April 27, 2012

Hazardous Materials: G. A. Riplinger's toxic waste

I have mentioned offhand in the past that I do not own a paper copy of G. .A. Riplinger's influential KJV-only book New Age Bible Versions. I have, however, read the thing: in the early 1990s, a notable online fan of hers made a hypertext file of the book available on his BBS, presumably with the blessing of the author. (As a point of interest, that makes NABV the first ebook I ever downloaded; it would be about a year before I got access to the WWW and discovered Project Gutenberg.) Since I refuse to fatten Riplinger's wallet, the only way I will obtain hard copies of her books is if a) I happen to encounter them in a used bookstore, or b) a KJV-onlyist, concerned with this vital deficiency in my library, offers to remedy it at his own expense.

Well, this week, b) happened—though it wasn't a KJV-onlyist, nor was it NABV. An on-line acquaintance had two copies of Riplinger's more recent missive, Hazardous Materials (Ararat, VA: A.V. Publications, 2008), and offered one to me. It arrived yesterday, and I promised to give it a good home. Although I probably won't get to read it through for a little while, I did spend a few minutes last evening flipping through it. So this post is not a book review, but just a few first impressions based on a surface-level skimming.

First, this is a big book. New Age Bible Versions was long at 700 pages, but the last numbered page of Hazardous Materials (hereafter HazMat) is 1203, not counting the dozen or so pages of advertising at the end. The book actually creaks when you open it; I hope that doesn't mean the binding is already falling apart. It's easy to see why the book is so thick: the type is large (I would estimate 13-point Times) and the lines are widely spaced (about 30 lines per page). By comparison, one book in my library of comparable bulk is Millard Erickson's Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998; 1312 pp.). It is printed in about 11-point Roman type (I didn't recognize the typeface) with 42 lines to the page—about 50% more material per page. In other words, had Riplinger opted for more conventional typesetting, HazMat would be an 800-page doorstop rather than a 1200-page boat anchor. As it is, it's published only in a large-print edition. I wonder whether Riplinger has taken classes at Tim Lahaye's Left Behind School of Typesetting? (Their motto: "Pad Out Your Pages to Pump Up Your Profits!")

Other than the humongous print, formally HazMat suffers from multiple layout issues: for example, bold, italic, underlined, ALL-CAPS, and large type all used for emphasis, sometimes at the same time, with no apparent rhyme or reason; inconsistent indentation; at least five different symbols used to mark bulleted lists, and two numbering formats for ordered lists; block quotations sometimes enclosed in quotation marks, sometimes not; and confusion as to the proper use of double vs. single quotation marks. In addition, this time around Riplinger has eschewed a standard citation scheme, such as footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical citations. Instead, the full citations are set in-line in considerably smaller type. Even this is inconsistent, however, as I found citations in at least three different sizes, sometimes even on the same page. The entire layout of HazMat reeks of sloppy amateurism. (And I haven't even mentioned the tawdry cover graphics.) Additionally, the book lacks an index, which is silly for a volume of this length. I suspect that no one at A.V. Publications has the needed skills to produce one.

The thesis of this anvil-like tome is that not merely modern Bibles (as Riplinger argued in NABV, but Greek and Hebrew texts, lexicons, and other helps are themselves hopelessly corrupt and corrupting: "These are the very same study 'aids,'" says the back cover blurb, "which kill a sermon or Bible study when used to 'define' a word in the Holy Bible." In her introduction, she adds:

Greek grammars and lexicons do not teach Greek. They teach unbelief. Young Bible school students are given an assignment to translate a portion of a book of the Bible. A floodgate of lexical definitions and textual variants soon pours into their souls. Each student's translation is bound to be different, as "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). By changing the Bible the young men have just destroyed their weapons of defense, the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit. . . . The professor may just as well have shown the students pornography and proclaimed, "The 'original' Eve actually looked like this. Your wife's version is inferior." Lexicons have the exact same destructive effect and are, in effect, 'Christian' [sic] pornography. (51, emphasis in original)

This is a) surprisingly vulgar for a Christian book targeted at the abstemious community of Christian fundamentalism; and b) shockingly anti-intellectual coming from an author who once touted herself as a former instructor at an American university. Unfortunately, from what I've read elsewhere on the Web, this crass analogy is a harbinger of things to come. Was it OK for the translators of the King James Version to work from Greek and Hebrew texts, or does Riplinger now believe they pulled the text of the KJV out of thin air?

Live long and prosper, Kabbalist

On pages 164–65, Riplinger tries to connect Philip Schaff, the Swiss-American historian and member of the ASV translation committee, to the occult. She compares a portrait of him, in which he has his fingertips inserted into his waistcoat, with (amongst others) Egyptian pharaoh Khufu, occultist Annie Besant, Karl Marx, Billy Graham, and Anton LaVey. All of them are supposedly making a hand signal that represents "[t]he occult ceremony wherein a lion's paw resurrects an initiate from his coffin," as she explains in virtually nreadable 2-point text (165). The problem is, none of Riplinger's suspects are making the same gesture as Schaff, or even for the most part the same gesture as each other. I would say, for example, that Billy Graham and Pat Robertson are portrayed with their hands over their hearts, a familiar pose of American patriotism; does Riplinger believe that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are engaged in occultism?

Most amusingly, since Schaff is portrayed with his fingers split, the last two members of Riplinger's rogues' gallery are Mr. Spock performing the Vulcan salute, and a Masonic handshake. First, the origin of the Vulcan salute is well-known: Leonard Nimoy, an Orthodox Jew, borrowed the gesture from the kohanim reciting the Priestly Blessing (Num. 6:24–26) in the synagogue. The position of the hands represents the Hebrew letter shin, which stands for Shaddai, a name of God. It has nothing to do with Kabbala or Freemasonry. As for Philip Schaff's split fingers, obviously he didn't want to undo the waistcoat button between them. There's simply no connection between Schaff's portrait and the Vulcan salute or any other supposed occult hand signal. I'm surprised Riplinger didn't include the famous portrait of Napoleon. Of course, this posture, popular in 18th- and 19th-century male portraits, is simply inspired by classical statuary. The hand-in-waistcoat (or toga, as the case may be) pose is simply a stock pose that goes back millennia, with no more ulterior motive than lending a certain amount of dignity to the portrait. Of course, Gail Riplinger would never let boring old facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory, nor does she pass up a plum chance to smear all German scholarship with a strategically placed mention of the Nazis (910, 924, 925).

I wonder, though, whether she ever gets around to finding fault with the Hebrew and Greek works themselves, or does she think it will suffice just to connect any German scholarship with the Nazis (e.g. p. 910)?

Hopefully, later this year I'll have the opportunity to take a few pages of HazMat at a time and do a running commentary on it, as I'm sure it's just saturated with prime debunking fodder. I am rerunning a Sunday-school series on the English Bible in a little over a week, and I may read a few choice excerpts in class at the appropriate time. But I can already hear the objection of Riplinger's sycophants: "You're picking at nits," they'll whine, "and ignoring the fact that she has a major thesis." Yeah, she does. And we also have this concept called "logic," in which a thesis is supported by a set of premises. If the premises are found to be false, then suddenly we're left with no good reason to believe the thesis, are we? Whether Riplinger's conclusions die of a mortal blow to the head or a thousand paper cuts, they're still dead. You are hereby invited to keep your specious objection to yourself.