Disproving the “Catholics kept the Bible from the People” lie in one exercise

One of the most common pieces of idiocy I hear over and over on the net is the idea that there was some kind of grand conspiracy of the Catholic Church to keep the Bible out of the hands of the masses that was only foiled with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg. This idiotic tweet is standard:

The amount of historical ignorance it takes to make such a claim is so astounding that one is shocked that a person would be willing to make it in public, but since people know so little of history let me suggest a simple experiment to illustrate the absurdity of it all.

The next time someone tells you this tripe, ask them to do the following.

1. Sit yourself down in front of their  laptop and open up your bible.

2. Starting from Genesis start typing the entire thing out including verse numbers

The new Testament contains 138,020 words in 7956 verses. As you are including the verse numbers that’s an extra word for every say 3 verses so add 2652 words for a total of 140,682.

Now because a person making such a claim is likely a protestant we’ll make the old testament easy by doing what Martin Luther did and lop off the books he didn’t like leaving you 602,585. To make things easier we’ll even excuse you from the verse numbers.

That’s a total of 743,267 words.

A professional typist using a standard keyboard averages between 50-80 words a minute. Taking the low end of 50 words a minute  that means it would take you 14,867.34 minutes to type out the whole thing.

As there are 1440 minutes in the day that means it would take you 10.324 days of 24/7 typing to copy an entire bible assuming you were able to maintain that 50 words per minute the entire time without food, drink or rest

Let’s be kind and assume you need to sleep and be generous and give you say 6 hours a night to sleep. Let’s furthermore allow you a full two hours to eat two to three meals, take a bathroom break and dress So instead of working 24/7 you are working a 16 hour day getting up at 5 to type and hitting the sack at 11 PM with two hours during the day for other things. That would make give you about 960 minutes a day to devote to typing the bible finishing in 15.48 days at that steady 50 Word per minute rate throughout without  error (96% correct simply won’t do)

Ok now lets take away your laptop and replace it with a manual typewriter without an auto correct. How much time would the loading of paper add? The correction of errors. The centering etc? Let’s be EXTREMELY generous and say it would only add 10% to your total time so now we’re up to 17 days to copy a Protestant bible working 16 hours a day seven days a week.

Now lose the typewriter and write it by hand. According to Keller in 1988 An average person can copy text by hand at a rate of 22 words per minutes and now you are dealing with getting pens, starting pages over if you make a mistake etc.  Just how long would it take to hand write a bible?  Well a retired fellow by the name of Phillip Patterson managed to do it in 4 years.

Four years after he began his project to write out every word of the Bible, Phillip Patterson penned the very last lines Saturday at an upstate New York church.“Every single curly-q, every single loop, it was all worth it,” said Patterson, 63, moments after inking the final two verses of the King James Bible. “I’m really going to miss this writing.”

It took Patterson just a few minutes to copy the final lines of the Book of Revelation before a crowd of about 125 people at St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Spencertown. He ended the ceremony by saying “Amen.”

But lets assume you are not a retired AIDS patient and much healthier than Mr. Patterson, Moreover we are working uninterrupted for our 16 hours a day every day unlike Keller who devoted a mere 14 hours a day on occasion to work on it.

I’ll wager we can cut that four years down to a single year easy.

Now let’s replace our Pen with a fountain pen.  You have to constantly refill your pen and get your bottled ink, but at least it gives your fingers a rest. Plus you’re going to have to worry about ink stains & accidents. How many days would that add to the project?  Less than 10% say a month or more?

Now replace that fountain pen with a quill, now you have to sharpen that quill and be much more careful since it’s easier to make a mistake as there is no normal ink flow. Plus there is a danger of puncturing the paper with the point. Where do you think we are now? 14 months? 15?

Now cut off your electricity. You can now only write during time of full sunlight or by candlelight.

Suddenly you’re limited to an average of 12 hours a day to work, but that’s OK because now you have 4 hours to use to actually live and rest, but that takes a full 25% off your writing time. We are now up to 18 months to copy that bible. And you’re pretty much doing it the way a medieval monk used to do so, except your glasses are likely much better so you aren’t straining as much as you write.

But if we want to do what the monk did there are two things we can’t ignore..

#1. Being a monk you are observing the sabbath. So you are now losing one day in seven that gets you up to 21 months to finish that book.

#2 What about calligraphy? Most bibles were not written in just plain you are now adding flourishes and fancy lettering.  This is the word of God not some dimestore novel we’re talking about.

Bottom line you are talking nearly 2 years of manual labor working 12 hour days six days a week to produce a single bible.

So are you really going to stand there and tell me that there was a vast Catholic conspiracy to keep Bibles away from the general public when it took two full man years of manual labor to produce a single copy?

Given the amount of man hours it’s a wonder that any Bibles were produced at all and it speaks to the dedication and the faith of both the Catholic Church and the monks at the time that there were bibles even for the clergy let alone for anyone else.

And we haven’t even taken into account the lack of literacy among people living at subsistence level or the cost of such a book. (At $2 an hour 12 hours a day 6 days a week no overtime that $7488 in today’s money not counting materials. Tell me how many $7500 items do you have in YOUR house)?

So the next time some fool tries to tell you of the grand Catholic conspiracy of millennia to keep scripture out of the hands of the people give them this post or tell them to put their fingers where their mouths are.

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