"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 13, Number 8, August 2010
“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.”
“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”
Earl of Kent
Shakespeare’s King Lear
Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34
[“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. All back 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 upon request.]
Anti-Biblical Prejudice among Scholars
“Scholars are much more gullible about non-biblical texts than they are about Biblical texts. They are much more suspicious of Biblical texts. Quite often, if it’s said in an Assyrian annal, it’s taken literally.”
Dr. Lawrence Stager,
Professor of Archaeology, Harvard University
Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2010, p. 54
[No one should ever be so naďve as to suppose that there is any such thing as an “objective” scholar. Every single one, including the “best,” has his presuppositions, his worldview, and his theological perspective, and all of these affect his interpretation of facts and evidence. And in the world of Biblical studies, most scholars have a strong anti-Biblical prejudice which pervades and often seriously warps their writings. Commonly--regularly--a biblical statement is viewed with skepticism unless and until it is “confirmed” by external sources--a Babylonian chronicle, a Roman inscription, the testimony of a secular historian, the results of archaeological investigation. A long list could be quickly made of Biblical persons, places, events and statements which were at one time widely doubted or denied by “scholars” but which are now accepted as fact--but only because of external confirmation. The Bible is regularly “presumed guilty until proven innocent,” unlike any other book from antiquity--editor]
Evolutionist Admits He Can’t Believe His Own Eyes
“Entering the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History brought me face to face with a fuzzy replica of one of our earliest ancestors, Lucy, a member of the species Australopithecus afarensis who lived 3.3 millions years ago. With her hooded eyes, and inset nostrils she looks so much like an ape, it’s hard to believe she’s one of us.”
July/August 2010, p. 13
[Yes, it IS “hard to believe” because the evidence is all against it. Nevertheless, the devout evolutionist believes it anyway. His religion of atheistic naturalism requires it, regardless of the evidence, and regardless of what he can see with his own eyes--editor]
In Retrospect: High School Graduation Plus 40 Years
As a boy, I can remember my parents and some of their friends from high school at our house planning a class reunion for my dad; it was his 15th. At the time, I was 9 or 10 years old, and I simply couldn’t imagine at all not merely being out of high school, but of actually being 15 years past high school--why, that’s 3 years longer that a student spends in school from 1st through 12th grade! That a person could complete high school--requiring a massive passage of time itself--and then go beyond it 15 years more! Unthinkable. And yet somehow I find myself now not just 15 years but four full decades past high school.
At the end of July, I participated in a reunion of my high school class, marking (or perhaps celebrating--individual perspectives may vary!) 40 years since the day in May, 1970 that the 650 or so members of the West High School (Wichita) class of 1970 crossed the platform and received their diplomas (I had actually graduated a semester early, in mid-January, having already accrued the necessary credits. I was one of seven or eight January grads. About 10 days later, I enrolled in college, and before I had my high school diploma in hand, had actually earned 17 college credits).
Some of those I graduated with I have known since 1st grade (more than half a century ago), others I met first in junior high, and still others, only in high school itself. Some look so little changed in the course of 40 years that they were immediately recognizable, while other were so dramatically different that a name tag was essential. And this being the 8th post-graduation reunion (at regular 5-year intervals; I attended those on the 20th, 25th, 30th and 40th anniversaries), a pattern of attendance is readily discerned--perhaps 70-80% in attendance were those who come every time. Others are irregular attendees. And surprisingly, there was actually a handful who had never come to any previous get together but did decide to come to this one.
About half of the class still lives within a 30-mile radius of Wichita, with the others scattered far and wide, from coast to coast, and border to border (I’m not aware of any living in foreign countries). Of not a few--well more than a hundred--, their current whereabouts is “unknown,” as it has in most cases been for years.
Some present traveled from far away. Several returned from California, some from Virginia, and one couple--both class members--from Massachusetts. Yet many living in town had no interest in coming at all. Perhaps high school holds memories so painful to recall, or their subsequent life has been so, what, embarrassing?, that absence was a preferred course of action. I myself subscribe to Samuel Johnson’s admonition that we keep our friendships in constant repair, and so my going was never in doubt.
Of course, at every reunion, there is the often socially-awkward problem of not recognizing once-familiar faces or remembering names. Naturally enough, with a class count of some 650 individuals, it is a certainty that even in high school I did not know the name and / or face of everyone in the class. And if I didn’t know them then, it is obviously impossible to “remember” later people I never knew at all.
It took little perception to spot the spouses of class members (besides my initial personal mental bewilderment--“she doesn’t look like anybody I knew” or “who could he be?”): they were the people sitting stoically and usually singly at a table, staring distantly at nothing in particular, as they tried to somehow endure, isolated in a crowd, the rising din as class-mates chatted and laughed at break-neck speed about common past experiences and present realities.
Having shared in days long past the common culture of growing up in the 1950s and 60s, and three years in our common school experience, we now are passing through a new set of common experiences--children now grown and out of the house (finally!), grandchildren (I had the highest unofficial number, with 11 and counting), aging and dying parents (some few still have both, most have lost one or both), retirement or plans for retirement--or realizing that they can’t afford to ever retire. (A couple of times I was asked if I was retired! I’m not sure that I have ever yet been gainfully employed, which is usually retirement’s pre-requisite).
The cold hand of death has been at work in our midst through all four decades--the first death in the class came about a week after graduation (car wreck)--but has been most busy in the last decade. Nearly 50 are known to have crossed over all told; a brief memorial video presentation was shown in their honor and memory. Statistical averages and demographics foretell only more of the same before the next reunion, and the next, indeed, with increasing frequency as we one by one reach the Manufacturer’s “expiration date.” How many are prepared for their scheduled (by God) departure? I wish I could report that that number is large and growing, but neither is the case. Of those present, I know of clear-cut conversion testimonies of a dozen or less, but all from years ago, with none of recent vintage. There is no apparent mad rush to prepare for eternity.
Upon viewing for several hours over two evenings this confluence of ageing baby-boomers, one thing, among many, is in evidence: as with the rest, so with myself, the long decline in mental acuity and physical energy and co-ordination, and subsequent efficiency in labor and mental activity has long since set in, with prospects only of continuing further disintegration. In a word: I’m past--well past--my prime. Labors planned and cherished, goals set and projects proposed are increasingly less likely to be attained, not only because of fewer years in which achieve them, but also the distressing decline in internal resources to carry them out.
And that leads to two equally unpleasant “what ifs”: the first, the result of a rather disconcerting look back on my life and realizing that whatever my “potential” in the salad days of youth, those expectations, plans and prospects have not been met, the hoped for accomplishments left chiefly on the drawing board, the original potential vastly under-reached. Leaving only the regret of “what could have been. . . if.”
And then rushes in the second “what if”--what if in fact I have lived up to my potential? That would mean that my youthful plans and prospects were all delusional and that I never had it in me to achieve them from the beginning, that my perceived “potential” was an illusion, a deception, a phantom, and my labor to attain those impossible ends sheer futility.
Neither alternative carries much appeal. Perhaps neither is the truth. Indeed, “I ain’t dead yet,” and God has not yet closed the book on my life, so Tennyson no doubt was right when he placed in the mouth of Ulysses the words,
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done.
. . . .
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
God “Rocks”: Regarding the Translation of Isaiah 44:8
Why do newer translations translate “rock” whereas older ones “God” in Isaiah 44:8? What is happening in the text?
The final clause of Isaiah 44:8 in the KJV, 1611 edition, reads:
“Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no God; I know not any” (italics in original).
By way of contrast, the New International Version, one of several modern English Bible versions that could have been quoted, reads:
“Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
Where the KJV reads “God” (second occurrence in verse), the NIV reads “Rock.” One would think that if both follow the same Hebrew text here, they should not read so dramatically different, right? Or so you it would seem.
The Hebrew text here is plain and unambiguous: the first word translated “God” in the KJV (and NIV) is eloah, a somewhat rare singular form of the usual word for God, namely elohim, which is plural in form, but regularly (though not quite universally) used with singular verbs when speaking of the one true God (Genesis 1:1 is the first example in Scripture, the second being Genesis 1:3, with thousands following). A check in such a work as The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance (which lists in Biblical order the occurrences of OT Hebrew words, but gives in English--KJV--the phrase in which the word is found) reveals that that the plural form elohim is in the great majority of occurrences translated in the KJV “God,” with “gods” second, and “judges” a distant third. All these may be legitimate translations of the Hebrew form elohim (depending of course on the context and usage in each case).
Then we come to the much rarer singular form eloah (found approximately 57 times in the Masoretic text, all but 15 of which are found in Job). If this concordance accurately represents the KJV rendering in each place, the KJV translates all but four places by “God”; the other four are rendered “god.” Isaiah 44:8 is the only occurrence of the singular form eloah in the book of Isaiah. So far so good.
Now, the word at issue. For the second occurrence of “God” in the KJV of this verse, where the NIV to the contrary reads “Rock,” the Hebrew word (without any variant in the Hebrew editions or manuscripts--I checked multiple Masoretic text editions to confirm this) is tsur. This common word--found about 80 times in the Masoretic text--is the great majority of times rendered “rock(s)” (or “Rock,” in the several cases where it is a reference to God--Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31; 2 Samuel 23:3). A few times it is translated “sharp” (original KJV margin, “flint”), or “strength” or “strong” (margin, “rock”), “mighty One” (margin, “Rock”) or even “beauty” (just once, Psalm 49:14; margin, “strength”) and “edge” (Psalm 89:43).
And twice it is represented in English by “God”--here, and also Habakkuk 1:12 (second occurrence in English of “God” in that verse as well; we will address only Isaiah 44:8 in this study). And of great interest at this point is the fact that the original KJV in both places had a marginal note, to wit: “Heb. rocke.” [sic]. This note informs the observant reader that the Hebrew text actually does not say “God” (neither elohim nor eloah nor even el, yet a third Hebrew word for God, is to be found in the original Hebrew text in either place). Rather, the KJV translators themselves inform us that they are not literally translating the Hebrew text, nor indeed translating it at all, but substituting their interpretation / paraphrase for this Hebrew word they plainly acknowledge actually means “rock.” In light of the fact that the KJV translators had not hesitated on a half-dozen previous occasions to literally translate tsur when it had reference to God, it is curious that they in these two passages chose rather to interpret or paraphrase rather than translate the Hebrew. At any rate, the much maligned NIV and other modern versions which read “rock” are more literally accurate and faithful to the Hebrew here than the KJV is. Exactly how the KJV’s rendering came about invites inquiry. Perhaps a survey of prior versions will provide some explanation.
First of all, it soon becomes evident that in this verse, at least, the KJV’s departure from a literal translation of the Masoretic text for a decidedly non-literal interpretation, was not due to the influence of any of the ancient versions (the KJV OT does elsewhere, hundreds of times, depart from the Masoretic Hebrew text and follow instead precisely one or more of the ancient translations noted below). The earliest of the ancient versions, the Septuagint Greek version of Isaiah 44:8 in its rendering of the final clause of the verse reads:
“. . .if there is a God beside me. And they did not hear then” (cf. Brenton’s translation)
Brenton’s translation, and the accompanying Greek text, place the second half of the text cited above as part of v. 9. Swete and Rahlfs both in their respective Septuagint editions place it as part of v. 8. Further, Rahlfs, following a variant reading in some Septuagint manuscripts, reads “were” rather than “heard.” All that being said, it is evident that the Septuagintal translators either 1) had a dramatically different Hebrew text before them than is found in our current Masoretic text, or 2) the translator(s) had difficulty making sense of the Hebrew, and so just left it out, a not uncommon practice in the LXX.
The Peshitta Syriac, chronologically next, reads:
“ . . .that there is no God besides me. And there is no one strong whom I do not know. “ (cf. Lamsa’s translation)
Tsur is understood as having adjectival force, namely, “strong,” as the KJV also occasionally interpreted this word.
The Aramaic Targum Jonathan to Isaiah is in part very similar to the Peshitta Syriac (the interdependence of the Syriac version and the various Aramaic Targums to the OT has long been recognized, but never precisely explained), though it adds an extended paraphrase to the end of the clause. This Targum reads:
“Is there a God besides me? And there is no one who is strong except he to whom strength was given from before me.” (cf. Stenning’s translation)
Tsur is understood, as in the Peshitta, as an adjective, meaning “strong.”
The Latin Vulgate of Jerome, circa A.D. 400, reads:
“There is not a God besides me, is there? And a shaper whom I do not know?” (cf. the Douay translation)
Jerome apparently understood the text to read yotser, “shaper,” a singular masculine participle instead of tsur, “rock.” It is possible that the Hebrew manuscript used by Jerome actually read ytsr rather than tswr; this would require only the transposition of two letters (the first two of tsur) and the subsequent reading of the vav as though it were a yod, a very common occurrence when reading an unpointed text, as Jerome was. The occurrence of the plural construct form of this participle, i. e., yotzre, “shapers of,” as the first word in v. 9 may have been a contributing factor in this mis-copying / misreading, if that indeed is what occurred. At any rate, Jerome doesn’t translate the Hebrew word at issue as “God.”
These ancient versions, then, clearly did not provide precedent for the KJV to paraphrase tsur as “God.”
What of Reformation- and post-Reformation-era versions preceding the KJV? First the English.
Wycliffe’s version (circa 1382), based on the Latin Vulgate, unsurprisingly, reads the same as Jerome’s version:
“Whethir a God is with out me, and a formere, whom Y knew not?
Coverdale’s Bible was the first complete printed English Bible (1535). Coverdale had no mastery of Hebrew, and so his version in Isaiah and the rest of the Prophets (and in part elsewhere) was based on translations in Latin and German. It is clear that at Isaiah 44:8 he follows the Vulgate reading:
“Is there eny God excepte me? or eny maker, that I shulde not knowe him?”
We must skip over the Great Bible of 1539, I having no access to its text, and consider next the Geneva Bible (1560), which was the first complete English Bible based entirely on the original language texts in Hebrew and Greek, rather than other versions (in whole or in part). The Geneva was the most popular Bible in England until well into the 17th century, and was the Bible of Shakespeare and of the Pilgrim fathers at Plymouth in the New World. It reads:
“whether there be a God beside me, and that there is no God that I knowe not.”
Here, for the first time, in any version ancient or modern so far examined, do we find the Hebrew word tsur translated as “God.” The Geneva Bible, in part highly prized for its very extensive marginal notes, has none here (or at Habakkuk 1:12) to explain their departure from the literal rendering of the Hebrew. With some frequency, the Geneva translation was influenced by the interpretations of John Calvin, but apparently not so here. Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah was complete in 1551, in plenty of time for the Geneva translators to consult it. In his own Latin version of the passage, Calvin (perhaps closely following Leo Juda’s Latin version) has a rendering entirely distinct from the Vulgate, namely (I cite Calvin’s version from the Baker 1979 reprint):
Quod non sit Deus praeter me, et no sit fortis quem ignorem.
Which being translated is:
“That there is no God except me, and there is no strong one of whom I am ignorant.”
(The English version in parallel to the Latin version of Calvin in the edition consulted is not a translation of the Latin text there, but rather merely the KJV, reproduced right down to the italics). We must conclude that neither in his Latin translation, nor in the comments on the text which followed, did Calvin influence the Geneva version at this point.
Lacking most of the other reference works--commentaries, contemporary Latin versions, and more--that the Geneva translators may have consulted or been influenced by, I am unable to pursue further the “why” of their translation here.
The Bishops’ Bible (1568), the official starting place for the KJV’s translators, which Bible they were to revise as faithfulness to the original demanded, reads:
“is there any God except me, or any maker, that I should not know hym?”
Exactly as Coverdale (spelling aside) and following the reading / translation of the Vulgate. The KJV’s adoption of the Geneva reading instead of the Bishops’ in this verse did not result in the KJV being in closer conformity with the Hebrew than the Bishops’.
The Roman Catholic Rheims Old Testament was based on the Vulgate and published in 1609/10, too late in appearing to have influenced the KJV OT (unlike the companion Rheims NT of 1582, which had a pervasive influence on the KJV NT; see “Is the King James Version a ‘Roman Catholic Bible’?” As I See It, 6:2). However, we quote it for the sake of completeness:
“Is there a God besides me, a maker, whom I have not known?”
Having been able to discover only one version, ancient or English, prior to 1611--the Geneva--that rendered the Hebrew tsur by “God” at Isaiah 44:8, perhaps a check of some of the 16th century vernacular versions will yield something.
Luther’s German Bible--first published in 1534 and revised and re-issued in 1545, reads the same in both editions:
“Ist auch ein Gott ausser mir? Es ist kein Hort; Ich weis ja keinen”
This may be translated:
“Is there a God outside of me? There is no refuge; I do not know any.”
Luther obviously takes tsur, literally “rock,” in the sense of a stronghold, fortress, place of refuge, and so provided no precedent for the Geneva (and KJV) rendering.
The Spanish version of Reina and Valera (first edition 1569; revised 1602) both read (following original spelling):
“que no aya Dios sino yo; y que no ay[a] fuerte, que yo no conozca.”
“That there is no God except me, and that there is no strong (one) (or, fortification), that I do not know.”
On the final clause, “que yo no conozca” / “that I do not know” both editions have a footnote:
“Que no este debaxo de mi dominio.”
“Which is not under my dominion.”
Nothing at all here in text or margin to suggest that the Hebrew tsur is properly translated “God.” Both these Spanish versions appeared after the precedent-setting Geneva translation of 1560, but show no evidence of having been influenced by or agreeing with the Geneva version here. Further, these Spanish versions were available to and apparently consulted by the KJV translators, but of course could not and did not influence the KJV to adopt the unique Geneva rendering of tsur. This exhausts the Reformation-era vernacular versions of Europe that I have access to.
One further avenue of possible interest that we must leave unexplored is the 16th century Latin versions of the OT, of which there were several, both Roman Catholic (those by Pagninus and Montanus) and Protestant (Munster, Leo Juda, Castalio), available in time to have potentially influenced the Geneva Bible. However, due to my lack of access to these--O, how I need to live in Cambridge, England, with library privileges at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s archive of Bible versions housed at Cambridge University there!--they must go unconsulted for now (a brief account of these 16th--and some 17th--century Latin versions is given in The Bible of Every Land; London: Samuel Bagster, 1860; pp. 245ff).
So, then, the puzzling KJV “translation” of the Hebrew tsur by “rock” is a case of adopting for their rendering that found in the Geneva Bible, and only the Geneva Bible, against all (apparently) other versions ancient or modern consulted by them, encompassing all other English versions, including the Bishops’ Bible, which was their base text and which they were to leave unrevised as far as faithfulness to the Hebrew would allow. Well, the Bishops’ followed the precedent of the Vulgate and was not in conformity with the Hebrew text at this point, and it would have been proper for the KJV men to revise it into conformity with the Hebrew. But this is not what the KJV translators / revisers did; they altered the Bishops’ sure enough, but substituted for the Bishops’ Vulgate-based reading a highly interpretative paraphrase, explaining, rather than translating, the Hebrew before them.
And the KJV translators themselves explicitly acknowledge in their margin that had they followed what the Masoretic Hebrew text actually said, their translation would have read “rock” instead of “God.” Those who “fault” modern English translations for “taking ‘God’ out of the Bible” here are either grossly uninformed or disingenuous, since the KJV men themselves stated that the Hebrew in fact literally reads “rock” here, not “God.”
John Bunyan NOT “King James Only”
“Bunyan’s veneration for the Scriptures, as the only source and standard of religious knowledge, led him into frequent controversies. In common with the Christian world, he wholly depended upon the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit to impress the Divine truths of revelation upon the mind, and also to illustrate, open, and apply the sacred writings to the heart of man. Unable to read the Bible in the original languages in which it was written, he wisely made use of every aid that might enable him to study its contents with the greatest advantage. It was his habit to examine the two translations then in common use. The present authorized version, first published in 1611, is that to which he usually refers; comparing it with the favourite Puritan version made by the refugees at Geneva, and first printed in 1560. He sometimes quotes the Genevan, and so familiar were the two translations, that in several instances he mixes them in referring from memory to passages of holy writ.”
“Memoir of John Bunyan,” p. xliii
The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 1
The Banner of Truth Trust reprint, 2009
Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008. 277 pages, hardback. $25.00
The average individual purchases his fruit and vegetables from Kroger’s or Wal-Mart or some other retail outlet and never gives a thought about where and how those things were produced. One essential step in the production of fruits such as apples, oranges and plums, and of fruiting vegetables such as melons, squash, tomatoes and cucumbers, to say nothing of the setting of seed in such essential agricultural plants as alfalfa, clover and sunflowers, is pollination of the flowers by insects. There are a great number of insect species able and active in the pollination process--moths, butterflies, various flies, numerous little-know species of bees, but especially, and particularly so in commercial or “industrial” agriculture, domesticated honeybees.
Honeybees, not native to America, were brought over early in the colonial period, and spread both domestically and in the wild, and greatly increased the fruit set of native and imported plants. And of course, before the invention / discovery of sugar extraction from sugarcane and beets, honey was, besides maple sugar, virtually the only sweetener available.
Though it may not seem at first blush to be “important” to the average consumer, there is a present crisis in “beeland.” While there have been historically many hobby bee-keepers, with one or a few or a few dozen bee hives, there have also been professional bee-keepers with thousands, even tens of thousands of working hives. It is this latter group which has increasingly, indeed almost exclusively, provided the necessary pollination of citrus, other tree fruits, and flowering vegetables in vast commercial farms, particularly in California and Florida, but also in many other locales in America.
For example, consider almonds. This peach-like tree is grown almost exclusively in one part of the central valley of California--about 1,200 square miles (slightly larger than Sedgwick County in Kansas), encompassing some 700,000 acres more or less, wherein 80% of the total world crop of almonds is grown. Almonds constitute California’s single most lucrative agricultural crop, being worth billions of dollars annually. To produce the maximum possible almond crop, it is necessary to greatly overstock this vast monoculture orchard with bees, to insure the pollination of every blossom. And to accomplish this, over 1 million beehives from all parts of the country must be trucked to this region in February for a two-week-long frenzy of pollination. The dependence of this crop on such a vast assemblage of bees and hives makes it especially vulnerable if anything should disrupt the process. (It must be noted, as an essential factor in understanding the situation, that while wild insects can usually adequately pollinate the average backyard garden and orchard, the vast almond monoculture, which is heavily and regularly doused with toxic chemicals--insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and more--is a virtual insect wasteland, with almost no wild pollinators to pollinate the trees, which factor, in the absence of the imported bees, would result in total crop failure).
And just such a potential disruption looms. Besides a whole host of bee problems--mites, diseases, beetles, and more--that already plagued the hives, in 2006/7 a new problem of monumental proportions arose (it had occurred sporadically as early as 1994). In a matter of days, once-thriving hives would be inexplicably devoid of any bees. This widespread condition was soon dubbed “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). In one season, as many as one third to one half of all the bees in the whole country disappeared (CCD was also occurring in Europe and South America). Professional bee-keepers suffered huge, often terminal, financial losses. Identifying the cause(s) was and has remained elusive--was it an imported disease (starter bee colonies are regularly imported from Canada and Australia)? The reaction to a new pesticide (the most likely culprit was a new pesticide absorbed into plant tissues)? A consequence of contact with genetically engineered farm crops? Collective bee stress caused by overwork, malnutrition, and frequent long truck rides? Something else? Desperate bee-keepers were frantically searching for the answer, and in the meantime losing millions of dollars, with a large number simply going out of the bee business. No cause had been pinpointed when this book was written, nor has any yet, as far as I can discover (the up-to-date Wikipedia article on CCD covers much the same ground, with only minor additional information).
The occupation of professional bee-keeper in America is currently severely endangered, and should it disappear generally or completely, the consequences to industrial agriculture and the domestic American food supply will be devastating, to say nothing of the honey supply. We already must import much of the honey consumed here, with a lot of that coming from China. And Chinese honey is often contaminated with chemicals or diluted with cheaper corn syrup (I personally never buy or eat any food that comes from China because of unaddressed and unresolved purity and safety issues). While bees may seem of small importance, their demise could greatly strain the food supply, and a complete collapse of the bee population here or even worldwide could be a major factor in causing famine. Reminds me of Franklin’s line, “. . . all for the loss of a horseshoe nail.”
Jacobsen’s book is full of information and written in a readable style, though it contains a considerable amount of gratuitous profanity, and tends toward the “alarmist” end of the scale. And there is a presupposition of Darwinism that from time to time surfaces in the narrative.
There are some “spiritual” applications that can be taken from the book: the amazing complexity of honeybee behavior demands--DEMANDS--that the honeybee kind is the product of Intelligent Design, and not the accidental consequence of blind, directionless chance. Further, the original perfection of the interlocking web of creation is demonstrated in the mutual interdependence of insects and flowering plants and those organisms, particularly man, that consume the fruit resulting from pollination.