The Business of Bible Translation

Daniel Taylor’s novel Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees comes out today from Slant, the excellent literary imprint of Wipf & Stock presided over by Greg Wolfe. It is the third novel in a series, but you don’t have to have read the first two in order to enjoy and profit from this one. The protagonist of all three books is Jon Mote, a lapsed Baptist and fugitive from the academy (he stopped just short of getting a PhD in English). He is also, as I’ve described him elsewhere, “a low-key 21st-century version of the accidental amateur sleuth.” Also featured are Jon’s sister, Judy, a “developmentally disabled adult” with a luminous and at the same time down-to-earth Christian faith (in the second book, Jon works at a group home for “Specials” where Judy is a resident), and Jon’s wife, Zillah, from whom he’s estranged in the first two books; they’re reunited at the start of the third. The first two books are set in the Twin Cities; the third culminates at “an isolated lodge in northern Minnesota on the cusp of winter.”

In Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, Jon Mote has a new job, working as “an editor for Luxor House, a wholly owned subsidiary of giant Continental Media, itself only one part of World Wide Holdings International” (which turns out, unsurprisingly, to be “just a small slice of something beyond even the top of the food chain”). When his employers decide that they want a piece of the lucrative if already crowded market for Bible translations, Jon is drafted to serve as a non-voting member of the committee that will oversee the new translation. “The word is, Mr. Mote, that you grew up among the fundamentalists. Those are your people. We need someone on our side who understands them.” Of course, Jon didn’t grow up among “fundamentalists,” but his bosses aren’t interested in such fine distinctions.

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