Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thomas Nelsons American Patriot Bible

Consider Carefully Before You Buy

Caveat: I had requested Thomas Nelson's The American Patriot's Bible as a participant in the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger program (see As a part of that program, bloggers receive review copies with the understanding that they will post their feedback on personal blogs as well as on one commercial site. My interest in reviewing this text sprang from my interest in how this particular re-packaging of the Bible had been handled. I'm not the target market for this product and that should be weighed in reading this review.

In the past five to ten years, there has been significant publishing industry emphasis on making the Bible more immediately relevant and attractive to modern readers. Re-packaging, interesting graphic design, and active merchandising has become common in order to reach different market sectors (teens, women, whatever, etc.) In the case of The American Patriot's Bible, the appeal is to those who think public duty should be infused by personal piety.

The full title of Thomas Nelson's targeted volume is The American Patriot's Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America. The press release positioning it rationalizes the presentation as melding together "the teaching of the Bible, the history of the United States, and the connection it has to its citizens today." Post-election results having come in, the publisher's press release (April 15, 2009) also points out that " our knowledge, this is the first Bible to ever include a mention of President Obama or to focus on the Bible's influence on American culture."

The emphasis is on family and American heritage; the first few pages allow the user to document family trees, marriages, military service, and deaths of family members as well as pages for noting special family history (immigration, pioneering, etc.). Such inclusions indicate to me that this really is intended for domestic use rather than for educational or reference use. Also included are seven pages of maps, a subject index and a brief concordance.

Throughout the pages of this New King James Version translation, there are boxed entries that draw the attention of the reader to specific virtues that might be associated with developing good character as well as good citizenship. Each boxed entry has a heading indicating which virtue is exemplified -- faith, honor, service, truth, freedom, and moral strength among others. The feature is a key element breaking up dense text in a very attractive page lay-out, designed to encourage interest as well as connecting specific passages with historical figures and events. One such example would be a box appearing on page 83, noting the 1665 legislative enactment in the New York Colony calling for the building of a church for each parish in the colony of New York, capable of holding 200 people. The scriptural tie-in is Exodus 20:8, one of the Ten Commandments (Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep It Holy) and the inference is that together these exemplify honor. Another one matches up Longfellow's poem, "Sail on, O Ship of State" with the prophet Obadiah under the heading of hope (pg 1035)

Even assuming that the majority of such boxed entries are historically accurate and intended to bolster pride and historical awareness, one can't help noting that selection and placement of such quotations might seem to suggest -- even direct -- a particular interpretation. (For example, one might consider the box on page 44. It ties the sale of Joseph into slavery by his brothers to a statement by Dick Cheney that those who have never had liberty taken from them may not properly value such liberty. There is indeed a topical relationship between the two items, but so is there potential for political bias.)

Where the editor(s) could document the scriptural selections of presidents used for purposes of the swearing-in portion of the ceremony, those selections are also noted and boxed throughout. Where such information cannot be documented or where the Bible was closed during the ceremony, the information is not included and this is properly noted in the index. What is striking is that some Presidents are heavily referenced throughout the volume (usually those from the 18th and 19th centuries), while others (President Lyndon B. Johnson being a case in point) have no index listing at all. Those presidents appear solely on a single page listing the U.S. presidents' names and terms.

What I found somewhat more worrisome was the lack of bibliography or documentation. Presented in such a way, the historical viewpoint of various entries is left open to question. There are no footnotes in the printed text referring the reader to any kind of source documentation or even a list of institutional libraries consulted. Where did the quoted text from the 1665 legislature of the New York Colony on page 83 come from? There is no credit line associated with the quote on that page or on any other page including such entries. (Only illustrations and photos are credited to their source.) The copyright for all notes and articles included in the volume belongs to the general editor for the volume, Dr. Richard G. Lee, founding pastor of First Redeemer Church in Atlanta, Georgia. However, neither in print nor on the Web is there any indication of the man's professional credentials for the creation of this material. (One hesitates to trust Wikipedia in this instance). I raise this as an objection because in at least one instance, I was able to verify that a quotation attributed to an historical figure was edited from its original text. Such a situation is troubling to me and leads me to wonder what other quotes or historical accounts might have been similarly "modified" to fit a particular political agenda.

That lack of objectivity and balance is particularly obvious in the "special inserts", each several pages in length. These inserts cover a diversity of topics -- the Civil War, World War II, the American Civil Rights movement -- but emphasize how fortunate Americans have been to live through such trying periods with such positive end-results. There is nothing wrong in wishing to instill national pride but there is something decidedly wrong in appearing to suggest that this country is particularly favored by God over others or more enlightened than other countries. In some of these inserts (as in the instance of women's suffrage), any Christian opposition to such change that manifested itself at the time is entirely overlooked.

This volume may be an appropriate purchase for families, for personal or home use. Inclusion elsewhere (as part of either educational or reference material) might be questionable.