Many years ago I wrote a piece with the above title, in which I invented some, er, lesser-known editions of the Bible. It was reasonably amusing, and one of these days I might resurrect it. But I was young then, and had not done my research. Now I have, and I must say that some of the genuine Bibles far outshine my own paltry juvenilia.
I have been reading Isaac Disraeli’s Curiosities Of Literature, one section of which is entitled “The Bible Prohibited And Improved”. Here are some extracts.
We have had several remarkable attempts to recompose the Bible; Dr. Geddes’s version is aridly literal, and often ludicrous by its vulgarity; as when he translates the Passover as the Skipover, and introduces Constables among the ancient Israelites.
Sebastian Castillon took a very extraordinary liberty with the sacred writings. He fancied he could give the world a more classical version of the Bible, and for this purpose introduces phrases and entire sentences from profane writers into the text of holy writ. His whole style is finically quaint, overloaded with prettinesses, and all the ornaments of false taste. Of the noble simplicity of the Scripture he seems not to have had the remotest conception.
Disraeli is particularly taken by a French priest named Pere Berruyer, who “recomposed the Bible as he would have written a fashionable novel”:
He conceives that [Moses] is too barren in his descriptions, too concise in the events he records, nor is he careful to enrich his history by pleasing reflections and interesting conversation pieces, and hurries on the catastrophes, by which means he omits much entertaining matter.
Berruyer, on the other hand, creates “relishing morsels” which were “devoured eagerly in all the boudoirs of Paris”.
Take a specimen of the style: Joseph combined, with a regularity of features and a brilliant complexion, an air of the noblest dignity; all which contributed to render him one of the most amiable men in Egypt. The wife of Potiphar declares her passion, and pressed him to answer her. It never entered her mind that the advances of a woman of her rank could ever be rejected. Joseph at first only replied to all her wishes by his cold embarrassments. She would not yet give him up. In vain he flies from her; she was too passionate to waste even the moments of his astonishment. In this manner the patriarchs are made to speak in the tone of the tenderest lovers; Judith is a Parisian coquette, Holofernes is rude as a German baron; and their dialogues are tedious with all the reciprocal politesse of metaphysical French lovers! This good father had caught the language of the beau monde, but with such perfect simplicity that, in employing it on sacred history, he was not aware of the ludicrous style in which he was writing.
Perhaps, in this godless age, we should set to work on The Dabbler’s Bible.