THE BLOG

What Has Tennessee Done and What Holy Bible Have They Chosen?

04/15/2015 03:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2015

Tennessee legislators have voted to establish the Holy Bible as their official state book, so it's a good time to ask: What, exactly, is in the Holy Bible?

The answer, as with so many things regarding the Bible, depends on who you ask.

For most Jews, the Bible is a set of 39 books that includes the very familiar Genesis, famous prophets like Isaiah, the poetic Psalms, texts like Chronicles, and more. This collection is variously called the "Old Testament," the "Jewish Bible," the "Hebrew Bible," or, by Jews, just "the Bible."

For most Christians, the Bible includes those 39 books (in a different order), and, in addition, the Gospels, like Matthew; some letters by Paul, like the Book of Romans; some other letters, like the Book of Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation. This collection is generally called the New Testament. Combined with the Old Testament, it makes up what many Christians call "the Bible."

In addition, there are books like Maccabees that some Christians thought the Jews should have put in their Bible even though the Jews chose not to. These are usually called the Apocrypha by people like most Protestants who don't think they belong in the Bible, or the "deuterocanonical" books by people like Catholics who think they do. Some of the Orthodox churches refer to these should-have-been Jewish books as "worthy of reading," or, in Greek, with the mouthful of a moniker anagignoskomena. All of these are, in some sense, part of "the Bible."

The mysterious Book of Enoch --- and its claim that God's world has gone awry -- is part of the Ethiopian Bible, but everyone else puts it in the category of books that fell to the Old Testament's cutting room floor in antiquity. Technically called the "pseudepigrapha," these books number in the hundreds, and include the second half of the Adam and Eve story, Abraham's early life, and much more.

Then there are the runners up to the New Testament, such as the Gnostic Gospels. Like most of the pseudepigrapha, these aren't in anyone's Bible.

All of this raises the question: What has Tennessee made into its state book? The Jewish Bible? The Catholic one? Greek Orthodox? Protestant? Ethiopian?

And the confusion is only compounded by the variety of available translations, some of them more accurate than others, but all bearing the name "the Bible." Some versions (inaccurately) list "do not kill" as one of the Ten Commandments. Others prefer "do not murder." Which one should be in the Tennessee state book? Most Bible texts refer to the otherwise felonious "my sister, my bride"? Should that be part of the state book?

If something as ambiguous and amorphous as "the Holy Bible" can be a state book, what's next? Maybe the state plant should be "the lovely blue flower I love so much."

Dr. Hoffman is author most recently of The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible. He can be reached through his website at www.lashon.net.

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