Baptist church and seminary in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, scheduled for completion next April.
The Christian Home League, which emphasizes family devotions, voted this summer to merge with Scripture Union of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, personal Bible-study campaigners.
A Circuit Court judge in Eugene, Oregon, is hearing a suit from Unitarian minister Carl Nelson and nine others to force removal of a fifty-one-foot cross on a bluff overlooking the university city. A gift to the city from three companies, it is illuminated during the Christmas and Easter seasons by the city-owned electric company.
The Christian Service Corps, first proposed in a CHRISTIANITY TODAY article, is commissioning its first worker, Janet E. Treat, who will teach science for two years at a school for missionary children at Calia, Colombia.
EDWARD T. HORN, 78, former chairman of the Muhlenberg College religion-philosophy department and Lutheran missionary to Japan; in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
FREDERICK W. LOETSCHER, 91, professor of church history for thirty-eight years at Princeton Theological Seminary who also taught at Temple University; in Princeton.
ALLAN E. ARMSTRONG, 89, long-time secretary of foreign missions for the United Church of Canada.
DONALD GEE, 75, a Briton prominent in the avant-garde of the Pentecostal movement; in London.
ERNEST L. FOWLER, 58, Latin America Mission pioneer to once-savage Indian tribes in Colombia, shot to death by seven bandits masquerading as policemen who then ransacked his house but spared his wife and two children.
J. Paul Getty, oil millionaire and business writer for Playboy, opened his English mansion to tourists August 7 to raise funds for nearby Guildford Cathedral (Anglican).
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