# Product Review: The Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 Compact Binocular.

Firm grip: man handling the Bresser Pirsch 8 x 26 binocular.

Recently, the German optics firm, Bresser, brought to market a new line of  “premium roof prism binoculars,” with some very attractive optical and mechanical features together with a lifetime warranty behind them.

Curiosity got the better of me and so I ordered up the 8 x 26mm model for testing.

Did those tests live up to my expectations?

Tune in soon to find out.

De Fideli.

# A Commentary on Two Biblical Paraphrases: ‘The Living Bible’ & ‘The Message.’

Two popular Biblical Paraphrases; the ‘Living Bible’ & ‘The Message.’

Therefore, I, the Lord God of Israel, declare that although I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi could always be my priests, it is ridiculous to think that what you are doing can continue. I will honor only those who honor me, and I will despise those who despise me.

1 Samuel 2:30 (TLB).

We live in exceptionally enlightening times. Advances in scientific knowledge are now toppling Darwinism as an ideology which underpins much of the world views of secular humanism and has become the dominant ‘religion’ of the west. Influential characters like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne have often quipped that Darwin enabled them to be “intellectually fulfilled atheists.” Now that Darwinism is emerging as an elaborate fraud, or an intolerant secular religion, wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe their plight as ‘scientifically deluded bufoonery?’

But it cuts deeper still, much deeper. Darwinism has informed large swathes of human knowledge beyond the basic biological sciences, including the ‘soft’ sciences of psychology and sociology, which in turn have inspired a whole raft of ‘mind-body-spirit’ books written by gurus who have taken advantage of a scientifically naieve readership. And, let us not forget that the same “monkey religion” has formed the basis of a panoply of New Age ideas under the broad umbrella of “Cosmic or Psychic Evolution.” What is more, pantheism, which is the foundation of many eastern religions, has also found Darwinism to be a natural bed fellow, not to mention a raft of UFO religions and all the rest of it. Even the scientific quest for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence – itself a religion in many ways – has failed miserably because of the acceptance of Darwinism among its brethern. Worse still, many Christian denominations have been bullied into accepting Darwinian evolution as a ‘scientific fact,’ and in so doing has forced some Christian and Jewish theologians to formulate the theological mumbo jumbo that is ‘theistic evolution’, where the Creator is reduced to being a bumbling idiot, blissfully unaware and even unable to know what sort of lifeforms would eventually emerge to seek Him out!

But that is not what a plain reading of Scripture teaches.

I walked away from Catholicism because of these(and other) sonorous developments, and I’m also aware that many so-called ‘reformed’ Protestant denominations are similarly deceived. Faced with these embarrassing developments, it’s no small wonder that traditional Christianity, that is, Biblically based Christianity,  remains a vibrant, intellectually robust and growing world movement that is now attracting more and more people back into its fold, because of its solid historicity, common-sense wisdom, as well as its strong correlation with objective truth.

For these reasons, there are compelling motivations to introduce the Biblical allegory to a new generation of people who have ultimately found their ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ spirituality to be, well, ‘ a few sandwiches short of a picnic,’ as the old adage goes, empty or meaningless, who have never heard the true Biblical message, nor properly considered its truth claims. This includes a huge body of so-called ‘nominal Christians’, who apparently believe that morals evolve too.

Yep, yes siree.

They’ll happily attend Church on Sunday, vote for abortion on Monday, gay marriage on Tuesday and proudly wave an LGBTQ rainbow flag in your face on Wednesday. Claiming to act in the name of ‘tolerance, peace and love,’ they’ve turned Jesus into ‘Swampy,’ a tree-hugging hippy, which is idolatory, blissfully unaware that what they are actually doing is inviting His wrath.

That’s what the Bible plainly teaches. Have you not read that God’s morals are unchanging? And just like living things, do you not understand that the statutes of the Living God (one of His Biblical titles) have not evolved either?

For I am the Lord—I do not change.

Malachi 3:6 (TLB)

In a reaction to these worrying global trends, there has been a proliferation of new Bible versions that have popped into existence over the last few decades, which have actively moved away from the terse and often archaic language of yesteryear, and which have gone to great lengths to keep its themes relevant to a 21st century audience, but without twisting its doctrines.

In this blog, I would like to briefly discuss two such versions; The Living Bible and The Message, both of which were written by Godly men, driven by an over-arching belief that the Judeo-Christian world view is not only true but can transform and enrich human life more than any other holy book or life philosophy.

The Living Bible(TLB) was first published in 1971 by Kenneth N. Taylor(1917-2005) by Tyndale House Publishers. It is a paraphrase of the Bible, based predominantly on the text of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV). In his own words, Taylor explained his motivations for making this paraphrase:

The children were one of the chief inspirations for producing the Living Bible. Our family devotions were tough going because of the difficulty we had understanding the King James Version, which we were then using, or the Revised Standard Version, which we used later. All too often I would ask questions to be sure the children understood, and they would shrug their shoulders—they didn’t know what the passage was talking about. So I would explain it. I would paraphrase it for them and give them the thought. It suddenly occurred to me one afternoon that I should write out the reading for that evening thought by thought, rather than doing it on the spot during our devotional time. So I did, and read the chapter to the family that evening with exciting results—they knew the answers to all the questions I asked!

Taylor was not a Biblical scholar though, and so did not understand Hebrew or Greek. That being said, he did apparently submit earlier drafts of this work to a team of Biblical scholars prior to its publication. The TLB enjoyed enormous success, especially among the evangelical community, endorsed as it was by Dr. Billy Graha(who distributed copies  to folk during his famous Crusades) and other great Bible teachers of the late 20th century. Indeed, in 1972-3, the TLB was the best-selling title in America! Soon a Catholic version was produced, with an imprimatur by the Pontiff, John Paul II. By the mid-1990s, it is estimated that some 40 million copies had been sold, translated into 100 languages throughout the world. Clearly, there was an appetite for God’s word written simply and effectively for an adoring readership. It also formed the basis of a proper thought-for-thought translation of the Bible, called the New Living Translation(NLT), which I reviewed here. I am reliably informed that the NLT is one of the most popular Bible translations available in the English language today.

I suspect my own copy of the TLB is much like many other people; a lovely green soft-padded, hardback cover adorned with a Celtic Cross:

The iconic cover of the hard-backed TLB with its emblematic Celtic Cross.

The large print edition first appeared in 1979 and my own version was one from the 16th printing of 2014:

The easy-to-read large print double column layout of the TLB.

The language is simple and easy to understand, so even a child can assimilate it. Consider the well-loved Psalm 19:

# Psalm 19

19 The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. 3-4 Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. The sun lives in the heavens where God placed it and moves out across the skies as radiant as a bridegroom[a] going to his wedding,* or as joyous as an athlete looking forward to a race! The sun crosses the heavens from end to end, and nothing can hide from its heat.

7-8 God’s laws are perfect. They protect us, make us wise, and give us joy and light. God’s laws are pure, eternal, just.[b] 10 They are more desirable than gold. They are sweeter than honey dripping from a honeycomb. 11 For they warn us away from harm and give success to those who obey them.

12 But how can I ever know what sins are lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. 13 And keep me from deliberate wrongs; help me to stop doing them. Only then can I be free of guilt and innocent of some great crime.

14 May my spoken words and unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.

As you can see, the TLB comes with some footnotes and cross-references, just like a regular reference Bible.

The problem with paraphrases is that they can import the author’s ideas concerning what a tract of Scripture means, which may add or detract from the intended meaning of the original Biblical authors. And that includes gravitating towards particular theological positions. For example, Taylor appears to entertain a pre-millenial point of view, that is, the prophesised millenium of blessedness as outlined in the Book of Revelation will occur immediately after Christ returns to Earth. This is quite clear from certain passages in the TLB. Consider this tract from Isaiah:

In the last days Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord will become the world’s greatest attraction,[a] and people from many lands will flow there to worship the Lord.

Isaiah 2:2 (TLB)

Comparing this to the NASB, a highly literal version of the Bible, we read:

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established [a]as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.

Isaiah 2:2 (NASB).

Notice how Taylor included “Jerusalem” and “Temple” although these do not appear in the original Hebrew.

This is all well and good if the reader is entertaining a pre-millenial position but it might prove problematic to those who do not hold, or develop, other views.

Another issue is that errors creep in which can be a source of confusion to the reader. Consider this passage from the TLB from Romans;

These things that were written in the Scriptures so long ago are to teach us patience and to encourage us so that we will look forward expectantly to the time when God will conquer sin and death.

Romans 15:4 (TLB)

The problem here is that Christ’s death and resurrection had already done away with the deadly effects of sin, pedicated upon faith.

In other places, Taylor uses wordings that would alarm quite a few readers. For example,

You illegitimate bastard,[a] you!” they shouted. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out.

John 9:34

Highly literal Bibles render the same text in a less extreme way:

They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they [a]cast him out.

John 9:34(NKJV)

Some will find these renderings offensive. They don’t bother me however, as in a real life situation, in the heat of the moment, as it were, an angry mob would certainly not phrase it in the way the NKJV does! I see this as a case of the author adding realism to the narrative rather than deliberately setting out to annoy the reader.

So, how does The Message fair? The brainchild of the American pastor, Eugene H. Peterson, his motivations for writing a version of the Bible in contemporary English language are best explained in the preface to the work:

While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat

As a qualified pastor, Peterson would have been reasonably familiar with the original Hebrew and Greek languages underpinning the Old and New testaments, respectively. Taking about a decade to compile, Peterson also subjected the work to the trained eyes of a small committee of Old and New Testament scholars, the names of whom are found in the introduction to the work.The Message first appeared in 2002 in its complete form.

Title page of ‘The Message.’

If the TLB is a loose paraphrase, then The Message is very loose in comparison. Consider this passage from Genesis 1:

1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.

6-8 God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters;
separate water from water!”
He separated the water under sky
from the water above sky.
And there it was:
he named sky the Heavens;
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Two.

9-10 God spoke: “Separate!
Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
Land, appear!”
And there it was.
God named the land Earth.
He named the pooled water Ocean.
God saw that it was good.

11-13 God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Three.

14-15 God spoke: “Lights! Come out!
Shine in Heaven’s sky!
Separate Day from Night.
Mark seasons and days and years,
Lights in Heaven’s sky to give light to Earth.”
And there it was.

Genesis 1:1-15

Or consider Psalm 23:4 in The Message;

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
makes me feel secure.

Psalm 23:4(MSG)

Death Valley? Where? In California(just west o’ Vegas ken)? Whacky!

In other places, Peterson’s Message appears to water down the convicting words of Scripture. Consider 1 Corinthians chapter 6 in a good literal translation of the Bible;

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NASB)

Now take a look at what the Message has to say:

Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11(MSG)

It’s not quite as explicit is it? Indeed, it appears quite vague in comparison to the NASB wouldn’t you think? This is not meant to villify Peterson’s Message but only to highlight that with paraphrases you lose accuracy, specifics and the like.

So both the TLB and The Message, despite being quite brilliant in places, also create confusion here and there. That is why it is very important that you do not use such literature as your primary Bible. To establish doctrine, you need to stick close to the letter of the law, as it were. Both these paraphrases are good commentaries, nothing more, nothing less.

I do have a tendency to prefer the TLB overThe Message though. This is an entirely personal choice. My reasons for preferring the former over the latter stem from its slightly more conservative presentation of the Biblical narrative. There is a case for mantaining the historical setting of the Bible. It was written in a different age to our own. This doesn’t mean it no longer has value to us today; far from it, its moral values never change, but it is simply a fact that these stories were forged in antiquity and that is where they should stay- for the most part anyway. The Message, for me, is over done, reads too much like a novel, has no cross references or footnotes that one normally expects to see in a ‘real’ Bible. I don’t like Peterson’s use of the word ‘Master‘ to represent Jesus either. It makes Him out to be like some kind of Jedi Knight.  The Living Bible(TLB) is more conservative in many ways. For example, it uses the name Jehovah quite often to denote the Godhead. I like that name. And it’s entirely legitimate.

In the end though, the world is a better place because of these paraphrased overviews of the greatest story ever told. No doubt they will help bring people to Christ and that’s the most important thing of all.

Use them but don’t abuse them!

Neil English has written a 660 page historical work, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, showing how extraordinary individuals often used ordinary equipment to glean new insights into the nature of the heavens.

De Fideli.

# The King James Bible in the 21st Century.

Some Bibles in the KJV tradition, from left to right: The Modern English Version(MEV), the Jubilee 2000 Bible, the New King James Version(NKJV) and the original King James Version(KJV).

O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.

Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.

For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens.

Psalm 96:1-5 (KJV)

For over four hundred years, the Authorised King James Version(KJV) of the Bible, arguably the finest work of English prose ever created, has filled the spiritual stomachs of milions of Christians across the English speaking world, through war and peace times, booms, recessions and depressions. When one thinks of a ‘Bible’ it is the KJV that most people bring to mind first. Its influence on western civilization, in particular, has been incalculable, inspiring literary genuises like William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Elliot, VS Naipaul, C.S. Lewis, Raymond Chandler and P.D. James to name but a few. The austere beauty of its composition found its way onto the lips of such eloquent speakers as Abraham Lincoln, John Wesely, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Dr. Martin Luther King. And high above the Earth, the Apollo 8 astronauts recited the Book of Genesis during Christmas 1968, as they courageously plyed the seas of outer space on their way to the Moon.  Its lofty, passionate language was considered essential reading for any English-speaking man or woman wishing to acquire a well-rounded education. Over a billion(perhaps as many as 2 billion) copies of the distinguished Bible have made their way into homes, libraries, churches and hotels scattered throughout the face of the Earth.

In commissioning the new translation of the Bible in “ploughman’s English,” King James VI of Scotland (and the 1st of England), used it to help cement the crowns of both nations, uniting both Puritans and Anglicans under a common ecclesiastical heritage. Although much of the language of the KJV is now out-dated, with some word meanings having completely changed with the march of time, it is still cherished by an adoring legion of Bible readers from both the Protestant and Catholic traditions.

Because the English language is constantly evolving, scholars have endeavoured to up-date the KJV  so that it would appeal to a modern readership. In this blog, I wish to discuss a modest sampling of such efforts, including the New King James(NKJV), the Jubilee 2000 and the Modern English Version( MEV), all of which show great deferentiality to the Authorised Version, and formulated using much of the same underlying manuscript tradition.

But before embarking on an analysis of these newer Bibles, I would like to provide a few reasons why all Christians should read the KJV through at least once in their lives. Firstly, its language is unchanged since it was last updated in 1769 (the original 1611 version is almost unreadable in comparison) and so what you are reading now is what your forebears also read. There is no danger of it being altered or updated to conform with modern culture(which unfortunately has become a dangerous trend with some modern translations). It thus provides a timeline uniting previous generations to our own. Secondly, its poetic qualities are second to none. Created to be read out loud, its words resonate whenever a passage from it is recited. The Book of Psalms, in particular, is sublime when read from the KJV.

The KJV is also very precise (or literal), the original committee of translators being very careful to produce a translation which is faithful to the original tongues(Greek and Hebrew)  in which the Scriptures were formulated. That’s why so many older Biblical commentators used it so extensively.

The KJV appeals to the intellect. If you consider yourself educated and have never read the Authorised King James, you need to remedy this by spending some time with it. Countless proverbs and idioms we still use in contemporary conversation originated with the KJV. Consider some of these phrases, all of which originate in the Old Book:

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

Choose life

Through a glass, darkly

A law unto himself

A drop in the bucket

God forbid

Holier than thou

Put the words in her mouth

The skin of my teeth

All things to all men

Bottomless pit

Pearls before swine

Scapegoat

Land of milk and honey

Sodomite

Eye for an eye

Fallen from grace

Den of thieves

Phillistine

Eat, drink and be merry

Bottomless pit

At their wit’s end

In the twinkling of an eye

Better to give than to receive

Signs of the times

Woe is me

Born again

The powers that be

Out of the mouths of babes

Let my people go

My brother’s keeper

Seek and ye shall find

The KJV is also a historic version of the Bible. If you want to better understand the works of such classic theologians as Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards and many from the Puritan tradition, such as Isaac Watts, William Williams, Augustus Toplady, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan and other great revivalists, you will understand their mindset better by familiarising yourself with the old King James.

Many of the hymns we sing at Christmas and Easter, and in our weekly worship on Sunday mornings at Church were written in the King James vernacular. It is also universal in scope, celebrating a very wide international usage across many denominational lines.

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An Aside: Read the Bible, any Bible: Jesus said “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). This freedom not only entails salvation but also the truth concerning what is going on all around us. The prophet Isaiah warned us 700 years before Christ;

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5: 20).

In this dark generation, where cultural Marxism is rapidly gaining a foothold in our societies, there is a moral role reversal taking place before our very eyes whereby we are now accepting of lifestyles and behaviours that were always deemed intrinscally depraved.

Then came Osmosis. Thence mass deception.

It’s so important in this wicked age to remain grounded in the truth!

Reading the Bible is arguably the best way to know and guard truth.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

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The Jubilee 2000 Bible(from the Scriptures of the Spanish Reformation)

The Jubilee 2000 Bible.

The Jubilee 2000 Bible was the brain child of the Hebrew scholar, Russell M. Stendal, who came across an old Spanish Bible, first translated from the original tongues by Casiodoro de Reina in 1569. The manuscripts available to de Reina were the same as those used by reformers who compiled the Authorised King James Version and so belong to the so-called Majority Texts(i.e. Textus Receptus). de Reina made use of earlier Spanish translations of both the New Testament(by Francisco de Enzinas) and Psalms (Juan Perez de Pineda). Stendal also had the presence of mind to compare his Spanish-to- English translation with the earliest translation work carried out by William Tyndale, who produced an English translation of large parts of the Bible as far back as the 1530s(for which he was burmed at the Stake).

Stendal’s translation is very respectful of the Authorised King James Version and in fact, conforms more closely to the KJV than any of the other versions mentioned above. For example, Stendal elected to keep the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ in this translation because, as he claims in the introduction, “serious doctrinal error can result from the consequences of changing Thee, Thou, or Thy to You or Your. This can cause scriptural promises or directives addressed to the individual to be mistakenly applied to a corporate group. Modern English is ambiguous in this regard and lacks the precision necessary to accurately render the true meaning of the original.”

I think Stendal has a point to make here. Consider, for example, the passage from the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, in which Jesus talks to Nicodemus(a Pharisee) about being born again. Here’s how the KJV renders it:

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

John 3:5-7(KJV)

Now, compare that to how the NKJV renders the same passage, without the archaic phraseology:

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

John 3:5-7(NKJV)

Notice that the archaic English distinguishes between ‘you’ singular (thee) and ‘you’ plural( Ye). Thus the reader of modern translations cannot as easily distinguish singular from plural. Here’s how the Jubilee 2000 presents the same passage:

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again from above.

John 3:5-7(Jubilee 2000).

Personally, I have no problem with the modern renderings, as usually one can discern whether  a “you” is singular or plural from the context of the passage. I do however, like seeing “thee,” “thou” and “Ye,” as they are not in the least bit hard to get used to. After reading a chapter or two of Scripture, you will very quickly assimilate and appreciate them. Besides they have a certain quaintness that appeals to me.

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An Amusing Aside: In modern Scots, one will often hear “yous” referring to more than one person.

” Are yous away out tonight?”

Sticklers of course, would balk at the notion of using “yous” in any formal correspondence, but at least it does distinguish between singular and plural!

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The Jubilee 2000 translation also maintains many other archaic words found in the KJV such as “published” which means “announced,” “raiment” which is “clothing,” and “charity” which is love. But in many places, Stendal updates some words used in the KJV which are easily misunderstood in the modern vernacular. For example in Genesis 3:1 the Jubilee 2000 replaces “subtil” with “astute,” when referring to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This generally works, but in one case where he maintains the word “study,” it can be a bit confusing. For example, consider 2 Timothy 2:15:

Study to show** thyself approved unto God, a workman that has nothing to be ashamed of, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15(Jubilee 2000)

** The KJV has the old English word, “shew” instead of “show.”

The trouble is “study” as it is written in this verse of Scripture does not mean “study” as we understand it today. It actually means something like “strive hard.” This passage is better rendered in good, literal versions of the modern Bible, like the NKJV:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)

Stendal also outlines in the introduction that all important Hebrew or Greek words maintain the same meaning throughout the entire translation, which makes doctrinal matters very consistent and easy to understand.

Although the introductory pages of the Jubilee Bible are written in American English, I was pleasantly surprised by Stendal’s use of the original British English the KJV adopts. So, for example, instead of “Savior,” which you will see in many other translations, the Jubilee 2000 uses “Saviour.” This is a nice touch that other members of the KJV Bible family have not addressed to my knowledge.

The Jubilee corrects many of the obvious mistakes inherent to the KJV, such as changing the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” to “Thou shalt not murder” and the erroneous use of “Easter” in the Book of Acts to the correct term “Passover.” Intriguingly, Stendal chose to retain the mythical “Unicorn” in Palm 92 and 29 rather than “wild ox” used in other word-for-word translations.

Eventhough the Jubilee 2000 is very close to the Authorised King James Version, it is distinct enough to qualify as a sister text to the latter. For example, consider this passage from 2 Thessalonians first in the KJV:

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

2 Thessalonians 2:7-11 (KJV)

Now consider the same passage in the Jubilee 2000:

For the mystery of iniquity is already working, except that he who dominates now will dominate until he is taken out of the way.

And then shall that Wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of his mouth and remove with the clarity of his coming:

that wicked one, who shall come by the working of Satan with great power and signs and lying miracles,

and with all deception of iniquity working in those that perish because they did not receive the charity of the truth, to be saved.

Therefore, for this cause, God shall send the operation of error in them, that they should believe the lie;

2 Thessalonians 2:7-11(Jubilee 2000)

Note how the phrase “strong delusion” used in the KJV and many other highly literal translations is replaced by “the operation of error” in the Jubilee 2000.

Throughout the Jubilee 2000 translation, Stendal elected to use the term “saving health” instead of “salvation.” When this alternative rendering was first presented to me, I admit to being  more than a little surprised, but having thought about the term “saving health,” I have now come to appreciate this alternate rendering, as what else does ‘salvation’ from the Living God mean except preservation of health in a body otherwise destined to return to dust?

The Jubilee 2000 Bible I received has a nice synthetic leather (trutone) cover with a beautiful tree as an icon. It is a very plain, somewhat understated, presentation, which appeals to me, with unusual, light yellow-coloured pages. Another unusual feature of this Bible is the way in which it presents the individual chapters, which are denoted by the Book name and chapter number throughout:

The unusual rendering of the book and chapter numbers in the Jubilee 2000 Bible.

The Jubilee 2000 also has an extensive dictionary of Biblical terms at the back of the work, together with a solid concordance for furher study.

A page from the Bible dictionary of the Jubilee 2000.

A sample page from the Jubilee 2000 concordance.

Although I have read through about 50 per cent of the Jubilee 2000, I have been hard-pressed to find any errors, with the possible exception of Psalm 29:6, which has a rather odd phrasing in my copy:

Note the wording of Verse 6 of Psalm 29.

However, when I consulted the online Biblegateway Jubilee 2000 text, the wording appears to have been corrected:

“And He made them skip like calves; Lebanon and Sirion like the sons of the unicorns.”

Psalm 29:6 (Jubilee 2000)

Source here.

In summary, the Jubilee 2000 is a beautifully rendered sister text to the Authorised King James Version. It will only serve to enrich one’s knowledge of this universally lauded Bible and deserves to be part of the library of all those who love the rich tradition preserved in the KJV. Its only weakness, so far as I can see, is that it is a highly personalised interpretation of the Byzantine texts and does not appear to have been formed by a  committee, which increases the likelihood of doctrinal errors creeping in. As King Solomon of old perceived:

...in multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 24:6

That said, I have not uncovered any such deviations, and I happen to think it is an excellent translation that is certainly easier to read than the original KJV, mostly because the archaic use of punctuation in the latter is updated in the Jubilee 2000, which is altogether sensible, making it that little bit easier to navigate.

The Modern English Version(MEV)

Title page of the MEV Bible.

The Modern English Version (MEV) is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the MasoreticText, using the King James Version as the base manuscript. It is published by Passio, a division of Charisma Media Book Group and first appeared in 2014. Unlike the Jubilee 2000, the MEV language has been fully updated into clear, modern(American) English, but still maintains much of the cadence of the old KJV. Just like the KJV, the MEV was created using 47 Biblical scholars derived from a broad, inter-denominational Protestant background, just like the Authorized Version, the identities of whom are listed in the introductory pages of the Bible. As stated in the introduction, the MEV was inspired by US and British army chaplains who wanted their troops to “understand the KJV better,”  but it soon became apparent to them that this fresh translation would actually benefit “the entire English-speaking world.”

Just like the KJV, the introduction also has a dedication to the reigning monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen Elizabeth II;

Just like the dedication to King James I of England, the MEV also has a dedication to Queen Elizabeth II.

Each book of the Bible (66 in all) comes with an introduction which is useful for study and for placing a passage in the correct historical context:

Each of the books of the MEV Bible have an introduction for setiing historical context.

True to the Authorised Version, the MEV faithfully includes verses which are often omitted by many modern translations based on the older(minority or Alexandrian) manuscripts.

Consider, for example, 1 John 5:7

There are three who testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and the three are one.

1 John 5:7(MEV)

Or the case of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:

As they went on their way, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Acts 8:36-37(MEV)

However, there are some passages that KJV diehards might be concerned over. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians Chapter 1:

For to those who are perishing, the preaching of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18(MEV)

Notice the reference to ” being saved” rather than just “saved” as recorded in the KJV:

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18(KJV)

I’ve heard some dreadful KJV onlyists (those who believe the Authorised King James Version is the only inspired Word of God) claim that changing “saved” to “being saved” represents some sort of demonic conspiracy to water down the truth of the Bible lol. However, on consulting my NASB reference Bible, I note that the original Greek can be translated either way.

I’d say so!

Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship. And just like any good relationship, it ought to be continual, ongoing, new every morning. I relate more to “being saved” than just “saved,” as this entails an active participation, in harmony with the will of our Lord and Creator, Jesus Christ.

The MEV large print Bible edition comes with an excellent 132 page concordance for further study.

Only one error was noted. If you look at Isaiah 58:8 in the MEV it reads:

Then your light shall break forth as the morning,
and your healing shall spring forth quickly,
and your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your reward.

Isaiah 58:8(MEV)

The problem lies with the word “reward” in line 4. This should read  “rear guard.” There are about a half dozen other incidences in which the same term is correctly translated in the MEV as “rear guard” suggesting that it was a genuine translation error.

The MEV large print edition is available in a variety of different coloured faux leather covers, all smyth sewn and all possessing a single ribbon marker. This edition is also a redletter (words of Christ are printed in red). The quality is quite good but it appears the MEV is not yet available in premium formats. That said, I believe Passio will shortly provide an updated version of this Bible, which will weed out any remaining bugs with the work. These updates cost money though; to pay for the scholarship as well as the presentation of the Bible as a whole. By purchasing a copy, you can help this fledgling Bible in the KJV tradition go from strength to strength.

The clear, double-column format of the MEV large print Bible.

The large print MEV is a nicely made Bible, available in a number of different coloured covers.

Though this is not a reference Bible, I would highly recommend the MEV to all those who enjoy the old KJV but in a more contemporary, readable, modern English format.

The New King James Version(NKJV)

The New KIng James (Holman version); arguably the finest blend of the old and the new.

The New King James Version(NKJV) is the oldest of the modern attempts to update the Authorised Version. First commissioned by Thomas Nelson in 1975, the NKJV project involved a committee of 130 Biblical scholars chosen from a ‘broad church’ of Christian denominations to create an entirely new translation of the Scriptures from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. True to the original intentions of the KJV translators, who themselves consulted older English translations than the venerable 1611, the committee strove “not to create a new translation but to make a good translation better.” The first edition appeared in 1982 and after some revisions were made, a finalised version appeared in 1984. This is the version which we now have and enjoy.

Unlike the other Bibles discussed in this blog, the NKJV consulted both the Alexandrian and Byzantine texts to bring its readers the finest Biblical scholarship from both genres, but strove hard to maintain the majesty of the Authorised Version. So, for example, verses 9 through 20 in the last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel are reproduced but do contain a footnote stating that “Verses 9-20 are bracketed in NU-text as not original. They are lacking in the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, although nearly all other manuscripts of Mark contain them.” The ” Nu” here refers the older, Alexandrian texts(or the so-called Critical Texts).Likewise, the account of the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John Chapter 8 are also quoted in the main texts with footnotes indicating that many of the oldest manuscripts do not contain such verses.

Many verses omitted in other translations are faithfuly rendered in the NKJV. Consider 1 John 5:7 for example;

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.

1 John 5:7(NKJV)

Some have expressed concern that too many changes were made to the NKJV that interfered with doctrine, but having embraced this translation as my go-to Bible for several years now, I have to say that I respectfully disagree with this assessment. Indeed, I think it to be the perfect amalgam of old and new. Specifically, it does not go as far as the MEV in updating the English, but does remove more archaic words than the Jubilee 2000 translation, for example. Personally, I think it’s an awesome translation, one that I favour above all others. What is more, I find it easy to go from the NKJV back to the KJV, but equally so, I find it just as easy to move over to fully modernised versions like the ESV and NIV.

One of the things that really appeals to me regarding the NKJV(American English) is that the text has not been updated since 1984. Indeed, some commentators have claimed that the language of the NKJV has already been outdated. That said, I have heard through the grapevine that Thomas Nelson have not said categorically that they will not update the text at some time in the future. To be honest, there is hardly any reason to undergo such changes for at least another century lol. If you feel the same way and don’t wish the NKJV to be updated in the foreseeable future, it might help to email them in order to let them know your thoughts and feelings concerning any such updates.

Another reason why many Christians stick with Byzantine-based texts is that they are, in many ways, less scientifically constructed than those that rely more heavily on the older Alexandrian counterparts. By this I mean, if you were to look at all the sermons used by pastors down the centuries, all the way back to the writings of the early Church Fathers, you will discover that much of their material came directly from the Byzantine manuscript tradition. In otherwords, the Majority texts actually formed the basis of their teachings, unlike the best scientifically constructed texts we see in modern Bibles(like the ESV, NASB and NIV).   What is more, some other Bible commentators have noted that many of the heresies that arose within the early Church, such as Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Psilanthropism etc, originated on the Alexandrian side. For these reasons, they claim that it is safer to stick with the western, Byzantine tradition.

Today, you can obtain beautiful NKJVs(and KJVs for that matter) published by Thomas Nelson, Holman and Cambridge University Press. Unlike the cheap, bonded leather of the older (read 1990s and noughties) copies, the newer NKJVs are adorned with ornate and durable leather-tex, with clear, large-print text(such as Comfort Print), smyth-sewn bindings in either black letter or red letter editions, which can be acquired at relatively little cost. As I affirmed elsewhere, I’m not one for collecting premium Bibles.

I now have two NKJVs in my possesion. The first is my Holman large print personal size Bible, which I have mentioned in more detail here. I use it while I’m away from home or while attending Church. It is small, compact and lightweight:

My travelling Bible; a plain NKJV by Holman with minmal footnotes.

I have another NKJV; the Thomas Nelson Deluxe Reader’s Bible, which only has the text. It was a Christmas gift from my wife in 2018. Though still not a premium Bible, it is very beautiful, with an all-black text with red headings and chapter numbers:

The protective casing of the Thomas Nelson NKJV Deluxe Reader’s Bible.

The NKJV Delux Reader’s Bible is guaranteed for life, has a strong smyth sewn binding, gold gilting and two red satin ribbon markers. It contains no notes, concordance or maps of any description(that’s why it’s referred to as a reader’s Bible). Because it is rather large and heavy, I use it entirely for devotional reading at home.

The plain but beautiful faux leather cover of the Thomas Nelson Deluxe Reader’s Bible.

The title pgae of the Deluxe Reader’s Bible.

The single column text is in black and has red headings. The layout is very easy on the eye.

There are many other NKJV Bibles that are even more ornate(but more expensive) but if you really want one with the finest leather bindings, they can be purchased in the region of $70 to$200.

In discussing these modernised versions of the King James Bible, I have certainly not exhausted all the choices available to the contemporary reader. For example, there is the 21st century King James Bible(KJV 21), which also retains much of the linguistic richness of the Authorised KJV but has updated the spelling and punctuation of the latter, yet like the Jubilee 2000, still retains the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’, etc and which is reportedly( I do not have a copy) easier to read than the KJV itself. More on the KJV 21 here.

Having said all of this, I feel the Authorised Version of the King James Bible ought to hold a very special place in the library of all Bible believing Christians. There really is nothing like the original in its sheer, towering majesty.

Of all the Bibles I have in my collection, I have more KJVs than any other translation, not just as a result of purchasing them, but also because they have been gifted to me by friends and family members over the years. And in this day and age, one can acquire truly amazing bargains. Here I would like to showcase just one example; the KJV Large Print Standard Bible, published by Christian Art Publishers(Republic of South Africa):

The Authorised King James Bible by Christian Art Publishers.

The cover is a very attractive dark brown LuxLeather in a most convenient lay-flat binding.

Title page of the Christian Art Publishers KJV Bible.

This Bible has good quality paper and the words of Scripture are in a very easy-to-read, line-matched, 14 point font size. And though an inch and a half thick, it is surprisingly light weight and easy to carry from place to place;

The beautiful, large and clear text of the Christian Art Publisher’s KJV.

This is a red letter edition (words of Christ in red) with convenient thumb indices to quickly locate each of the books of the Bible:

The Christian Art Publisher’s Large Print KJV has the words of Christ in red and has thumb indices for each book of the Bible.

And to round it all off, the page edges of this lovely, large-print Bible have a beautiful gold gilding with a single colour-matched satin ribbon page marker:

The beautifully applied gold gilding on the sides of the pages.

It has a full concordance and an eminently useful verse finder section, as well a number of full colour maps of the ancient Middle East.

Best of all, this remarkable edition of the Authorised KJV cost just £20 including shipping!

Well, this is where I would like to finish this blog on the King James Bible and a few of the other versions based on the same or similar manuscript tradition. I for one will always cherish this masterpiece of religious literature, which has inspired both princes and paupers alike, over many generations, to worship and adore the Ever Living God. I will continue to read it in contemplative silence to myself, or aloud, as it was originally intended, to my wife and children, where its words reverberate around the room.

Let us end with a solemn prayer inspired form its pages;

O God All-Sufficient

Thou hast made and upholdest all things

by the word of thy power;

darkness is thy pavilion,

thou walkest on the wings of the the wind;

all nations are nothing before thee;

one generation succeeds another,

and we hasten back to the dust;

the heavens we behold will vanish away

like the clouds that cover them,

the earth we tread on will dissolve as a morning dream;

But thou, unchangeable and incorruptible,

art for ever and ever,

God over all, blessed eternally.

Infinitely great and glorious art thou.

We are thy offspring and thy care.

Thy hands have made and fashioned us.

Thou hast watched over us with more than parental love,

more than maternal tenderness.

Thou hast holden our soul in life,

and not suffered our feet to be moved.

They divine power has given us all things necessary for life and godliness.

Let us bless thee at all times and forget not

how thou hast forgiven our iniquities, healed our diseases,

redeemed our lives from destruction,

crowned us with lovingkindness and tender mercies,

satisfied our mouths with good things,

renewed our youth like the eagle’s.

May thy Holy Scriptures govern every part of our lives,

and regulate the discharge of all our duties,

so that we may adorn thy doctrine in all things

Amen

From the Valley of Vision pp 382-3

Neil English is the author of Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, which recounts how many amateur and professional astronomers throughout the ages maintained a strong and pervasive Christian faith throughout their careers.

Post Scriptum:

More background on the King James Bible can be be found on these links;

Librarian P.J. Carefoote on the religious and historical importance of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible.

The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicholson

The King James and other early Bibles at Wadham College Oxford

Thomas Nelson Publisher’s Miscellania on the King James Bible

President Abraham Lincoln’s Bible:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

President Ronald Reagan’s opinion on the King James Bible

Problems with the King James Bible

The King James Only Controversy

Which English Translation of the Bible Should We Use?

De Fideli.

# Book Review: “Lucky Planet” by David Waltham.

A refreshing look at a thorny ‘scientific’ question.

Book Title: Lucky Planet

Author: David Waltham

Publisher: ICON Books

ISBN: 978-1-84831-832-8

Year of Publication: 2014

Price: £9.99(UK) Paperback(225 pages)

If you are a regular reader of the popular periodicals such as Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, Astronomy Now, BBC Sky at Night Magazine, Scientific American, etc you’re sure to notice that any articles discussing life on other worlds invariably paint a picture that life is commonplace in the Universe and will be found in many different exoplanetary environments. Very rarely(if ever), will they present articles arguing the opposite; that life in general, and intelligent life in particular, will be rare or even unique to the Earth. The reasons for this bias are many and varied but some of the most important reasons include; (1) the motivations of their authors to promote their own work in astrobiology,(2) to extend methodological naturalism to the Univese as a whole and (3) to dispell the notion that we might in any way be special.

The problem with this approach is that it is not presented in the true spirit of scientific enquiry, which seeks to find truthful answers to big questions.Thus, more often than not, the inability of these periodicals to publish scientific findings that challenge or counter their philosophic positions simply reflects the ingrained prejudice of its editorial.

I encountered this prejudice directly in a recent exchange with the editor of Astronomy Now, a magazine that I have faithfully written for for 25 years. When I wanted to write an article discussing the idea that extraterrestrial life could be rare, citing many up-to-date scientific articles on the subject, the editor turned sour and refused to publish the work. The reason: nothing to do with science, he just didn’t like what I was reporting! A classic case of bigotry methinks. Anyway, we forgive and forget, then move on. So I decided to take my work elsewhere, no sweat. I suspect however, that my story is not unique. Many science writers before me must have experienced something similar and no doubt, it will happen to someone again in the future.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A Related Aside: Check out the hostility I received here in a recent forum discussion entitled: How many Earths in our Galaxy?  I wonder if Waltham would experience the same hostility were he to post his ideas on that forum? Diagraceful? I’d say so!

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

That’s why I was very excited about this recent book, Lucky Planet, written by one of the UK’s most respected geophysicists, David Waltham, who heads a large research team in the Department of Geosciences, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Waltham’s thesis is this; the Earth has enjoyed more or less 4 billion year of “good weather,” and that we owe our existence to an extraordinary sequence of “lucky” happenings that have come about to make and maintain a habitable planet.  Furthermore, this unmerited fortune is very unlikely to occur on the vast majority of worlds that inhabit the observable Universe. Being used to a world teeming over with life all around us, we suffer, Waltham argues, from a severe dose of “observational bias”, which leads many to naturally conclude that life must exist everywhere. He gives some very good examples of how observational bias can lead us to wrong conclusions. For example, Waltham notes that most of the stars visible to us in the night sky are actually larger and more luminous than the vast majority of stars that really exist. But with a telescope, this bias is transformed into something much closer to the truth; that the Universe is filled with innumerable red dawrf stars much fainter and less luminous than the Sun. Indeed, as Waltham reminds us, some 95 per cent of all stars that exist are smaller than the Sun! So looks can deceive!

The principle of mediocrity; the idea that our predicament should not be viewed as special is grounded in the Copernican principle, which Waltham discusses in chapter 2. I was especially impressed with his research on the life and works of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who is often cited by science popularizers as a “martyr for science,” and erroneously pedelled by science celebrities such as the late Carl Sagan, and more recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson, not to mention a great many introductory astronomy texts. Waltham convincingly argues that this is largely a scientific myth used to push a certain philosophic agenda(anti-Christian) on an unsuspecting public.

Calling on a great deal of new scientific evidence from astronomy, planetary science and paleoclimate studies, Waltham weaves a very sophisticated scientific picture of the key events in Earth’s deep history that have contributed to maintaining a viable biosphere ever since life took a hold on the young Earth near on 4 billion years ago. Some of the facts he presents are indeed profound:

A warming trend as small as 1 degree C every 100 million years would have been enough to make our world uninhabitable by now, and it would not have been surprising had such a trend occurred.

pp 47

Much of the science in the book derives from Waltham’s own work in theoretical modelling of paleoclimates, as well as geology field work, with many amusing anecdotes along the way. When he was a boy, for example, he lived for a time on the west coast of Scotland, where his love of fossils and geology was nurtured. As a teenager, he became a keen amateur astronomer, with a particular love for the Moon, and even built a few reflecting telescopes, but like myself, drifted away from astronomy for a period to pursue his education in physics, only to return to important astronomical topics later in his career. And though he does not acknowledge the work of a Creator as the explanation for this extraordinary serendipity, he remains respectful of those who do hold religious beliefs.

The book continues with excellent, well-informed chapters on Big Bang cosmology, a spectacularly successful scientific model for the origin and evolution of the Universe, the stabilising effects of the Earth’s Moon, the role of James Lovelock’s Gaia theory in attempting to explain the many inter-related factors that maintain a complex biosphere, and how it fares in comparison to his own ‘Goldilocks’ view of Earth, where luck was the pre-eminent factor in our planet’s success. He appeals to the anthropic principle quite a bit in the book and its usefulness in explaining why the Universe as a whole appears fine-tuned for life.

That said, the book does display a few significant shortcomings. In a biological context, he uses the word “evolution” more like a magic wand than a proper scientific tool. Stars, planets and galaxies evolve because we can model their evolution with a fair degree of precision. But the same has not been demonstrated for the most complex things we know about; living systems. All we hear is ‘this evolved into that,’ with no explanation as to how it happened. And details are very important when trying to convey scientific truths. He rates Charles Darwin as a significant scientific figure, whereas I do not. There is little discussion on the details of how life arose except the usual handwaving about some mysterious ocean floor vent,  and a ‘just so’ story of how replicating RNA models were miraculously encapsulated into a fully viable lipid membrane and the like. I got the distinct impression that Waltham did so in a rather tongue in cheek manner, as if he were toying with his readers. Later in the book he alludes to this shortcoming in the context of computer modelling:

It may seem surprising that the Moon could provide the best evidence of the Earth’s life-friendliness when other factors, such as biological evolution, have had a much more direct and significant impact on our planet’s developing environment. There are several reasons why the Moon tells a more convincing story of our good fortune than many other, apparently more promising, facets of our world. For a start, the behaviour of the Earth-Moon system is reasonably well understood one, controlled by the relatively simple equations of celestial mechanics. I say ‘relatively simple,’ because the details are still a bit of a nightmare. Isaac Newton himself complained that thinking about the motions of the Moon made his head ache! Nevertheless, unlike climate evolution or the evolution of animals and plants, the changing behaviour of our satellite through time can be mathematically modelled with reasonable precision.

pp 184

I applaud the intellectual honesty of Waltham in an age where many inflated scientific egos assert that we have nearly everything figured out. Science itself is evolving; it never ceases so long as inquisitive minds keep seeking answers. What may be true today may not be true tomorrow. He writes;

I should in all honesty admit that experts would argue over almost every one of the details in the story I have just given…..

pp 61

I was also surprised by his avoidance of providing an in-depth discussion on the Cambrian Explosion, which occurred about 541 million years ago and which led to 80 per cent of extant animal body plans suddenly appearing within a short span of 10 million years, and with no credible evolutionary antecedents. Indeed, we now know the fossil record as a whole does not support an evolutionary narrative, with vast periods of stasis interspersed with mass extinctions followed by equally rapid appearances of new species and ecosystems. Waltham would have also benefitted from the work of the world-renowned synthetic organic chemist, Professor James Tour, who has recently weighed in to expose the shocking degree to which human intervention is needed to reproduce even the very first steps toward the simplest of lifeforms. Suddenly, Waltham would have to thank his lucky stars many times over again for all the other convenient happenings in Earth history!

How I wish Waltham were as enthusiastic about the details of living systems as he clearly is about rocks!

Having said all that, Waltham does concede that the origin of life will be a very unlikely event anywhere;

I believe that the origin of life, like all the major steps leading to the emergence of intelligence, is a rare occurrence.

pp 208

I think that’s quite an understatement!

In addition, Waltham hopes that future robotic or human explorers will one day uncover evidence that Mars has (or had) microbial life but offers this very sensible qualification:

My hope is that we will soon find microscopic life living beneath the surface of Mars and my expectation is that its biochemistry will show it to be similar to Earth life. This will generate some interesting discussions as we debate whether the evidence that there is only one way to make life or evidence for cross-contamination between the worlds. I expect a consensus to eventually emerge that the similarities are too great to be explained by a separate origin…

pp 208

As you can see from the internet thread I linked to above, I got lampooned for asserting that the question of whether life is commonplace in the Universe is not really scientific in the sense that we should not expect it to be commonplace in the Cosmos. In other words, it is scientifically naive to assume so. Professor Waltham affirms the same general conclusion in stating that the scientific consensus will very likely fall on the side of extreme rarity rather than ubiquity. He writes;

The scientifically conservative position should be that life is rare and intelligence even more so.

pp 186.

He even advises that others should have a similar frame of mind about the Earth:

I certainly believe that the possibility that the Earth is special should be taken seriously by everyone and for all sorts of reasons, but in conclusion, I’d like to finish with the most important justification of all for considering this idea. It’s probably true.

pp 212

Waltham is a very engaging and likeable intellect; a deep thinker, who kicks back hard against the goads.

Clearly, our Dave put lot of thought into this book. But I sense he is searching for something. He is deeply intrigued by the perfect solar eclipses we experience, whether it is merely a highly unlikely coincidence or whether it points to something far greater, and even describes his trip along with a few chums, to Germany to get a good view of the August 1999 apparition. He often gives thanks to the powers that be (let’s call it the goddess Fortuna) for how lucky he feels to have existed at all! He even ends with a surprising comment; and this from a man who cannot, by his own admission, believe in miracles:

I will not finish on a negative note. Earth and countless other inhabited worlds scattered thinly throughout an unimaginably immense multiverse has given rise to a fragile wonder of life. On Earth we have laughed, loved and wondered at the beauty of the world and the Universe around us. We are part of an extraordinary miracle and I, for one, feel very lucky.

pp 214.

So although Waltham’s goddess – Fortuna – allows for life bearing planets but only so rarely that one or two might exist in each galaxy at the most, or galaxy cluster, he also plays mind games with himself. I was particularly intrigued by these comments:

Acceptance that the Earth is a very odd planet, and that this was necessary for the emergence of humans, also has a very obvious impact on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Quite bluntly, if there is significant anthropic selection for Earth properties, then we are effectively alone in the Universe. As I discussed earlier, the nearest extraterrestrial civilization could easily lie beyond the edge of the visible Universe and so be uncontactable. This is quite a disappointing conclusion for many. Indeed, one prominent, well-informed critic of the anthropic ideas has admitted that his views may be coloured by having grown up watching the original ‘Star Trek’ series. Maybe my own views have been coloured by slightly more recent films. I’ve thought for a long time that ‘Alien’ was more plausible than ‘Mr. Spock’, so it’s quite possible that my subconscious doesn’t want aliens to exist.

pp 211

I can empathise with the author here, as my own position is that we are alone.

And there’s a good reason for that!

On my sojourn through this extraordinary labrynth we call life, I have lost my faith in Fortuna; for she acts blindly, with no foresight and cannot create; always fumbling in the dark.

Neither does she care.

But, 20 centuries ago, an extraordinary human being walked the dirt roads of the Galilee, bringing Light to the world, a manchild born in a manger, who grew in wisdom and stature, healed the sick and the infirmed, fed the masses with little more than a morsel of food and even commanded the winds to die down. By turning water into choice wine at a wedding, He gladdened the human heart. He raised the dead, walked on water, and after suffering a horrific execution on a Roman cross; rose triumphantly from the dead and appeared to more than 500 believers before ascending on the clouds to Heaven. In the Holy books written concerning Him we read:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

Colossians 1:16-17

This Person chose to enter His own creation and cared Himself to death.

His name is Yeshua of Nazareth, and He promised to return to this Earth, which He created, to bring an end to all evil, suffering and death. The same holy books say that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.

I joyfully await His return, and would encourage Dr. Waltham to research His truth claims. He brings joy and meaning to my life; Yeshua; the eternally Living God, who will not share His glory with another.

So, to end this review, and despite the few reservations I have with it, I would heartily recommend this book to anyone wishing to get an up-to-date and scientifically accurate picture of how we got here. It is a very well written work, full of joy, wonder, humour and optimism; a book that will help you appreciate just how wonderful every human life is!

Errata:

pp 49 the author says the Orion Nebula is a few hundred light years away. It’s actually about 1,350 light years distant.

pp 54 The author says that Banded Iron Formations(BIFs) cannot form in the presence of oxygen.

BIFs are formed when aqueous iron ions combine with oxygen forming insoluble oxides which form precipitates known as BIFs.

Neil English regularly kicks against the goads, and is author of a new historical work; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy, published by Springer-Nature.

De Fideli.

# Beginner Telescopes

The ShortTube 80: ready to go to work.

In this age we live in, choosing a good beginner telescope can be a daunting task, what with all the models that are flooding the market. In this article, I  would like to discuss the potential of several telescopes that offer good value for money and will allow their owners to grow in the hobby.

Tune in soon for details…………………..

De Fideli.

# A Brief Commentary on the Holy Scriptures; Tree of Life Version(TLV).

Seeing Scripture through Jewish eyes.

A song: a psalm of Asaph.
God, do not keep silent.
Do not hold Your peace, O God.
Do not be still.
For look, Your enemies make an uproar.
Those who hate You lift up their head.
They make a shrewd plot against Your people,
“Come,” they say, “let’s wipe them out as a nation!
Let Israel’s name be remembered no more!”
For with one mind they plot together.
Against You do they make a covenant.

Psalm 83: 1-5

Are you looking for a brand-new Bible experience? Are you searching for a translation of the Bible that restores some of the Hebrew names and terminology found in the original manuscripts? Perhaps you are looking for a Bible that will help you rekindle an interest in the sacred words of Scripture seen from a Messianic Jewish perspective? If so, I have just the recommendation for you; enter the Tree of Life Vesion(TLV).

The brain child of this ambitious project was Daniah Greenberg and her Rabbi husband, Mark Greenberg, who assembled a cadre of Messianic Jewish Bible scholars to create an all-new translation of the Holy Scriptures that gives the reader a solid flavour of the original Hebraic overtones of the Bible, with a decidely Jewish accent. But it was no small feat, given the proliferation of English Bible versions flooding the global market. Daniah had the courage and conviction to raise the funds to pay for soild scholarship within the Jewish cultural tradition, which culminated with the first edition of the TLV Bible in 2011. Daniah Greenberg now serves as President of the Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Greenberg is also CEO of the newly established TLV Bible Society.

It pays to remember that all the Biblical writers, with the possible exception of the author of the Book of Job, were Jews. Jesus Christ was Jewish. The earliest Christian meetings took place in synagogues and despite the attendant evils of anti-semitism throughout history, and its giving rise to unbiblical ideas such as replacement theology,  it is undoubtedly the case that unique insights into much of the Biblical narrative has come from the Jewish mindset. Seen in this light, it is not at all surprising that a new Bible translation made by the original people to which the Lord of all Creation first appeared should find a place on the bookshelves of many Christians in the 21st century.

The first thing you will notice about the TLV is the unfamiliar ordering of the books of the Bible, which have been re-presented in the order rendered in the Jewish tradition, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament. In Jewish parlance, these are the books of the Tanakh.

As you can see from the table of contents below, the Tanakh is further divided into three sections; the Torah (Law of Moses or Pentateuch), the Neviim (The Prophets) and the Ketuvim (The Writings).

The unique ordering of the books of the Old Testament(Tanakh), as experienced by Orthodox Jews.

The books of the New Testament(Good News) are presented in their traditional order. The reader will note that the Book of James is titled ‘Jacob,’ and Jude is titled ‘Judah, which  represent their transliterated Jewish names.

The New testament books are presented in their traditional order, with two transliterated names, Jacob(James) and Judah(Jude).

A sizeable number of words are presented in the original Hebrew. For example, YHWH God’s covenant name, is often referred to as Adonai,  but also as Elohim (Creator). Jesus is denoted as Yeshua, Mary(the mother of Jesus) is given her original name, Miriam; Spirit is presented as Ruach, the Levitical priests, Kohanim, the children of Israel, B’nei-Israel and Sabbath is translated as Shabbat. All Hebrew terminology can be referenced at the back of the Bible in the form of a tidy glossary. There is even a section which helps the reader pronounce these Hebrew words correctly. That said, once you get into the TLV, most of the terms sink in very easily and naturally and so provide the reader with an education in basic Hebrew religious terminology. The addition of original Hebrew words also adds to the poetic beauty of the language of the Scriptures, which are readily appreciated while reading through.

Each book of the Holy Scriptures is accompanied by a short introduction written by Messianic Jewish scholars, which provides a concise overview of the most important ideas developed in the texts. The translators intentionally chose to produce a translation that is at once respectful to more traditional translations of the Bible such as the Authorized King James Version (KJV), and more modern translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB), retaining some classic Biblical terminology such as “Behold“, “lovingkindness” and “Chaldeans.” For example, in the opening verses of the Book of Esther, the TLV refers to the Babylonian King as Ahasuerus and not Xerxes ,as you will find in looser translations such as the NIV and NLT.

This is what happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia.

Esther 1:1

In keeping with the original customs of the first Christians, the word ‘baptism‘ does not appear in the TLV, being replaced by the more appropriate term, ‘immersion.’ This is entirely justified as infant baptism was not practiced by the earliest followers of Yeshua. Consider this passage from Acts 2;

Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

Acts 2:38

John the Baptist is likewise referred to as “John the Immerser”

Unlike virtually all other Bibles in the English language, the Adversary’s name is presented in lower case, ‘the satan‘; a most appropriate demotion to honour the ‘father of lies.’ Consider, for example, the opening passages of the Book of Job:

One day the sons of God came to present themselves before Adonai, and the satan also came with them.  Adonai said to the satan, “Where have you come from?”

The satan responded to Adonai and said, “From roaming the earth and from walking on it.

Adonai said to the satan, “Did you notice my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth—a blameless and upright man, who fears God and spurns evil.”

Job: 1:6-8

Another interesting aspect of the TLV is that it quite often departs from the usual preterite, or imperfect tense one normally experiences in traditional translations. Consider this passage from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 4 in the NASB:

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;

Matthew 4:8

Now consider the same passage in the TLV:

Again, the devil takes Him to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

Matthew 4:8

These occasional departures add to the immediacy of the situation as if it were happening right now! This is a powerful linguistic tool that the TLV scholars used to evince the poignancy of certain passages of Holy Scripture.

The poetic books of the Holy Scriptures, such as the Psalms, are most beautifully rendered and retain traditional  terms like Selah (an uncertain word thought to refer to an interlude in a musical performance). Consider, for example, Psalm 24 in the TLV:

A psalm of David.
The earth is Adonai’s and all that fills it—
the world, and those dwelling on it.
For He founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.
Who may go up on the mountain of Adonai?
Who may stand in His holy place?
One with clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not lifted his soul in vain,
nor sworn deceitfully.
righteousness from God his salvation.
Such is the generation seeking Him,
seeking Your face, even Jacob! Selah
and be lifted up, you everlasting doors:
that the King of glory may come in.
“Who is this King of glory?”
and lift them up, you everlasting doors:
that the King of glory may come in.
“Who is this King of glory?”
Adonai-Tzva’ot—He is the King of glory! Selah

Psalm 24

The reader of the TLV Holy Scriptures will note that the word “church” does not appear in this translation. Instead, the scholars chose to use the words “Messiah’s community.” This is an acceptable change, as the word they were probably translating was the Greek term ecclesia, which appears in the New Testament 115 times and was often associated with a civil body or council summoned for a particular purpose. The nearest the Greek language gets to “church” is kuriakos, which is best understood as “pertaining to the Lord,” which probably morphed into the Germanic “Kirche” or “Kirk,” which is still used in northern England and Scotland to this day.

An amusing aside: Has anyone ever referred to Kirk Douglas as ‘Church Douglas’, who just happens to be an orthodox Jew?

These translative nuances matter little in the scheme of things however. Acts 11 provides a good illustration of these translation choices:

Then Barnabas left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met together with Messiah’s community and taught a large number. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christianoi.”

Acts 11:25-26

Note also that the TLV translation team used the Greek term for Christians, ‘Christianoi‘. This is also perfectly acceptable, as there was no Hebrew word for ‘Christian’ in those early days.

The scholars who created the TLV chose to use the latest manuscript evidence, which included much older texts found in the modern era compared with the King James or New King James, for example(which are based on the Textus Receptus). It thus follows a similar translation ethos to other popular Bibles in the English language such as the NIV and ESV.  On the spectrum of modern English Bible translations, which vary from the highly literal, so-called ‘word for word’ renderings, through the less literal ‘thought to thought’ translations, I would categorise the TLV as adopting a ‘middle of the road’ approach. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to look at the same passage of Scripture in a few translations. Consider, for example, the highly literal NASB rendition of Matthew 9, verses 1 through 8:

Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:1-8(NASB)

Next consider the TLV equivalent:

After getting into a boat, Yeshua crossed over and came to His own town. Just then, some people brought to Him a paralyzed man lying on a cot. And seeing their faith, Yeshua said to the paralyzed man, “Take courage, son! Your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the Torah scholars said among themselves, “This fellow blasphemes!” And knowing their thoughts, Yeshua said, “Why are you entertaining evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to pardon sins…” Then He tells the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your cot and go home.” And he got up and went home. When the crowd saw it, they were afraid and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Matthew 9:1-8(TLV)

Finally, consider the same passage from a thought for thought translation like the NIV:

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home.  When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

Matthew 9:1-8(NIV)

I think it is reasonable to conclude that the TLV is a good compromise between both translation philosophies, distinguishing itself by means of introducing some Hebrew words and names but also in the way that the translators have chosen to alter the tense of some passages, as discussed previosuly.

The TLV  also follows many of the newer Bible versions in adopting a more gender neutral approach to terms such as ‘Brethern’ or ‘Brothers’. For example, the TLV renders Galatians 1:11 thus:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Good News proclaimed by me is not man-made.

Galatians 1:11 (TLV)

Compare this to the more conservative ESV:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

Galatians 1:11 (ESV)

And the NIV:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.

Galatians 1:11(NIV)

Some commentators have expressed concern that the Bible should never be altered so as to express political correctness, as in this case, where ‘brothers’ is altered for the sake of inclusiveness to read, ‘brothers and sisters.’ I understand their concerns but I have no strong opinion either way on this issue, so long as the context of the particular verse is not altered.

The TLV does have a couple of errors which I picked up while reading through the translation. The first appears in Jeremiah 34:14

At the end of seven years you are to set free every man his brother that is a Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you are [to] let him go free from you.’ But your fathers did not obey Me, nor inclined their ear.

I have inserted the missing word in bold brackets that makes the sentence comprehensible.

In addition there is a printing error in my Large Print Personal Size TLV on page 902 and 903, the heading of which reads “Obadiah 9” and “Obadiah 1,” respectively. Since these headings are meant to illustrate the chapter numbers, they are clearly unecessary as the Book of Obadiah only has a single chapter.

The typographical error niggled me at first (as an avid reader, I’m very tolerant of typos in general but view Holy Scripture in a more exalted light), but I understand that these things happen. I have written to the TLV Bible Society informing them of these issues which I hope they will be able to resolve in due course.

Some comments on the physical presentation of the TLV Holy Scriptures

The author’s TLV large print copy of the Holy Scriptures.

I was very impressed with the quality of the giant print personal size TLV that I acquired back in January 2018. It has a beautiful leathertex cover, which is soft and durable. Indeed, the current selection of faux leather Bibles(in many translations)are amazing value for money, and are superior to the cheap, bonded leather found on premium Bibles just a decade ago. The TLV also has a smyth-sewn binding for greater durability even with prolonged use.

The Personal Size Giant Print TLV is about 9 inches long and 2 inches thick.

It has a paste-down liner, a highly readable 12.5 font size, beautiful gold gilded pages and comes with a single ribbon marker. I especially like the paper used by Baker Books(the publisher of the TLV), which is a more creamy white than the usual white pages seen n many other of my Bibles.As seen below, the text is presented in a double column format and has a generous number of cross-references. The text is line matched and shows minimal ghosting, which annoys some people more than others.

The paper in the TLV is an off white(creamy), the text is double columned, shows little bleed-through, with clear 12.5 sized font.

The back of the TLV has an extensive concordance, a short glossary explaining the Hebrew terms used in the translation, as well as a short section of prayers (including the Aaronic benediction and the Lord’s Prayer) and other  blessings for those who wish to learn a little more Hebrew. A couple of maps show Yeshua’s travels in the 1st century AD as well as a modern map of Israel. Best of all, you can acquire all of this for a very modest price: I paid about £25 for my copy but you can also get it at discounted prices from smaller retailers. See here for just one example.

I would highly recommend the TLV to avid readers of the Bible. It will come in especially handy when witnessing to Jews but can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates the deep Hebrew roots of the Christian faith.

Dr Neil English shows how the Christain faith has inspired visual astronomers over the centuries in his new historical work; Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy.

Post Scriptum: You can also read the TLV(or indeed any other Bible translation) online by visiting BibleGateway.com

De Fideli.

# The Lockyer Sequence

New year’s Day 2019: Plotina starting well on a trail first blazed by Sir Norman Lockyer(1836-1920).

On the evening of January 1 2019, I set up my 130mm f/5 Newtonian astride its Vixen Porta II mount. Conditions were cold, still, and frosty, with temperatures between 0 C and -2C. Seeing was judged to be very good (Antoniadi II).

My purpose this evening was to examine a half dozen double and multiple stars in Orion, as suggested by the distinguished Romanian observer, Mircea Pteancu, who kindly alerted me to a reference made by Norman Lockyer et al in their book, Stargazing: past and present (1878). On page 164 of that book, the authors describe a sequence of double and muliple stars in Orion, which present systems of varying degrees of difficulty for the curious telescopist. After careful collimation and adequate acclimation, the 5.1″ reflector was turned toward the Celestial Hunter, beginning at about 22:00UT and the following systems examined at magnifications ranging from 118x to 566x. The results are shown below:

The Lockyer Sequence.

Notes:

The times and magnifications employed are displayed beside the drawings, which depict their orientation in the Newtonian reflector. For all sketches, south is up and west is to the left.

Teasing the close companion to Zeta Orionis apart from its brilliant primary did prove quite tricky, but with a concentrated gaze during the stiller moments, it did yield to the 130mm telescope. The reader will also note the much fainter(10th magnitude) shown at the lower right of the sketch.

The most challenging proved to be 52 Orionis(1″ separation), but with its decent altitude at 22: 43UT, I was able to resolve this classic Dawes pair ( twin 6th magnitude components)  using very high powers. Intriguingly, I first attempted this system by coupling a Meade 3x Barlow lens to a 4.8mm T1 Nagler yielding 405 diameters but without much success. The image was quite dim and very difficult to see the components distinctly. As an experiment, I switched to a Meade Series 5000 5.5mm ultra-wide angle ocular, coupling it to the same 3x Barlow but I also screwed in a 1.6x Astroengineering 1.6x amplifier yielding a power of 566x. To my great surprise, I found the image of the system to be significantly brighter than with the old Nagler and it was much easier to prize the components apart. I can only suggest that the better (read more modern) coatings on the Meade 5.5mm ultra-wide angle allowed greater light throughput, despite the higher powers employed.

566x represents a power of 111x per inch of aperture.

The 130mm f/5 Newtonian continues to surprise and delight me. It’s small, high-quality optics, thermally stable (cork-lined) closed-tube design, and ease of attaining perfect collimation all contribute to its efficacy as a medium-aperture double star instrument.

I would encourage others who have similar equipment to give these beautiful systems a visit. What better way to entertain and challenge a dedicated observer on a cold winter’s evening!

De Fideli.

# A Tale of Three Binoculars

My 30-year old 7 x 50 binocular.

It was just over 30 years ago when I was gifted a nice 7 x 50 binocular by my girlfriend. They featured a 7 degree field, multi-coated optics and BaK-4 porro prisms. They served me well all these years on holidays, walks and for casual stargazing. They weren’t cheap either. Lesser units would have fallen apart by now, but after trying a few modern binoculars out I knew that technology had moved on, mostly for the better.

Now that I’m older, I wanted a binocular that had an exit pupil more suited to my age. I wanted an instrument that was more light weight, so that I could observe for longer without using tripods. I wanted a binocular that would do well in a variety of situations, from nature watching from dawn to dusk, and for astronomy. They had to be robust and ideally weatherproof to a degree. My ideal binocular views had to serve up sharp, colour pure views of autumn’s radiant hues but also allow me to throw caution to the wind and just enjoy the glories of the night sky from the comfort of a recliner. But which ones to buy?

Alas, I found that choosing a model that ticked all the boxes for me to be a daunting prospect! Today, we have so many makes to choose from; which is a good thing. My experience with telescopes came in very handy though. Not easily swayed by marketing gimmicks and wishy-washy hyperbole, I slowly pared them down to size.

I decided I wanted a fairly compact, full-size binocular that would offer good light grasp, so a clear aperture of 42mm would be about the minimum that would do the trick. I wanted a fully multi-coated instrument to maximise light transmission to the eye and reduce glare on bright objects to an acceptable minimum. They had to be well made with a decent warranty should they get damaged or worn out from regular use. And they had to present good value for my hard-earned cash.

I narrowed my search down to a good roof-prism binocular as these had many of the features I was looking for; small, light weight, decent light grasp, ultraportable etc. Two magnifications were considered, 8x or 10x. With 10x you’d get a smaller exit pupil and lose some advantages of using them in low light conditions. 10x would also introduce more shake and would be more difficult to accurately focus while in use too, so I decided on 8x; an 8 x 42 binocular.

I went to amazon.co.uk to check out the user reviews of a variety of models I had an interest in. In many ways, these types of reviews give the prospective buyer a more rounded view of what it’s like to use a given model, as they are often more honest and less biased than those offered by so-called ‘experts,’ who, more often than not, succumb to clever marketing ploys and had a tendency to push premium products over more economical models that might still offer perfectly acceptable performance. I found that birders, for example, often highlighted a variety of mechanical and optical features that were largerly superfluous to my needs. I didn’t really need super-fast focusing, locked in dioptre settings, nor ED elements in the objectives. At such low powers, one would be hard pressed to see the advantages of employing low dispersion glass and most of the online literature seemed to over-emphasise their advantages even though I knew that it would only make a small (insignificant?) difference to the views. Afterall, how many amateur astronomers insist on having ED finder ‘scopes eh? Why haven’t 8 x 50 ED finders or some such become the industry standard, if they really offered any tangible advantage over good ole crown & flint? The honest answer is that they’re unnecessary, and so can be dispensed with.

As a case in point, check out this user review of the Vortex 10 x 42 Diamondback roof prism binocular. The gentleman states that he was asked to try out the more expensive Viper model with ED objective elements in a blind test. He states that he couldn’t really tell the difference in field use. I have no reason to doubt the gentleman’s conviction. Why lie on such a trivial matter?

No, a good, no-frills, traditional achromatic binocular to match my average eyes was what I was shopping for!

I went with a company that had a long track record of producing high quality optics, as I reasoned that such knowledge would be invaluable in the construction of a well-made binocular. Many companies selling such binoculars were not long in the game though, so my instinct was to avoid them. I gravitated toward an old British firm that had produced optics for the military in two world wars; Barr & Stroud.

Now bought out by OVL, Barr & Stroud  re-entered the sports optics market by bringing out a range of affordable roof prism binoculars in an 8 x 42 format and my first purchase was the Sahara 8 x 42, which retails for about £70-£90 UK.

The Barr & Stroud Sahara 8 x 42.

Though under no illusions that these are British made, Barr & Stroud binoculars are now assembled in China, just like those marketed by Vortex (a US-based company) and many other companies. They are supplied with a nice, soft carry case, neck straps, a lens cleaning cloth and have a 10-year warranty.

The Sahara 8 x 42 binocular comes in attractive box with a good carrying case with the usual accessories.

The specifications of the Sahara 8 x 42 model can be viewed here.

The Sahara is a joy to use. It’s small and light weight (670g), has good eye relief (17.5 mm) and with its twist up eyecups, will allow those who must wear eye glasses (I don’t) to enjoy the expansive field of view (7.33 angular degrees). Images are bright and sharp and colour fidelity is sound. With its fully multi-coated optics, contrast and glare suppression are excellent too in comparison to my old 7 x 50s. You really have to look for chromatic aberration but it is there. You can best see it by focusing on the edge of a telephone pole against a bright, overcast sky background, but is minimal and not in the least bit intrusive(I’d say mostly bum-fluff). At the edge of the field, the image gets a little softer with some slight fringing during daylight hours but it will never be enough to disturb the vast majority of users. Focusing is smooth and intuitive, not overly stiff or loose and it has an excellent close focus distance of just under 2m (measured) to allow you to enjoy insects, flowers etc at close range. It also has adequate waterproofing for my intended uses for it.

Night time views were very impressive too. Stars are sharp and pinpoint across the majority of the field. Only by using a stable tripod, will you be able to notice a little defocus of the stellar images at the edge of the field. All in, I would rate the Sahara as very good and considering its modest cost; a great bargain in today’s market! These guys certainly know how to make a good binocular!

Shortly after purchasing the Saharas, I began researching the properties of roof prisms and discovered that they have a significant design flaw. In the roof prism design, the two halves of the collected light from the objectives travel through the prism independently and are recombined before reaching the eyepieces. Because the path of the two wave trains are of slightly different lengths, one half of the light takes a little longer to travel through the prism than the other. When the two halves of the image are recombined, the wave with the longer light path will be slightly out of phase with the light that undergoes the shorter route. This results in a combination of destructive and constructive interference of the wave trains, affecting the colour balance, contrast and fidelity of the binocular image.

Note that this flaw does not affect porro-prism-based binoculars!

By introducing a special phase coating to the prism undergoing the shorter light path, optical designers can slightly retard the wave train, thereby correcting the phase difference with the other wave train. This results in sharper, brighter images with higher contrast; in theory. As I researched this some more, I discovered that the result was quantitatively significant; 8 per cent according to the manufacturers. Intrigued, I looked for a Barr & Stroud model that had this phase coating as the Sahara’s did not have this technology built in and that quickly led me to their 8 x 42 Sierra model.

The Barr & Stroud 8 x 42 Sierra binocular.

Luckily, the Sierra was only a little bit more expensive than the Sahara. Full specs here.

Otherwise sharing very similar specifications to the Sahara, the Sierra 8 x 42 is also slightly lighter (650g), coming with the same soft carry case and accessories as the former. The polycarbonate body was also a little different in the Sierra compared with the Sahara, as the above images show. When it arrived, the first thing I did was undergo a test to see if there was any significant difference between the images. Examining a brightly lit scene with a trunk of a tree shadowed by some over-hanging branches and comparing the two binocular images, I must admit that the Sierra was that little bit better. It’s difficult to describe in words but I suppose I’d say that the Sierra image had a little bit more ‘zing’ to it. The image was that little bit brighter and the colours more vivid. Contrast was also better by a shade.

Based on this test, I think phase coating technology is definitely worth having. Subsequent research of other high-end and mid-priced binoculars revealed that they all possessed these phase coatings. I see them as increasing the overall efficiency of light transmission, improving the image in a way that the human eye would notice in a critical test.

In another test comparing my 7 x 50s to the Sierra’s, I had to immediately concede that the images in the latter were far superior to the old porro prism binocular. The image was actually brighter even though it only had 42mm objectives(as opposed to 50mm in the auld yin) and the contrast far superior. The Sierra also presented a larger field of view.

Man and his technology!

Before describing my experiences with the Sierra 8 x 42 in any more detail, I was curious to see how the unit would fare compared with a high-end binocular with roughly the same specifications. As luck would have it, my coalman is a keen birder and dabbles in hunting big game. He’s the proud possessor of a Swarovksi EL 8.5 x 42 binocular, which retails for about £1800 UK. When he came to deliver some coal I got chatting with him and asked him if he would be so kind as to bring them by some afternoon so that we could compare and contrast the images garnered by these binoculars. He agreed.

The Swarovski EL 8.5 x 42 roof prism binocular.

Though certainly not a ‘gayponaut’ (a word of my own coining, fomally defined as: an irrational obsession with small ED optics), my coalman, Graham, bought his Swarovski’s about ten years ago, and I was glad to see that they looked as though they’d been used. When I asked him why he chose them he said, “they’re supposed to give brighter views in low light.”  I thought that answer was a little vague though. He didn’t seem to know anything about the fluorite element in the objectives, or the effects of coatings on the optics. He was simply won over by the advertising. I believe this is common among buyers of high-end optics. Afterall, you don’t need to know anything about an internal combustion engine in order to drive a car do you?

Indeed, I knew far more about his Swarovski’s than he did. Nevertheless, we compared the images. I got a shot of Graham’s 8.5 x 42s and he got a chance to test out my 8 x 42 Sierra’s. The results were interesting.

I felt the image quality was excellent in the Swarovski’s. It gave a slightly more neutral colour tone to the Sierra’s in a very slightly larger true field (7.6 angular degrees). Contrast was excellent with really first-rate definition. The built-in field flattening lenses in the eyepieces improved the edge of field correction, and the slight colour fringing I had tried hard to detect in my Sierras was invisible in the Swarovski’s.

Graham liked the Sierras too though. Indeed, he said to me that, ” they’re pretty much the same aren’t they?”

I found it hard not to disagree. I felt the images were much more similar than different.

But what I did appreciate were the mechanical attributes of Graham’s binocular. Its buttery smooth focusing wheel made it easy to adjust focus distance from about 4.5 feet to infinity very swiftly; a bonus for birders I guess. I also appreciated the wonderful diopter adjustment apparatus and hearing the ‘click’ as it was turned to the correct setting.  This clever diopter locking mechanism means that there’s little chance of it slipping out of place during field use. Great, but not something I couldn’t live without.

The Swarovski’s body is a very rugged magnesium alloy chassis which gives a feeling of reassurance while handling the optic, but I didn’t really understand how it would be more resistant to corrosion over the far less expensive polycarbonate body usually found on the majority of sports optics. What Graham and I did notice was the significant weight difference between the models. The Swarovski’s were nearly 200g heavier than the Sierra’s, something that would definitely have a bearing on observing comfort during prolonged field use.

The excellent life-time warranty on the Swarovski’s was something Graham appreciated. He told me that one of the caps on the ocular lens had worn out (they can actually be removed for easy cleaning of the eye lenses) but one of the company reps immediately fitted his unit with a new one; that’s great service!

In the end, I was very grateful to Graham for bringing by his high-end binocular. I was delighted to know that there wasn’t much in it optically. But then again, I kind of expected as much! Did the experience tempt me to save and invest in a Swarovski? I’d have to say no. My Sierra’s were plenty good enough, warts and all!

What to do with the Sahara’s? My sister- and brother-in-law love the great outdoors; camping, glamping, fly fishing, hill walking and sight seeing. The’ve never owned a decent binocular so these will serve as a suitable Christmas gift for them. I just know they’ll love it and use it!

As for the Barr & Stroud Sierra binocular, I will present a separate, in depth review of this instrument in another blog.

Neil English is author of several books on amateur astronomy.

De Fideli.

# Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy: A History of Visual Observing from Harriot to Moore.

This is an excellent book and will complement Ashbrook’s Astronomical Scrapbook and therefore have wide appeal to both amateur and professional astronomers.

Wayne Orchiston, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Southern Queensland, Australia.

Book Content:

Introduction & Acknowledgements

1. Thomas Harriot, England’s First Telescopist
2. The Legacy of Galileo
3. The Chequered Career of Simon Marius
4. The Era of Long Telescopes
5. Workers of Speculum
6. Charles Messier; the Ferret of Comets
7. Thomas Jefferson and his Telescopic Forays
8. The Herschel Legacy
9. Thinking Big: The Pioneers of Parsonstown
10. The Astronomical Adventures of William Lassell
11. Friedrich W. Bessel: The Man who Dared to Measure
13. The Stellar Contributions of Wilhelm von Struve
14. The Eagle-Eyed Reverend William Rutter Dawes
15. The Telescopes of the Reverend Thomas William Webb
16. The Astronomical Adventures of the Artistic Nathaniel Everett Green
17. Edward Emerson Barnard, the Early Years
18. William F. Denning; a Biographical Sketch
19. A Modern Commentary on W.F. Denning’s “Telescopic Work for Starlight Evenings (1891)”
20. The Astronomical Legacy of Asaph Hall
21. The Life and Work of Charles Grover(1842-1921)
22. Angelo Secchi; Father of Modern Astrophysics
23. John Birmingham, T.H.E.C Espin and the Search for Red Stars
24. A Historic Clark Receives a New Lease of Life
25. A Short Commentary on Percival Lowell’s “Mars as the Abode of Life”
26. The Great Meudon Refractor
27. A Short Commentary of R.G. Aitken’s “The Binary Stars”
28. S.W. Burnham; a Life Behind the Eyepiece
29. Voyage to the Panets: The Astronomical Forays of Arthur Stanley Williams( 1861-1938)
30. Explorer of the Planets: The Contributions of the Reverend T.E.R. Philips
31. Highlights from the Life of Leslie C. Peltier
32. Clyde W. Tombaugh; Discoverer of Pluto
33. A Short Commentary on Walter Scott Houston’s “Deep Sky Wonders”
34. A Short Commentary on David H. Levy’s  “The Quest for Comets”
35. George Alcock and the Historic Ross Refractor
36. What Happened to Robert Burnham Junior?
37. The Impact of Mount Wilson’s 60-inch Reflector.
38. Seeing Saturnian Spots
39. John Dobson and His Revolution
40. The Telescopes of Sir Patrick Moore (1923-2012)
41. A Gift of a Telescope: The Japan 400 Project

Appendix:

Achievements of the Classical Refractor: A Timeline

Index

Available now for pre-order!

Thankyou for waiting!

De Fideli.

# De Rerum Natura

Hubble deep Field Image. Credit: Wiki Commons.

However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:

‘Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
What house will you build for Me? says the Lord,
Or what is the place of My rest?
Has My hand not made all these things?’

# Acts 7:48-50

A new paper by a team of Oxford University scientists, submitted to the Royal Society, London: