Believer or non-believer, if one aspires to a knowledge of any of the humanities, or even, the development of the sciences, in the West, but also to a significant degree in the East, what could be more de riguer than to know a bit about the massive history of the Bible? Without question, from the standpoint of our contemporary world, the Bible is, by far, the most influential cultural statement. Knowledge, not only of its contents, but of their transmission, is indispensible to knowledge of our selves. We could say that Biblical literacy is pre-requisite to cultural literacy - and cultural literacy is pre-requisite to self-knowledge in any verifiable sense.
This landmark study, handsomely produced by Cambridge University Press, which may, on initial inspection, appear to be a daunting read, consisting of three encyclopediac and rather imposing tomes, turns out to be surprisingly accessible. In fact, once one starts reading (a journey here really does begin with the first step), it's tough to put down! These books are filled with the most curious revelations and all sorts of arcane facts. Moreover, knowing this history may change the way one looks at the world. For instance, I was always under the impression that Luther was the first to translate the Gospels into the vernacular German, and that this innovation was one of the primary causes of the success of the Reformation. Right? Wrong. The Vulgate was translated as early as the 7th century by the Goths. A Goth named Ulfilas taught Christianity in as early as the 4th century and a Goth Bible was produced on purple parchment (I suppose these were the original purple pages) penned in gold and silver ink. I'm sure their contemporary descendents would much approve. Renaissance scholars believe this Bible, the Codex Argenteus, was extant at least as early as 795 A.D. Further, there were a number of Bibles floating around Germany and the Lowlands when Luther produced his. Nor did Luther do it alone. He had help from two other guys who knew more Latin than he did. But, his introduction, the widespread literature he had created leading up to its publication, and, ironically, the fact that he had Fredrick's printing presses cranking out copy by the minute, were the great compensating factor in making his translation the earth shaking bestseller that it became. Kudos to Team Luther, eh?