Jots & Tittles
Wringing Out the Word
When the highest floodwaters in two centuries wreaked havoc on the Czech capital of Prague last August, casualties included one extremely rare (and extremely valuable) Bible, housed in a branch of the city’s municipal library just a few blocks from the overflowing Vltava River. Fortunately, the Bible is well on the way to being saved, through a mixture of high- and low-tech methods borrowed from the food industry.
The 1488 Prague Bible is one of the earliest printed books (published only decades after the invention of the printing press) and also the first complete Czech translation of the Bible. There are only a few copies still in existence, each one unique because of its hand-painted illustrations.
After the flood the Bible was quickly rushed—along with thousands of other waterlogged documents (including original Mozart scores)—to a local freezer normally used for vegetables. Freezing books, like freezing produce, keeps them from rotting while they await restoration.
The method now being used to dry out the soggy Bible also originated in the food industry: vacuum packing, which is used to package coffee, lunch meats and other perishables you buy at the local grocery. Jana Dvoráková, a restorer from the Czech National Library who has been working on the project since November 2002, used a vacuum-packing machine to seal the Bible, along with absorbent paper, in plastic. The vacuum created inside the plastic bag draws water out of the book and into the paper. She has had to repeat this process many times, and even break the book apart into sections to speed up the process.
Currently Dvoráková is teasing apart the individual pages using a preservation pencil—a device that shoots a narrow spray of steam between the sheets of paper. She is also using a special glue to harden the blue and red painted initials that introduce each chapter. The paint in these initials is partly what caused the wet pages to stick together. “At this moment I have done some two-thirds of the book,” Dvoráková told BR. “But I have a lot of work ahead: cleaning, repairing the pages, sewing the whole book back together and making a new binding.”
Zuzana Kopencová, head of the municipal library’s rare books collection, hopes the Bible will be ready for display in October. After that it will be kept in a brand-new book depository, far, far away from the Vltava River.
Visitors to the Gallery of the American Bible Society in New York will get a rare glimpse of Russia’s modern icon tradition in Holy Russia in Tuscany, on view until September 20. More than works of art, Orthodox icons serve, for the faithful, as relics, directly linked to the holy or saintly figures they depict. They changed little from the tenth century until the 19th, when artisans began to give their creations a more naturalistic appearance; these more modern expressions of the icon tradition are less well known than their medieval predecessors. The 56 19th- and early 01320th-century icons now on display come from the Museum of Russian Icons in Peccioli, a small Tuscan village in Italy. They were donated by an Italian journalist, Francesco Bigazzi, who collected them over two decades while working and traveling in the former Soviet Union. For more information, contact the American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway, New York, NY; visit: www.americanbible.org; or phone: 212–408-1500.
Another ongoing exhibition, The Making of a Medieval Book, at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, details the materials and techniques that were used in the creation of beautiful medieval manuscripts. Beginning with preparing the parchment from animal hide, the exhibition shows each step in the process, including how parchment was ruled and inscribed with quill pens, then lavishly decorated with paints and gold leaf, and finally bound. The exhibit runs until September 28. For more information contact the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA; phone: 310–440-7300, or visit their Web site: www.getty.edu.
From Boardwalk to Jerusalem
Looking for a way to combine board-gaming with Bible study? Your prayers are answered. Bibleopoly, by a Cincinnati-based specialty board game manufacturer, Late for the Sky Production Company, gives a biblical twist to the tried and true MonopolyTM formula.
Instead of buying prime plots of real estate to construct hotels, Bibleopoly players use their tithes to build churches at famous New Testament cities like Capernaum, Ephesus and Nazareth. You can’t wheel and deal by trading properties back and forth in Bibleopoly, and players who can’t afford to make offerings still remain in the game. Best of all, players are never told to go to jail—they just go meditate. The board does include various perils, however, including “Abyss” cards that, when drawn, may contain unhappy news like “You are swallowed by a great fish. Lose three turns.” For more information, visit the game-makers on the Web—www.lateforthesky.com—or call 800–422-3434.
The Bible in the News
In a classic Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown tries to motivate his recumbent canine Snoopy by quoting from the Book of Proverbs: “Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty” (20:13). Snoopy’s response: “I stayed awake all day yesterday but was still poor.” In today’s world, as reflected in the pages of the popular press, such proverbial wisdom is widespread. As the examples below make clear, there is no area of daily life to which reporters, columnists and headline writers cannot apply (or misapply) the practical insights of the authors of Proverbs, the Dear Abby’s of the biblical world.
Proceeding in canonical order, the first reference we locate is to Proverbs 1:19 (“Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it”). It is found in an article in the Calgary Herald, titled “Save us, Harry,” that details biblical parallels to the Harry Potter stories. Citing this proverb, the paper asks: “What magical building in Harry Potter has a similar warning engraved on its silver doors?” (Alas, I have no idea, and the story didn’t reveal the answer, although I am sure any seasoned Potterite will know!)
Several writers discuss the relevance of Proverbs to today’s business world. A feature in the Syracuse, N.Y. Post-Standard on using “religious principles in making investment choices” asserts that “the book of Proverbs talks about dollar cost averaging, the theory that savings add up over time.” The report states, “King Solomon refers to this as steady plodding brings prosperity”—an apparent reference to Proverbs 21:5 (“the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance”). Unfortunately, the good king did not follow his own advice.
Congressman James Greenwood, R-Penn., after characterizing Enron’s downfall as a scandal of “Biblical proportions,” goes on to quote Proverbs 11:29: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind, and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”
A happier note is struck by references to Proverbs 15:15 (“For the merry heart, life is a continual feast”). As reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a study on nuns and aging found that “positive emotions and a merry heart may be the secret to a longer, happier life.”
In general, the elderly come off well in the biblical text. So, it is not unexpected that a story on projections of increased lifespans quotes Proverbs 16:31, “grey hair is a crown of splendor.”
Humility and self-control are among the prime virtues that lead to “a good name,” according to Proverbs (and us modern folk). The lack of these qualities can have dire consequences. So we read in the London Times: “Bragging of your sexual prowess is a dangerous game. The world of e-mail has yet again proved the truth of the biblical proverb [27:1] that cautions against boasting on the ground that you can never tell what a day may bring.”
In my admittedly incomplete delving into popular press references, only one verse from Proverbs, 29:18 (“Without a vision, the people will perish”) was cited twice. It heads one story titled “Task Force to Make Pitch for Arts Center” (from the Tampa Tribune) and another (from The Paducah [KY] Sun) with the headline “Workshop Leader Stresses Attracting New Firms at West Kentucky Economic Summit.” [Ben Witherington, in Vision Quest, brings the count to three.—Ed.] I guess it is a vision thing after all.
Most of the examples cited above are fairly lighthearted or at least benign. But a few frequently cited verses from Proverbs have grimmer consequences. These include 13:24 (“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him”), 22:15 (“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it from him”), and 29:15 (“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces its mother”). In story after story, from Great Britain, Canada and the United States, these passages are used as arguments by some church-related schools to permit corporal punishment.
Most reporters simply list these passages as they would relevant sections from contemporary legal documents. They rarely attempt to interpret what they meant in antiquity. To remedy this, allow me, humbly and of course with consummate self-control, to urge reporters and editors to apply this bit of Proverbial wisdom: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom [and also perhaps increased circulation and Pulitzer Prizes] for the future” (Proverbs 19:20).
Wringing Out the Word