George Borrow’s The Bible in Spain was published on this day, December 10, 1842. The author was an agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society. His book sold wildly, and remains one of the finest adventures yarns in the English language, made all the more interesting because it is a true story. A Protestant distributing Bibles in a hostile Catholic nation in the middle of a civil war…What could be more exciting?

Borrow seemed created for adventure. He was fascinated by gypsies and mastered their language. Eventually, he wrote several books about them. Something of a loner, he was always most comfortable with outcasts and loved the exhilaration of danger. Once he rescued a friend from drowning. (Later he saved another man in thirty-foot waves.) He became a cragsman in Scotland. A gypsy poisoned him.

His genius was for language. By the time he was eighteen, he had learned Romany from the gypsies, French from an émigré priest, Erse while his father was stationed in Ireland, Welsh by reading Paradise Lost in it, Danish by reading a Danish Bible, and, by one means or another, had acquired Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian and Saxon.

His love of languages made him what he became. As a young man, he was a freethinker. He tried to make his living translating heroic stories from Scandinavian languages but was only able to get hackwork. This included writing a six-volume series on notorious criminals, which worsened his melancholy. Reconsidering Christianity, he offered himself to the British and Foreign Bible Society. His first task was the “impossible” job of translating the Bible into Manchu, the court language of China. He did not even know Manchu, but nineteen weeks later demonstrated such a mastery that he was sent to St. Petersburg, Russia, to complete the task. In less than two years, he overcame all obstacles (such as paper shortages) to see it into print.

His next assignment was Iberia. Landing in Portugal, he made a survey of its spiritual needs and headed for Spain. The adventure began at once. A saddle girth snapped, nearly killing him. He was shot at when he laughed aloud at an official who mistook him for a Frenchman.

In Spain, he met gypsies and read them the gospel in their own tongue. Roman clergy in the big Spanish cities resisted his distribution of Bibles. So he rode through the most dangerous regions of a nation at civil war, selling Bibles. He witnessed grisly atrocities. Threats abounded. He was arrested but refused to accept release except on his own terms, causing an international incident. An attempt was made to assassinate him. He survived.

His Bibles were seized, but demand for them was so great that the greedy officials became the distributors, selling the confiscated books to the highest bidders and lining their own pockets with the receipts. In a customs house, Borrow spoke so convincingly to officials who were instructed to seize his wares that they themselves bought Bibles.

After years of danger and daring–and much bickering with his home office–Borrow left Spain “forever,” having done “for her all that lay in the power of a lone man, who had never in this world anything to depend on but God and his own slight strength.”

As interesting as The Bible in Spain is, it is only fair to point out that it shows more love of adventure and hatred of the Roman Church than spiritual feeling.

Bibliography:

  1. Borrow, George. The Bible in Spain.
  2. ———–Lavengro, or, The Romany Rye.
  3. “Borrow, George.” Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921-1996.
  4. Jenkins, Herbert. Life of George Borrow. Putnam, 1912.
  5. Kunitz, Stanley L. British authors of the nineteenth century. New York: H. W. Wilson company, 1936.

*Information retrieved from Christianity.com.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1270 – The Bishop of Paris condemned Averroism through the efforts of Thomas Aquinas and other theologians. Averroism taught the eternality of the world, denied providence and free will, and set philosophy above faith and Scripture.

1520 – German reformer Martin Luther publicly burned Pope Leo X’s bull Exsurge Domine, which demanded Luther recant his “heresies,” including justification by faith alone.

1569 – Lutheran hymn writer Paul Eber died in Wittenberg. Some of his hymns were written for his own children.

1860 – Peru promulgates a constitution that makes Roman Catholicism the national religion and obligates the State to protect it while denying the public exercise of any other religion.

1968 – Death of the influential Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, best known for his commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Romans and for his stand with the Confessing Church against the Nazis.

*Information retrieved from Christianhistoryinstitute.org.

2 Comments »

  1. From reading “The Triumph of Christianity” (two books by different authors, Rodney Sparks [recommended] and Ehrman [not nearly as good]) and Tom Holland’s “Dominion,” it is evident that many people in religious leadership did not practice what the Bible teaches, kind of like the Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus’ day. No surprise there, as faith is a matter of the heart, not of religious pedigree nor organizational approval.
    I think we will all be surprised by who we find in Heaven as well as who we may notice is not there.
    ❤️&🙏, c.a.

    Like

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