Trump’s Bibles: The ridicule that the Republican candidate has received for hawking the Holy Book illustrates how his liberal opponents don’t understand America

(Brandon Bell/Getty Images)


Donald Trump is selling Bibles (“It’s my favourite book”), $59.99 each, King James Version in a leather-bound volume, including copies of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence, plus a verse of a patriotic song written by a country singer, Lee Greenwood.

Sounds like a bargain to me.

Though if you are not interested in a new Bible, or indeed, if you are so modern you have no Bible at all (no Bible, huh? I’d have to bet you have no copy of Homer, either. At some point, modern slides into barbaric), just ignore the sales pitch.

Instead, leave Evangelicals, Baptists and the rest to consider the offer.

Except that is not what any fashionable commentator, any Democrat politician is doing.

The Trump Bible offer has been mocked, sniggered at, indeed one network commentator condemned the offer as blasphemy.

You can bet that was one agnostic who hangs onto the ancient Christian charge of blasphemy just so he can use it against Trump.

One British newspaper insisted, “Just when you think Trump couldn’t get any weirder.” MSNBC said, “The guy will do anything to make a buck.”

To which the Trump campaign might reply, “Thank you for your attacks.” The campaign understands the voters in a way no mainstream commentator does.

Here are the results of a Pew Research Center Survey released last month. Nearly half the country, 49 per cent, said the Bible should have “a great deal” or “some” influence on US laws. About two-thirds of Republicans think the Bible should influence American laws.

Such voters do not think that buying a new Bible (“The God Bless America Bible, large print, easy to read, slim design”) is a thing to mock. Indeed, the Bible is a book which Rich Lowry, a conservative columnist, notes “is the American book.”

“The fact is selling Bibles is a very American venture, and the Bible, particularly the King James Version Trump’s endorsed, is a very American book.”

Between 1794 and 1815, 186 novels were published in America compared to 246 editions of the New Testament or the full Bible, according to a historian of Christianity, Mark Noll.

For early generations of Americans, the Bible was often the only book a family owned. It was the book from which they learnt to read.

Here I give you a diversion, an example of how urgent it was for young people to learn to read the Bible in an earlier America.

Following a slave revolt in 1831, most slave states made it illegal to teach slaves to read and write.

Yet in 1855 in Lexington, Virgina, a young lecturer at the military academy, a fellow from the mountains who had grown up in poverty, joined with a pastor in defiance of the law.

He set up a Sunday school for blacks to teach them to read the Bible and urged slave owners to allow the children to come. He soon had 80 to 100 pupils and a dozen teaching assistants.

The town grandees did not like it. They threatened the young lecturer with a charge of unlawful assembly. He turned on them with anger: “If you were a Christan man, you would not think it or say so.”

They backed off. The school continued for 30 years. The Bible won.

The young lecturer later became known to history as General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

In more obscure places of American life, such as islands used in the early 19th century South Atlantic seal trade, a Bible was needed for the swearing of oaths in attempts at a justice system among the men.

In one recorded instance, there was no Bible, so an edition of Shakespeare was used instead.

Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, I swear by almighty God.

Not modern, not barbaric, just Americans who were Christians though covered in a year’s worth of seal fat.

Another line from Noll: “The great influence of the King James Version in American history, came precisely because it was so widely available; because precisely its words, and what the words communicated, had entered so deeply into the consciousness of so many Americans, and particularly of otherwise voiceless Americans.”

Perhaps, if you are an American, you will consider buying a copy of the Trump Bible. If so, I admire your determination not to cede your ground. You know who you are, you know where you came from.

Me, and here is the honesty, I won’t be buying that Bible, or indeed any King James Bible. As they say in Ireland, I dig with the other foot.

The prose in the King James Version is beautiful, but I fall back on a Bible which has its roots in the 4th century Latin translation by St Jerome. It was filtered down through the Sixtine Vulgate in 1590, then the Clementine Vulgare in 1592, then on down to the version still used in the Latin Church.

I’m happy there, somewhere tied to the 4th century. For some of us the King James Version is just too, well, modern. Anyway, I did not spend those years studying Latin just to abandon it for some Stuart king version in Renaissance English.

But I wish the Evangelicals well, as I wish Trump well.

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram. In the beginning God created heaven and earth. We can all take it from there together.