"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 6, Number 6, June 2003
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
I will show partiality to no one. Nor will I flatter any man.”
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. Some may also be downloaded at http://www.tegart.com/brian/bible/kjvonly. Articles on the King James Bible controversy and recent issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given.]
Well, Almost All the Aramaic Words in the New Testament
In the previous issue (AISI 6:5), I included an article “All the Aramaic Words in the New Testament.” Experience should have warned me against choosing the word all for inclusion in the title, since it seems that no matter how thoroughly a Biblical study is done, invariably something will have been overlooked (one work I consulted purportedly listing all such words and which I had to supplement from my own research was decidedly incomplete). Sure enough, this morning in my Bible reading for the day, I stumbled across two Aramaic words which should have been discussed in that article, namely “gabbatha,” and “golgotha,” both found in John 19. And shortly thereafter, I came across “aceldama” in Acts 1.
“Gabbatha,” John 19:13, is identified by John as a “Hebrew,” that is, Aramaic word, and indeed it has the look of an Aramaic word. However, its etymology and exact significance are somewhat in doubt. Just before giving the Aramaic word for the location where Pilate sat on his judgment seat in deciding the case of Jesus, John gives its Greek name, namely lithostrotos, which means “paved with stone.” John does not say that the Aramaic is its literal equivalent with the same meaning, as indeed it is not. Apparently, “gabbatha” comes from a root which means “to elevate,” hence, the “elevated place.” The judgment seats in Roman times were usually established in the public forum (cf. Acts 18:12-17; the scene of this incident involving Paul and Gallio has been excavated in the ruins of ancient Corinth). A large, 1st century elevated and paved area (covering an area 1,100 feet north-south by 200 feet east-west) has been uncovered in Jerusalem. This seems to fit quite well the description of the place where Pilate passed final sentence on Jesus (for the particulars, consult John McRay, “Gabbatha,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed., by David Noel Freedman, vol. II, p. 862).
“Golgotha” is found in the accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus as reported by Matthew (27:33), Mark (15:22) and John 19:17), the latter expressly identifying the word as “Hebrew,” i.e., Aramaic; each provides a Greek translation of this Aramaic word, namely, “the place of a skull” (Greek, kranion, cf. our English word “cranium”); Luke 23:33 simply identifies the place as “the skull,” without giving the Aramaic word.
“Golgotha” (or, as originally, *golgolta--the second “l” would easily be elided in common speech), like its Hebrew cognate word with the same meaning ”gulgoleth,” comes from a root, gll, which means “to roll” (as in “heads will roll,” I suppose). The Hebrew word is found once in the OT, I Kings 9:35, of the head of Jezebel; the Greek Septuagint translates the Hebrew as kranion.
Our word “Calvary,” perhaps the most widely used name in English for the place of the crucifixion, is not in the Greek NT at all, but is the translation of “skull” (kranion) in all four Gospels as found in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate version, the translation which dominated Western Europe from about 500 to 1500 A.D. “Calvary” is transferred from the Vulgate in some early English translations. E.g., Wycliffe’s version and the Catholic Rheims translation, both based directly on the Latin Vulgate, have Calvary in all 4 Gospels; only in Luke 23:33 do the other major early English versions follow suit--Tyndale, Cranmer, Geneva, Bishops’ and KJV--and read “Calvary. In the other references, Tyndale, Cranmer and Geneva uniformly have “the place of dead men’s skulls”--introducing a plural where the Greek is singular; the Bishops’ and the KJV have “the place of a skull” outside of the Luke reference, and even there, the KJV has it in the margin. The NIV, in contrast, never borrows “Calvary” from the Vulgate in its text. I am at a loss to explain the inconsistency of 16th and 17th century English Bible versions with regard to the Vulgate’s “Calvary,” usually borrowing it one time out of four--but why borrow it just the once, or, the inverse, borrow it at all?
To what does Golgotha, “the skull,” refer? Surely not to the unburied skulls of executed criminals which presumably littered the execution ground, for to leave anyone, even violent criminals, unburied was unthinkable to the Jews. The most persuasive view is that it refers to the skull-like appearance of the face of a rock, today commonly called “Gordon’s Calvary” (after 19th century British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon who popularized the identification of this location as the place of Jesus’ crucifixion). Nearby is the famous “garden tomb.”
A remarkable picture of this skull-like formation in the rock, with the flat ground at its base, and the nearby Damascus road, dating from 1856, that is, before any of the modern development in and around Jerusalem took place, can be found in The Search for the Tomb of Jesus by William Steuart McBirnie (Montrose, California: Acclaimed Books, 1975), p. 57. A similar but distinct picture of the same location can be seen in The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, ed. by Merrill Tenney, p. 142. A 1950 view of the scene, with some modern construction, but before the area in front of the skull was filled with buildings can be seen on p. 193 of McBirnie. He unfortunately does not credit these photographs or list their sources.
The location of Gordon’s Calvary fits all the Biblical criteria--outside the city (in this case, just north and east of the Damascus gate), along a public thoroughfare (the Damascus road), to be seen at the bottom of the 1856 photograph, with a garden and a tomb in close proximity (off to the left, just beyond the edge of the photo. In contrast, the “traditional” site, located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is quite probably well within the city wall as it stood in Jesus’ day, and therefore is excluded).
The Bible nowhere mentions a hill in connection with the crucifixion (another notion based solely on tradition, in this case dating only from the 4th century A.D.), and there is no reason to conclude that Jesus was crucified on top of “the place of the skull,” but much more likely on the flat ground at its base, or somewhere between its base and the Damascus road (roadsides were favorite places for the Romans to carry out crucifixions--public shock value).
And finally, we come to “Aceldama.” When Luke names this as the place of Judas’ suicide, Acts 1:18, 19 (and which site, as Matthew 27:7, 8 relates, was purchased with Judas’ “blood money” as a burial place for foreigners, with himself as presumably the first to be interred; the accounts supplement one another), he calls it “Akeldama,” followed by a literal translation, “that is, the Field of Blood.” Luke even notes that “Akeldama” is in their, i.e., the Jew’s, language. This, incidentally, along with Colossians 4:10-14, gives certain proof that Luke--but Luke alone of all NT writers--was a Gentile.
“Akeldama”--or to give it a more exacting transliteration, “chaqal-dama” (Greek, like English, has no equivalent of the initial letter, the guttural cheth; the representation in Greek of the Hebrew letter qoph by a kappa is common enough)--is a compound of two words, chaqal, a common Aramaic word meaning “field,” (I distinctly remember when I first came across it in seminary, while working through Targum Onkelos to Genesis 4:8, “and when they were in the field”). Though chaqal occurs with some frequency in the Peshitta Syriac translation of the NT, nevertheless in both Matthew 27:8 and Acts 1:19 a different Syriac word, qere’/qerit’a was employed to render the Greek word for “field.”
Chaqal here is in the “construct state,” that is, it is inseparably joined with the word that follows. That word is dama, the common word dam (rhymes with “mom”), meaning “blood,” to which is attached at the end an Aramaic definite article -a (strangely enough, the only two languages that I know of that attach the definite article to the end of words are Aramaic and Romanian, one a Semitic, the other a wholly unrelated Romance language). So, literally translated, chaqal-dama is “field of the blood,” but in fact, the definite article attached at the end particularizes the word in construct, and so chaqal-dama actually means “the field of blood” (a similar situation exists with pronomial suffixes in Hebrew; the quaint “the mountain of his holiness,” Psalm 48:1, KJV, should in fact be translated “his holy mountain;” the grammatically parallel phrase, “my holy hill,” Psalm 2:6, KJV, is by way of contrast, correctly rendered).
You hereby have a more complete--I dare not say absolutely complete--account of the Aramaic words found in the Greek New Testament.
Jesus and Shakespeare
“Robert Browning quoted, in a letter to a lady in her last illness, the words of Charles Lamb, when ‘in a gay fancy with some friends as to how he and they would feel if the greatest of the dead were appear suddenly in flesh and blood once more--on the first suggestion, “And if Christ entered this room?” changed his tone at once and stuttered out as his manner when moved: “You see--if Shakespeare entered, we should all rise; if He appeared, we must kneel.” ‘ “
Quoted by A. H. Strong,
1907 ed., p. 312
Reading About “Eternal Punishment” in Hell
While various modernistic groups and several cults have long openly denied the doctrine of eternal punishment, for the most part evangelicals and Fundamentalists have held to the plain Biblical teaching that there is eternal, unending punishment for the unrighteous in the world to come. However, under the influence of sentiment and pressure not to be too harsh or rigid, some even in the Fundamentalist camp have begun toying with notions of a non-literal hell of fire, or of annihilationism (the view that the wicked will be quickly consumed in hell and cease all existence), restorationism (a sort of purgatory, with an after-death opportunity to repent), or even universalism (that ultimately, all men will be saved). While these views have a very long history, going back in some cases to pre-Christian times, they have all been rejected by those who have carefully examined the Biblical teaching on the subject.
Commonly, the love and mercy of God--marvelous and wonderful subjects!--are appealed to as justification for denying that either hell is literal or eternal. But we must not emphasize one Divine attribute at the expense of others. God is love, yes, but He is also a consuming fire; He is merciful, but he is also perfectly just. God is, above all, surpassingly, supremely and infinitely holy, and we must never distort God’s holiness by de-emphasizing His just condemnation of human sin.
While I could present the Biblical case for eternal retribution and unending conscious suffering of the lost, the case has been made by others no doubt more effectively and more thoroughly than I could. Rather than re-invent the wheel, let me rather strongly recommend a serious and solemn consideration of this subject as expounded by several theologians of note.
William G. T. Shedd (1820-1894) has provided what is widely considered the classic treatment of the subject of eternal hell in the chapter “Hell,” in his Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, pp. 667-764. He comes close to exhausting all aspects of this very serious subject.
Baptist pastor John Gill (1697-1771) discusses “The Final State of the Wicked” in his Body of Divinity, pp. 676-686 (in the most commonly met with edition). His treatment is strongly Biblical as opposed to philosophical and speculative.
A. H. Strong (1836-1921) examines “the final state of the wicked” in pp. 1,033-1,056 of his Systematic Theology (1907 edition). He quotes at length from authors on all sides of the issue (and the reader should be careful not to assume that Strong agrees with those he is quoting).
There are no doubt other thoroughly conservative and Biblical treatments of the doctrine of eternal retribution, but I have found these to be thorough and persuasive.
No one “delights” in the doctrine of eternal hell; no one rejoices at the prospect of never-dying souls being separated from God and in conscious agony for all eternity. But we should not for that reason tone down, soften or ameliorate that stark and somber truth that the price of sin is high, that its consequences are forever, and the only time for repentance is in this life. Indeed, we should preach it all the more, to warn men from going to that place of perpetual torments.
One Motive for the Universal Offer of the Gospel
“There is certainty that life and death divide between them the whole body of mankind. What portion either of the two hath, God himself knoweth; for us he hath left no sufficient means to comprehend, and for that cause hath not given any leave to search in particular who are infallibly the heirs of the kingdom of God, and who are castaways. Howbeit, concerning the state of all men with whom we live, we may till the world’s end always presume that as far as in us there is power to discern what others are, and as far as any duty of ours dependeth upon the notice of their condition in respect to God, the safest axioms for charity to rest itself upon are these: ‘He which believeth, already is the child of God; and he which believeth not as yet may become the child of God.’ It becometh not us, during life, altogether to condemn any man, seeing that for anything we know there is hope of every man’s forgiveness, the possibility of whose repentance is not cut off by death. And therefore charity, which ‘hopeth all things,’ prayeth also for all men.”
Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600)
Quoted by W. G. T. Shedd,
Dogmatic Theology, vol. 2, p. 746.
THE ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway Bibles, 2001. 1,328 pp., hardback.
[Ediitor’s note: Though I have seen this new Bible translation only in whole Bible editions, I nevertheless will herein review only the New Testament portion, since that is the part that I have completed reading.]
In the seemingly never-ending torrent of new Bible translations, it can be safely said that most such deserve at best only passing notice, being inferior or obscure works that will soon be forgotten. The notable new translation is a rarer phenomenon. The English Standard Version of 2001 (not to be confused with the English Revised Version of 1885 or the American Standard Version of 1901; English in the title here refers to the English language, not the nationality English) is among the notable versions.
The translation is the work of more than 100 scholars and consultants from a broad spectrum of conservative denominations and from multiple English-speaking countries. Such diversity is a safeguard against sectarianism or provincialism in translation. All the translators are inerrantists. The ESV is not a wholly new translation, as the NIV claimed to be, but a revision of a prior English translation, namely the Revised Standard Version of 1952 (1971 edition).
At first blush, it might seem strange that conservative scholars would take as their starting point an English translation that was roundly denounced by conservatives when it first appeared, as was the case with the RSV. However, it must be remembered that the hail of criticism aimed at the RSV was not that it was a generally or universally bad translation, but that it was a specifically bad translation, particularly with its systematic obscuring of OT Messianic prophecies by falsified and erroneous translation, and defects in other crucial passages. There was no objection to well more than 95% of the RSV, which was in the far greater part a formally equivalent, essentially literal translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts. It was the scattered tainted renderings that made the whole generally unusable by conservatives. The correction of these was the crux of the matter
The ESV is neither a paraphrase (as the Living Bible, New Living Translation, and Good News Bible are), nor a “dynamic equivalence” (also called functional equivalence) translation as the New International Version is, but a formal equivalence, essentially “literal” translation, as were its “ancestors,” the ERV, ASV, and (mostly) RSV; of currently in-use versions, the NASB is the one translation most like the ESV.
The base text for the ESV was the Masoretic text for the OT, occasionally corrected on the evidence of ancient translations (a practice also followed by the KJV and others); for the NT, the base text followed was the Nestle-Aland Greek text, 27th edition, but with some departures where the translators concluded that the evidence supported readings at variance with N-A 27. These base texts, with occasional corrections as noted, would be the preference of the great majority of conservative Bible scholars today acquainted with the facts and evidence involved in making such a selection (the texts followed by the ERV, ASV, and RSV were very much along the same lines).
On the whole, all archaic or obsolete English words are replaced with modern equivalents. Words addressed to God in prayer are not put in archaic English form, employing “thee” and “thou,” an artificial device followed by the NASB, nor are pronouns referring to God capitalized, which resolves numerous doubtful cases (the NASB capitalizes such pronouns, the NIV and KJV do not).
Among exceptions to the practice of using modern English is “behold” which still frequently occurs, though sometimes it is replaced with “see.” I would suggest that “behold” always be replaced with “see,” or perhaps “look” or maybe even “note.” Colloquially, “hey!” would also work. “Hallowed” is still found in the Lord’s Prayer (though it is decidedly obscure to modern English readers), and “propitiation” and some other largely unintelligible Latin-derived traditional theological terms are deliberately retained. “Fear not” (Revelation 1:17) is retained, though we would now say “don’t be afraid.” So too, “tribulation” remains (Revelation 2:10) when “trouble” is more contemporary.
“Hosts” as in “Lord of hosts” (James 5:4) cries out for revision to “Lord of armies” for that is what the Hebrew tsebaoth means. Virtually no one thinks of “armies” today when they hear the word “hosts.” So also, “begotten” is found (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5); either “fathered” or some modern equivalent would be much preferable. “Beloved” (Philippians 2:12; 4:1) is decidedly archaic, and should be replaced with “dear.” “Gnashing” (Matthew 8:12) is not modern English where I live. Nor is “betrothed” (Matthew 1:18).
And there is the, to my ears, the strange-sounding phrase “at table” (Mark 2:15; 14:18) when usage, at least in the American Midwest, requires “at the table” (which also sometimes occurs--both are also found in the NASB).
Some renderings are non-literal including “pride in possessions” (I John 2:16; literally, “pride of life”; the NIV goes greatly to expansive excess with “the boasting of what he has and does”). Hebrews 12:17 has “no chance to repent” which is a highly dubious interpretation of the passage; it is not speaking of Esau’s failure to repent of sin, but rather, a refusal by his father Isaac to change his mind (the literal meaning of metanoia; see A. T. Robertson’ s Word Pictures, loc. cit.). “Angel of God,” Galatians 4:16, should, I think, be replaced with the literal meaning of aggelos, viz., “messenger.” At the very least, “messenger” should be in the margin. I Corinthians 12:29 should be translated so as to show that the expected answer (according to the Greek) to each question is “no” (so too John 4:12). Romans 16:1 should at a minimum have “deaconess” as a marginal alternative to “servant” (I would put “deaconess” in the text and have “servant” in the margin). At Romans 5:15, the Greek definite article is not translated into English though it should be, “the many” (twice; ctr. v. 19); its presence in English is crucial to bring out the sense. Romans 4:25, the ambiguous “for” (twice) should rather be “because of,” the meaning of the Greek preposition dia with the accusative case. Acts 21:40; 22:2 should say “Aramaic” rather than “Hebrew.”
On the other hand there is the too literal, “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” of Revelation 9:16. “Two hundred million” would be much clearer to the reader; a marginal variant could be provided here if it were deemed absolutely necessary (though I do not see why it would be). So also, “the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3) is a Hebraism (and obscure when literally rendered) which means “his powerful word.”
Sometimes ancient and modern units of measure are mixed together--“a quart of wheat for a denarius,” Revelation 6:6. Far better to use consistently either modern or ancient units, with the equivalent in the margin.
The ESV addresses the issue of gender by seeking to avoid making gender-specific in translation words which are not gender specific in the original. On the other hand, when a word that commonly has a male reference is used in a wider sense, the literal rendering is given in the text, with a footnote such as that found at I Timothy 4:6. On the word “brothers” in that text, the footnote reads: “Or, brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church.” This note, or one very similar, occurs repeatedly throughout the NT; I think it would have been preferable to place it at the first occurrence of this phenomenon, and then simply refer the reader to that location by marginal cross references.
All in all, in my first reading of the ESV NT, I found some 100 or so specific renderings that could bear improvement, correction, modernization, etc., to make the translation more precise, more accurate, more intelligible or more literal (the examples noted above are typical). Most are indeed of minor importance, but they could and should be improved in future editions. If it is to be a literal translation, let it be so as far as the text and language will allow. If it is to be in contemporary English, then let all archaic, obsolete, or out-dated words and grammatical constructions be set aside and modern equivalents always be used instead.
As for the format, the edition I purchased and read was set up in double columns, with cross-references down the middle, and occasional footnotes giving variant renderings, textual variants and such. The text was set up in logical paragraphs (like the NIV, though some revisions of the paragraphing need to be made in Hebrews 11, e.g.) with each accompanied by a boldface identifying phrase (Jesus and Zacchaeus; The Parable of the Ten Minas; etc.). This is in contrast to the sense-disrupting practice of treating each verse as a separate paragraph (as in the KJV and most editions of the NASB--this was in fact the reason I gave up the regular reading of the NASB for a different version 15 years ago). Poetry is set up in poetic form, another essential. My edition has the words of Christ in red (which I prefer) and has a 70-page concordance and a few maps at the end, all handy features.
Should the favorable impression left by the NT be paralleled in my reading of the OT, I may consider switching to the ESV as my regular reading Bible in English (that position has been held for some while by the NIV).
In short, then, the ESV NT is an excellent, noteworthy formal equivalence English translation that succeeds in translating accurately into modern English (with some minor exceptions) the inspired words of the Greek NT original. I can readily recommend it.
[The names of all 100 scholars and consultants involved in the production of the ESV, along with additional information about this translation can be found at www.goodnewspublishers.org]
DOUGLAS SOUTHALL FREEMAN ON LEADERSHIP, edited by Stuart W. Smith. Shippensburg, Penn.: White Mane Publishing Co., 1993. ISBN 0-942597-48-6. 262 pp, hardback. $25.00
Douglas Southall Freeman (1886-1953) was editor of the Richmond (Va.) News-Leader, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Robert E. Lee and George Washington, and a frequent guest speaker at U.S. military academies and war colleges (see our review of David E. Johnson’s biography, Douglas Southall Freeman, in AISI, 6:4). This book is a collection of Freeman’s previously unpublished addresses to the top brass and “middle management” (majors, colonels and such) of the U.S. military. Drawing from his expertise in the military leadership displayed by Lee, his lieutenants in the Army of Northern Virginia, his adversaries in the Army of the Potomac, Abraham Lincoln and in the life of General Washington, Freeman presents various aspects of efficient and effective leadership, and their opposite. The first two lectures especially, on Lincoln, and on Lee, are magnificent. While focused, naturally enough, on the military aspects of leadership, it is plain that most of the lessons from the life of Lee, Washington, et al. reported here can be applied in life situations involving leadership--in a company or business, a church, a school, a family. The book also contains a 12 -page biographical sketch of Freeman.
With “leadership” books all the rage, this one merits favorable mention. Acquiring it may take some effort, since it is not usually stocked in retail bookstores, but it should prove worth the trouble.
Some excerpts from Douglas Southall Freeman on Leadership:
“Freeman said throughout his life that he regarded the wasting of time as a sin, and he lived his life accordingly.” (p. 3)
“. . . the two greatest Americans of the nineteenth century, Lee and Lincoln.” (p. 34)
“In all American history there is no story more astounding than that of Lincoln’s rise to fame, immortal fame, in six brief years.” (p. 38)
“[M]easured by the cold standard of service rendered and office held, Abraham Lincoln was the least qualified man who ever became president of the United States. He had served in the general assembly of his state and he had seen two years’ duty in Washington, but in all his life he had never held a single executive office and had never had men in any number under his direction.” (p. 40)
“A tired army needs nothing so much as it needs rest. . . .in the army of Northern Virginia the men could stand almost anything for four days, but the fifth day in almost every instance they would crack. Beware of the fifth day.” (p. 71)
“No matter how vast an army, it still is built on the individual soldier.” (p. 85)
“I could give you the names of dozens of brilliant officers who lost all their hope [of promotion] because they drank [whiskey]. General Lee said, ‘How can I trust a man to command others who cannot command himself?’ Another thing that he never countenanced, and which he never considered that loyalty, personal friendship or favor should cover, was laziness.” (p. 97)
“You have no assurance that a good captain is going to make a good general, but of this you can be absolutely sure, that if he is a good general, he was a good captain.” (p. 108)
“The morale of a command is never better than the average competence of the command; to create morale, get good officers.” (p. 126)
“Incompetence, laziness, and plain stupidity never hurt the Army of Northern Virginia as much as did intemperance. Lee had to fight liquor just as hard as he ever had to fight Meade.” (p. 127)
“Try to know what your adversary is going to do before your adversary knows what you are going to do.” (p. 155)
“I have not yet seen one great American seaman, one great American soldier, who was not at the same time a great man of character.” (p. 196)
Be sure of that: These men who stand out in the annals of our nation are men fundamentally of integrity of character above everything else.” (p. 196)
“No man is fit to command who lacks understanding of those who work with him.” (p. 200)
“Discipline is the soul of an army” (p. 203, quoting Washington)
“Now, believe me, if you want to know your stuff and know it better than the other man, you’ve got to spend more time on it; and if you are going to spend more time on it, you’ve got to make the most of the scraps of time. The difference between mediocrity and distinction in many a professional career is the organization of your time.” (p. 208)
“What is the coward? Who is the coward in the high rank? He is not apt to be the physical craven, but he is a man who sometimes tries to pass on to the other fellow the more difficult job and won’t do his own.” (p. 210)
Quoting General Washington--“You ask me how I am to be rewarded for all of this. There is one reward that nothing can deprive me of, and that is the consciousness of having done my duty with the strictest rectitude and the most scrupulous exactitude and the most certain knowledge that if we should ultimately fail in the present contest, it is not owing to any want of exertion in me or of the application of every means that the Congress of the United States of the states individually have put in my hands.” (p. 227)
PATIENCE & FORTITUDE: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy by Nicholas Basbanes. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. 636 pp, paperback. $19.95
We reviewed Basbanes earlier work A Gentle Madness in AISI 6:4. The present volume is a worthy successor and sequel of sorts to that instructive volume. Basbanes herein continues his quest for book-lore, and gives anecdotal accounts, largely drawn from personal interviews, of notable book-dealers (often eccentric), private book collectors (often obsessed with creating an exhaustive library in some specialized subject area), and great libraries, medieval and modern, public, private and university-owned.
Basbanes takes us to Alexandria in Egypt and Pergamum in present-day Turkey, the locations of the two greatest libraries in antiquity, to Mt. Athos, the complex of monasteries in Greece which was the center of Greek manuscript copying throughout the Middles Ages, and to the Vatican library. We visit medieval and later libraries in England, are introduced, among others, to large public libraries in New York City (the title “Patience and Fortitude” is taken from the names of the two lion statues located outside this library’s entrance), Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, great university libraries at Oxford, Harvard, Yale, the U of Illinois in Urbana (largest of any state educational institution), and Cornell, and the great national libraries at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the British Library (former called the British Museum, of which it used to be a part), the National Library in Paris, and the fledgling library in Alexandria, Egypt. We learn of some of the notable champions of libraries whose foresight, wisdom, and generosity helped preserve the literary treasures of the past.
Basbanes relates great library disasters (a flood in Boston and fires in LA and Leningrad, and the creation by architects of all but unusable new--and very expensive--library complexes in San Francisco and Paris [“If you want to destroy a library, hire an architect”]--fie upon such wastrels!), and complex problems presented by the proliferation of printed materials in the present day, on the one hand, and the trend toward electronic storage of information (on microfilm but especially digitally), on the other. Not a few massive major collections (among them Harvard and the Library of Congress) have off-site storage areas for millions of little-used materials--books, periodicals-- that are nevertheless retained for the sake of completeness. Controversies over library disposal--sometimes to landfills-- of hundreds of thousands of books are not neglected.
To the devotee of the printed page, the paper-and-ink book in hand, Basbanes provides many hours of productive and instructive delight.