A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

The Bible at the Outlet

Lancaster County, PA, where I live, is home to a thriving art community and will soon have a new convention center.  The city of Lancaster is diverse racially and economically, celebrating and struggling with the issues that face other urban communities.  But most tourists come for only two reasons: (1) to see the Amish and (2) to shop at the outlets.

The two activities might seem a contrast–the former an attempt to appreciate the simplicity of the agricultural, un-electrified life; the latter a full embrace of the I-want-everything-and-I-want-it-for-cheap consumerist mentality.  Both, however, are fully consumer activities.  Amish tours, quilts, food, buggy rides are presented as quaint things to buy,  not as alternative lifestyles that bear contemplation.   How the religious beliefs of the Amish shape their understandings is much less a topic of conversation than how much their quilts cost.


The commodification of religion pops up at the outlets, too.  Of course, there are all the usual suspects:  Banana Republic.  The Gap.  Eddie Bauer.  Dress Barn.


But, there’s also the Bible Outlet.

This fascinates me.  An outlet–the last stop for the previous season’s styles, factory seconds and overruns, unpopular sizes–sells Bibles.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never gone into this outlet.  But I will.  I want to know if I can find an out-of-date Bible (maybe a Septuagint).  Or one with a label saying that it has errors.  Does one just “happen” to leave out Leviticus or Revelation or perhaps the rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19?  Do any have a nonstandard number of Commandments?

I’m struck at how different this mentality is from the extreme reverence toward the book itself that has long dominated many religious and cultural practices.  When I was a child, my public school teacher (!) insisted that in a stack of books the Bible always had to go on top.  In the U.S. government, public servants and witnesses swear on the Bible.   Much more ancient is the Jewish practice of placing torn or damaged Torah scrolls in a geniza, a storeroom below a synagogue.  Because a scroll contained the name of God, it could not simply be thrown in the refuse heap.

When I visit the Bible Outlet, I may ask if Bibles are ever thrown in the dumpster.  I may look around out back for myself.




2 Responses to The Bible at the Outlet

  • I too was raised that the Bible must be on the TOP of a stack of books. interesting how that has changed. Now we have DISCOUNT bibles! interesting idea.

    i also find it interesting that, to use New Testament images and language (sorry Julia, i know it’s an “O.T.” blog) that some Christians want to disengage from culture, thus creating their own culture with it’s own material, fashion, music, art, and film. all based on a dude who thoroughly used the culture at hand, talking in argicultural terms, political, and theological terms, and then transformed it, or flipped and reversed it. kinda crazy, IMO.


  • You’re right that there are very different ways of understanding how to be Christian in the world. In the past few decades, some theologians have stressed the distinctiveness of Christian traditions, practices, and attitudes, and have argued for a sectarian church (in the sense of one set apart from other values). Stanley Hauerwas articulated that view strongly while I was at Duke.

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