The Cow Jumped

While digging through the attic for some reference material for a colleague this weekend, I came upon a box of Bibles. I actually have many Bibles around the place—often within an arm’s reach—despite the ease of internet biblical access. One thing of which I own few are leather-bound Bibles. Trying to be as vegetarian as I can, I have avoided leather in my apparel as much as possible (sometimes the alternatives are even more expensive), and apart from a rare, old book, I prefer cloth to leather, and, generally, paperback to cloth. Still, working in the Bible industry, I know that among the best selling Bibles are the leather variety—those that involve the ultimate sacrifice, although not of the human kind. Leather as a book-binding material is an early development. Leather is durable, and strong, even if a little kinky. Before synthetics, it was used to protect tomes that had been written by hand, representing hundreds, or thousands, of human-hours of work. You wanted it to last. So kill the fatted calf.

I was amazed, therefore, to discover that most leather Bibles are bound with pigskin. That’s right, the material tossed around the grid-iron Sunday afternoons from September through February is kin to the very binding on your standard Bible. Pig leather (never called that) is cheap and durable and is the routine binding for leather Bibles. You want a kosher holy book, you’ll need to buy calf-skin (one thinks of a savior dying at only 33), and it will cost you. Pigs, generally eaten by Christians, are unclean to Jews and Muslims, and books bound in pig cannot be touched by the most religious of the monotheistic sibling faiths. To me, I just see dead animals all around in any case, and wish we might find some way to protect our pages with something else.

Photo credit: Ben Salter, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Ben Salter, Wikimedia Commons

A larger issue (isn’t there always a larger issue?) is a porcine one. Pigs, we are told, are very similar to humans. We use their organs to transplant for our own, and some scientists think they may have played a role in human evolution (although this is not the conventional view). Although I can’t claim Babe led me to vegetarianism, it certainly didn’t hurt. For that matter, neither did Charlotte’s Web. Still, the idea of swearing atop a deceased pig to tell the truth, or watching a televangelist beat a dead pig, definitely has some theological implications. So as I sit here staring into a Hammermill box full of Bibles, I wonder about the hidden costs. Not just to calves and pigs, but to the species who claim that this box of books contains a truth deeper than the many other tomes all around me. And I wonder just how naive I may have been on the finer points of the religion based on these books as well.

2 thoughts on “The Cow Jumped

  1. I think the hidden costs are incalculable. Current reading for me is Satlow’s “How the Bible Became Holy” — well done, so far as I have gotten. The real development story is so human and uninspired, it’s remarkable how this book became what it has become. But all things cycle, and my sense is that the cycle of glory for this sometimes animal-cloaked tome is returning to its more modest beginnings.


    • I’ll be interested to hear your conclusions about Satlow’s book. I’ve not read it yet, but I have had it in the back of my mind. We don’t do books many favors by declaring them perfect, that’s for sure!


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