Doodling in Bible a study

What is so fascinating about doodling in books?

FLOWER MOUND, TX, October 15, 2012 — Notes placed in the margins or at the foot of pages in the Bible has been a controversial topic throughout the ages. Some maintain the text of the Bible should not be supplemented by human comments or explanations.

The controversy began with printed English Bibles as early as the Tyndale New Testament in 1525/26. Tyndale’s interrupted first attempt at a printed edition in 1525 had notes in the Gospel of St. Matthew; but in his completed edition of 1526, he limited the number of notes.

The Geneva Bible in 1560 had extensive marginal and footnotes that promoted a particular Christian doctrine. The notes popularized the edition with many Puritans, but infuriated the Anglicans. The famous King James Bible of 1611 specifically ruled the translators must resist including any notes except for minor cross-referencing of Bible verses and explaining difficult Hebrew and Greek words.  

Modern editions of the Bible in English often have extensive notes. Some notes favor a doctrinal position, highlight historical comments, or pander to age or gender groups. Notes that include helpful interpretative or translational explanations are very popular.

Modern Bible readers often carry their Bibles to church services and record notes from the speaker in the margin of their Bibles. Some Bibles on the market have wide margins and additional leaves at the back of the Bible for such purposes.

However, seemingly “boring” messages often lead to doodling instead of note-taking. Doodling is idly drawing pictures, symbols, practicing math problems, letters of the alphabet, or making off- handed comments much like modern texting or bantering on facebook.

As early as the writing of the New Testament on papyrus (1st-6th century) scribes inserted doodles and notes unrelated to the Scriptures they were transcribing. In one instance the scribe complained in the margin of a Scripture text: “It is cold this morning.”  Another scribe responded “Of course, it is winter.”

Pictured above are two doodles in early printed Bibles. The one is a man dressed in typical 17th or 18th century clothes found in Bryan Gresh’s 1633 King James Bible (the handwriting appears to be early 18th century). The other photo was penned in Ron Newton’s c. 1578 Geneva (Breeches) Bible. It appears to be a drawing illustrating Jeremiah 8:7, “Even the stork in the air knoweth her appointed times, and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming, but my people knoweth not the judgment of the Lord.”

The drawings in the 1578 Geneva Bible are of special interest. While the text of the Geneva reads “turtle and crane,” the word turtle, a reptile, most likely refers to a turtle dove. The parallel argument in verse seven seems to favor a bird rather than a turtle.

The Bishops’ Bible translated in 1568 reads “Turtle dove” while the King James Bible (1611) has “turtle.” The Doodler has obviously drawn a turtle as a four legged reptile and not a two legged turtle dove. He/she is reading the Geneva Bible and depending on the date of the doodle could be familiar with the King James Bible. Both read “turtle.”    

It would appear that the correct reading is turtle dove as most modern versions read dove or turtle dove: NKJV, NIV, NASB, and ESV. It is interesting to note the Wycliffe Bible (1st complete English Bible) of 1382 reads turtle rather than dove or turtle dove.

One other issue in the drawing of the turtle and the crain (sic) is that the first word does not seem to be turtle. It would appear to read, “The Tinks and the Crain.” Is our artist drawing a turtle and a crane or is it something else? Shakespeare used the word tinker in King Henry IV, “I can drink with any tinker in his own language.” A tinker is one who drinks and talks unintelligently (jabber). The language squawks of a turtle speaking may explain the doodler’s connection of tink with a turtle.

The artistic ability of the doodlers in the Bibles suggests idle doodling in a deliberate effort to relieve their boredom. Perhaps it is the work of children (although the little man is quite good) “encouraged” by parents to sit with them in church services. The Geneva Bible has the name “George Robinson” complete or in part written several times over and over, another indication of doodling. 

Many historically important ancient Bibles have various doodles in them. So when you are bored with a lecture or meeting, you can always doodle and know you are historically in good company—it’s probably not sacrilegious. The Bible is not the focus of worship; it is the message of the Bible.


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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.

www.credocommunications.net/kjv

Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.

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