Sunday, November 07, 2010

Caveat Emptor

Because I am an unabashed Liberal – capital letter and all – some might be surprised to learn that I am a charter subscriber to The Weekly Standard, the formerly neo-conservative political journal.

In its first numbers The Weekly Standard was an interesting center-right counter balance to center-left The New Republic. The reputed father of neo-conservatism is the late Irving Kristol, the actual father of William Kristol, founding editor of The Weekly Standard. It was Kristol the Elder who defined a neo-conservative as "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." The Standard's executive editor, Fred Barnes, was formerly an editor for The New Republic. Charles Krauthammer remains a contributing editor of The New Republic, while also holding that title for The Weekly Standard, though by my recollection it has been years since anything by Mr. Krauthammer has appeared in The New Republic.

I have read The New Republic since high school. Much later, I came to admire the work of Mr. Barnes and Mr. Krauthammer. It was from reading them in The New Republic that I came to be a subscriber to The Weekly Standard. I cannot boast to be a charter subscriber to The New Republic, for the simple reason that it is ninety-six years old today.

For years, The Weekly Standard was a reasonable conservative response to what one read in The New Republic. There have been several editorial changes and several journalistic scandals at The New Republic over the years. There have been times that I found myself preferring The Weekly Standard over The New Republic. If memory serves, in the early numbers The Weekly Standard even ventured to criticize the anti-government philosophy of Ronald Reagan.

That all changed with the election of Barack Obama. Since Mr. Obama's election The Weekly Standard has turned sharply to the right, unwilling to criticize any extremism from the Tea Party movement, blindly endorsing the nonsense that comes from Sarah Palin, and giving a wink to the radical capitalism of Ayn Rand.

The Weekly Standard is neo-conservative no longer. Perhaps there no longer is any neo-conservatism. From the little I know, it does not seem possible that the urbane Kristol the Elder would find anything amusing in the vitriol that currently spews on the pages of Kristol the Younger's magazine. It seems questionable that the liberals who had been mugged by reality would endorse the radical unregulated capitalism of Randism.

These, however, are larger issues that require research.

However, the proposition that free-market capitalism cannot be left completely free, that some government oversight is needed for the protection of consumers, can be defended easily, and from nothing less than the pages of the formerly neo-conservative Weekly Standard.

For the last few months, many times opposite an article that staunchly defends free-market capitalism, The Weekly Standard has run a full-page color advertisement for "The Holy Bible In Its Original Order." This new edition of the Bible is unique for two reasons: the order of the books and the "new translation."

The first claim is the most important.

This advertisement claims this Bible to be "the only complete Bible ever published … that accurately follows the original canonical or manuscript order as recognized by most scholars." Furthermore, it is claimed, "With this restoration to the 1st century 'manuscript' order, a purposeful design, symmetry and story flow order of the Bible become more readily apparent."

How is it that after two millennia of the Christian faith this is the first and only Bible of its kind?

"It is a little known historical fact that the original manuscript order of both the Old and New Testament books was altered by early church fathers," the publisher claims.

The history of what has come to be the Christian Bible is complicated. This history runs from the second century B.C. until the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Council of Trent – at the very least. The "little known historical fact" promoted by this advertisement is pure rubbish. No "early church fathers" altered the order of any "1st century 'manuscript' order" because there never was a first-century manuscript order.

Consider first the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament. The late Jaroslav Pelikan, theologian and former professor of History at Yale University, wrote, "The Holy Scripture for Jesus and the early Christians was the Hebrew Bible of the Jewish community, but no list of books it included exists" (The Melody of Theology, p. 28). Pelikan goes on to explain that from all the books competing to be part of what came to be the Old Testament for Christians, there have come to be "…three canons, one each for Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy" (p. 31).

If this appears complicated, it is. Any standard Bible encyclopedia will introduce the interested reader to the subject. What can be said for certain, however, is that there was no single first-century canon of the Old Testament.

The Bible publisher's claim as it pertains to the New Testament is even more glaringly false. Every first-year seminary student knows that there was no first-century manuscript order or canon because the New Testament was written in the first century. The first canon, or list of New Testament books, extant is the second-century Marcion canon. The problem with this is that Marcion was a heretic and his canon, although interesting from an historical perspective, is deficient for current orthodox Christians.

We could go on to discuss the heresy of Montanism, and the significance of Eusebius' categorization of books as either homologoumena or antilogomena, but the point has been made.

The first-century manuscript order Bible being peddled here is completely the invention of a twenty-first-century Bible publisher. The publisher's claims for this Bible are false and indefensible. The publisher claims the authority of "most scholars," but conveniently names no scholar.

No court of law will prosecute this publisher, but every penny that this publisher takes for the $119.50 Deluxe Lambskin edition, or the $99.50 Black Faux Calfskin edition, or the $99.50 Paper Edition with carrying case, is an act of theft. No court is going to adjudicate rival claims of ecclesial history. No court will defend the pious but ignorant consumers of this rubbish. Caveat emptor.

What we have here is the Bernie Madoff of Bible publishers.

Perhaps under a liberal free market society that allows the free flow of information, such creatures need to be tolerated. Perhaps we should allow Grandmother Schultz to be defrauded of a hundred bucks, or left to hope her pastor can defend her.

What about her retirement fund, or mortgage, or life insurance, or health insurance? There comes a point when the free market needs some regulation to protect it from its own excesses. There comes a point when the government needs to protect citizens from the fraudulent claims of the unscrupulous entrepreneur.

President Barack Obama is not a socialist. He is, when he is at his best, a Liberal. Like the Liberal Franklin D. Roosevelt before him, he has tried to protect capitalism from its own excesses.

The editors of The Weekly Standard have failed to recognize this. They have also failed to scrutinize the advertisements they accept for publication.