New English Bible
John Herbert, or Herbie as most of us called him, was a white ROTC student who lived on the fifth floor of Mifflin Hall during my second year at Penn State.

He was a devout Christian and became good friends with Steve Sattazahn and Allan Maurer, high school classmates of mine who were also residing there, as was I.

Since by this time I had become an outspoken atheist, Herbie and I engaged in many a discussion (I wouldn’t call them debates), usually in Steve and Allan’s room. While Steve and Allan generally sided with Herbie, for the most part they stayed on the sidelines and just let the two of us duke it out.

Now Herbie had a lot of crackpot notions. For example, he claimed that the state of New York had a standing offer of $10,000 to anyone who could prove that the Bible was not true. And he insisted that Darwin’s theory of evolution had so many holes it was ridiculous.

While I seriously doubted the New York claim (that would be a breach of the separation of religion and government) I couldn’t refute it, and when I challenged him on Darwin all he could come up with was the “missing link” as a flaw. Alas, in those days I wasn’t as knowledgeable about evolutionary theory as I am now so I didn’t point out the fallacy of that argument as I would today.

Herbie was a biblical literalist, or so he claimed, but he really didn’t know that much about the Bible, and neither did I, so at some point I suggested that we both take a course on the New Testament to which he readily agreed.

The course used The New English Bible for its text because The Authorized Version (or King James Version) is an extremely outdated translation, whatever its virtues as literature.

Among other things that class taught us that the four gospels were not written by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that Mark was the first canonical gospel to be written and it wasn’t written until decades after the events that it described, that Matthew and Luke were cribbed from Mark and possibly some other, since lost, manuscript now referred to as Q, and well, we learned a lot of things that they don’t teach you in Sunday school.

After we were a week or two into the course, we were all sitting in Steve and Allan’s room and Steve asked how the course was going.

Herbie’s answer: “It’s an atheist course.” 

It’s one of the courses that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I still have the English Bible with my notes. For example, in the first chapter of Mark the second verse quotes a passage from the Old Testament saying that it’s from Isaiah. Nope, it’s from Malachi (Chapter 3 verse 1 to be exact, I just looked it up). Only one of the many errors and contradictions to be found in the B-I-B-L-E.

I don’t recall how I did but I’m pretty sure I did well, and I don’t remember how Herbie did either, but he didn’t seem to be in the mood for discussing religion much after that.

The following year Herbie, Steve, and Allan moved off campus into an apartment and I pretty much lost touch with them.


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