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How to Properly Dispose of Unwanted Holy Books

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You don't burn them. You never, ever burn them.

An unwanted holy book, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or any other scripture, can be disposed of humanely and appropriately, but not burned.

A holy book is afforded the same respect as a human being in every religious tradition in the world -- except, apparently, the one practiced by one pastor in Florida.

You bury them.

I've actually buried quite a few Bibles in the last decade. At my old church in Vermont, I was in charge of the annual book sale. Donations would pour in over a six-week period, and I would weed through them all, sorting, pricing and packing them into cartons, where they waited until the day of the fair on the village green.

Each year we'd receive about a dozen Bibles, nearly all of which were the King James Version. They'd always appear well-worn, with tattered edges on the old leather covers. Often, the leather was so old and dry that it chipped like paint on the side of a weathered shed. Looking at these donated Bibles, I'd imagine that they'd been cleaned out of attics or assisted-care facilities. I imagined that they came from the homes of grandmothers and grandfathers like mine who read the King James Bible every day, marking it and urging me to read it when I was young.

I once asked an antique dealer in town where he obtained all of the Bibles in his shop. He said matter-of-factly, "There's one in every house." Bibles were once among the most treasured objects in a family home, but the old ones often no longer seem important to later generations. At our book fair, I would hear things like, "Mother kept this by her bedside for as long as I can remember. But we don't need it."

Most of the King James Bibles I come across are battered and ragged, well-used and dusty. At our book fair, no one wanted to buy them. I usually couldn't even give them away. So I ended up burying a lot of them.

At the end of the fair in late July, I would carry the leftovers home and get the tall shovel out of the shed. Using the heel of my right shoe, I'd thrust its blade deep into the soil and make a hole large enough for a dead pet. In they went.

Each of the three monotheistic faiths practice some form of this. There are a series of underground tunnels in the Chiltan Hills near Quetta, Pakistan where nearly 100,000 discarded and partial Qurans are carefully packed in bags, buried (which they actually call "storing" in a hopeful sort of way) and then watched over by devout Muslims who feel called to the sacred task. The first of these many tunnels was dug in 1992 and measures 130 feet in length, and is about seven feet in circumference.

Jews do it, too. Jews bury old and tattered Torah scrolls when they are no longer useable or repairable. I remember a story in the years after Hurricane Katrina that told of the burial of seven scrolls in New Orleans that were destroyed by the storm. They were laid to rest in a graveside ceremony by the rabbi and members of Beth Israel Congregation of New Orleans. The scrolls lie in the cemetery next to the long-serving, much-loved gabbai (a rabbi's assistant who also often assists when the Torah is read in services) of that synagogue, who'd died just before the storm -- an honor to both man and scrolls.

On a much less impressive scale, someday someone will buy my old house, dig up the rear part of the garden (look to the area closest to the shed, near the remnants of last year's tomato plants) and likely scratch their heads at what they find about 22 inches down.

Jon M. Sweeney is a writer and book publisher living in Vermont. His book, Verily, Verily: The King James Bible--400 Years of Influence and Beauty was published in March by Zondervan.

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