December 15, 2014

Christmas gifts for all sorts of Bible readers


This post comes later than intended and, very likely, I accidentally omitted some of my favorites or yours. Nevertheless, this will give you a quick list of highly recommended editions of the Bible to check for your Christmas giving and your own Christmas list.

Catholic readers
Catholic Study Bible
Catholic Women’s Bible
Little Rock Catholic Study Bible
Jerusalem Bible
New Catholic Answer Bible
New Jerusalem Bible
Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible
The Saints Devotional Bible

Children
Adventure Bible for Early Readers,
Adventure Bible,
Bible storybooks for children
Bibles for children
Catholic Children’s Bible
Catholic Teen Bible
Catholic Youth Bible
ESV Children’s Bible
NIV Teen Study Bible

Evangelical readers
ESV Study Bible
Gospel Transformation Bible,
Holman Study Bible
Life Application Study Bible
MacArthur Study Bible,
New American Standard Bible, wide-margin, goatskin

General readers
African Heritage Study Bible
Amplified Bible
Anselm Academic Study Bible
Complete Parallel Bible
Common English Study Bible
The Lutheran Study Bible,
New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha
The Message with deuterocanonical aka apocryphal books
NIV Study Bible
Oxford Study Bible, Revised English Bible with Apocrypha
Thompson Chain Reference


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.


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December 8, 2014

College Study Bible for ever


As soon as I received my review copy of the Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible, published by Saint Mary’s Press and kindly sent to me by Acta Publications, I realized what a treasure this edition is – not only for college students but for all of us who want to understand Bible people, places, times, and concepts. And so, I really really wish my paperback review copy had its pages sewn into a top quality leather binding to hold up under decades of wear. At present that option is not available, but I hope it will be.

Meanwhile, what a find!

To encourage young people to read the Bible, this edition begins with a “Letter to College Students” written BY two college students, Brigitte Smith and Carolyn Olson, who were “part of developing this special edition of the Bible” with college students in mind. However, Bible lovers from teens to all ages of adults will find excellent “footnotes, maps, photographs, charts, articles, background information, and additional tools to help you in your studies.

The study aids also help us to connect Holy Scripture with our own lives. For example, “Articles throughout this Bible discuss many of the contemporary social, personal, and spiritual issues that we face each day. By connecting these very real issues to the Scriptures, the articles help the Bible become more meaningful to us and can have a very direct impact on our lives and the choices we make.”

In the opening article, “The Bible: A Light on Our Path,” readers learn about the 5-step process that brought us the Bible, beginning with the events themselves and ending with the biblical canon, which “claims that this book is inspired by God and therefore faithfully teaches those truths that God wishes to teach us for the sake of our salvation.” And so, “This means that the Church cannot teach something that contradicts the Scriptures. However, the Church can teach a truth that has its roots, but not its full flowering, in the Scriptures, as well as something on which the Scriptures remain silent.”

“Understanding Genres and Literary Forms” and “Understanding the Bible in Its Historical and Cultural Contexts” give us useful tools with other helps discussed in “Reading the Bible: Tools for Understanding.” For example, almost everyone with a television set has seen posters with “John 3:16” without necessarily knowing what that means! This article explains by saying, “To locate a particular passage within the Scriptures, three pieces of information are necessary: the name of the book, the chapter, and the particular verse,” then uses John 3:16 as an example.

Other study aids include introductions to each section of the Bible (Pentateuch, Wisdom, Gospels, etc.) with important background information on each individual book. “The Three-Year Cycle of Sunday Lectionary Readings,” a glossary, excellent maps, and a biblical timeline have been included too.

I especially appreciate line drawings throughout the text to show such items as the Ark of the Covenant as well as colorful inserts of “Biblical Art” and charts on such topics as “The Names of God,” the “Deities of the Ancient Middle East,” the “Wonders, Miracles, and Signs in the Old Testament” and the New. In addition, inserts on the significance of numbers, colors, festivals, and more help us to understand the original intent, which is what each of the study aids aims to do, making this edition highly recommended for adults of all ages who want to embrace more fully God’s Word.


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.


Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible, paperback



November 29, 2014

Catholic Bible Dictionary for every Bible lover and Christian reader


If you want a Bible dictionary with entries on the names, places, and topics in the deuterocanonical aka apocryphal books, the Catholic Bible Dictionary, edited by Scott Hahn and published by Doubleday, provides that and more.

When I first saw and ordered the review copy offered for free on the Blogging for Books site, I thought this dictionary might define the rites, rituals, and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Come to find out, others have made this mistake, too, but, as the title clearly states, this is a dictionary on the Catholic Bible. Therefore, the text includes information on Judith, Tobit, the Angel Raphael, and others mentioned in the deuterocanonical / apocryphal books but generally omitted from most Bible dictionaries.

Like any dictionary, religious or otherwise, this one has no need for an index as each topic is already alphabetized for an easy A to Z search. A clear font and spacious leading make the conversational entries easy to read, while clear maps in the back of the book make the movements through biblical places easier to envision. Also, in the back matter the chronologies of kings and historical movements help us to get grounded in what happened, with whom, and when, whereas the entries themselves offer insight into why.

For those insights and other information, we have the extensive research of former Protestant pastor, Scott Hahn, who has become well-known as an author, Christian apologist, and Catholic theologian. To further ensure accuracy in the material, the book has the official Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the Church to show freedom from doctrinal or moral errors.

To give you an example of the entries, I turned to a word rarely found in a religious dictionary “purgatory.” The closest entry in most Bible dictionaries might be “purge,” which eliminates or eradicates some type of impurity. To definite “purgatory,” however, the Catholic Bible Dictionary says:

“PURGATORY (Latin, ‘cleansing’ or ‘purifying’) Defined by theologians as the condition of those who died in the state of grace but with lingering attachment to sin. In purgatory these souls are purified for a time before being admitted to the glory and happiness of heaven. In this period of passive suffering, they are purged of unrepented venial sins, satisfy the demands of divine justice for temporal punishment due for sins, and are made ready for the beatific vision."

As the entry goes on to say: "The doctrine of purgatory is found in Scripture but is not fully developed. The two passages most clearly related to it are 2 Macc 12:45 and 1 Cor 3:12-15.”

For another example, let’s look at the entry for Tobit, a book unfamiliar to many Christians:

“TOBIT, BOOK OF The story of two Israelite families whose lives were touched by God in the Assyrian Exile. They were brought together by marriage and the intervention of the angel Raphael. Tobit is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament that is deemed scriptural by Catholics but not by modern Jews or Protestants” – the key word being “modern” as both Jewish and Christian readers originally accepted these books from the Greek Bible or Septuagint.

And, as the entry for “Septuagint” explains:

SEPTUAGINT (Latin septuaginta, ‘seventy’) The most ancient and important translation of the Old Testament into Greek. It was produced between the third and first centuries B.C.,” so Jesus and the Apostles would undoubtedly have been familiar with these books, which came about because “King Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt requested a copy of the Jewish Bible to be placed in his famous library at Alexandria 9ca. 250 B.C.) Unable to read Hebrew, the king brought seventy-two scholars from Palestine to Alexandria to make a translation of the Hebrew Torah….”

That desire – to present the Bible in the language of the reader – has led to many translations of Holy Scriptures into English with excellent resources such as this to clarify our understanding and electrify our interest in embracing the Bible as an everyday part of our worship, our faith, and our lives.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.


Catholic Bible Dictionary, hardback

November 18, 2014

Reading The Jerusalem Bible


When the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) stimulated a spiritual awakening that crossed all sorts of denominational lines and stirred a charismatic renewal, Bible study groups became a highly active part of Christian fellowship. By 1966, The Jerusalem Bible (JB) gave us a translation of the original languages in an accurate contemporary text, first in French then English with both approved by the Catholic Church and used by Christians from a variety of backgrounds.

That same year, the American Bible Society published the New Testament in the Today’s English Version (TEV) better known as the Good News Bible (GNB), which I used in the Bible study group that met each week in my home. So, I didn’t even hear of the JB until 1985 when the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) came out, and I readily embraced its dynamic tone, conversational style, and thought-provoking footnotes.

In the 1990’s, a Catholic edition of GNB came out with the full biblical texts including the deuterocanonical books aka Apocrypha. Indeed, from the second half of the 20th century to the present day, Christian scholars and publishers produced such a wealth of English translations and updated versions that the JB went out of print for a decade.

When I finally tracked down the availability of The Jerusalem Bible, I asked for a review copy, and Doubleday kindly gave me the “First Doubleday Reader’s Edition” printed in this century with notes and introductions shortened “to the minimum which are necessary for understanding the primary, literal meaning of the text; to explain terms, places, people and customs; to specify dates, and to identify the sources of quotations. In short, the brief Introductions and Notes are here only to help the ordinary reader to understand what he is reading….”

For example, the “Introduction to Tobit, Judith and Esther” says: “Although these three books have the literary form of historical stories, the events of which they tell are not attested from other sources and the books are found to treat the facts of history and geography with a good deal of freedom. Plainly they were written” as historical novels and devotionals might be today “to teach lessons of another kinds, and some of the early Greek Bibles include them with the wisdom writings.”

The Introduction goes on to say that “Tobit, the story of a dutiful son who is given miraculous help by an angel, was written among the Jews of the dispersion… though the setting of the story is some two hundred years earlier. The book was not accepted into the Hebrew Bible and was recognized by the Church only after a certain hesitancy in the patristic period. In the new translations of the Bible made at the Reformation, it was put in the Apocrypha.” The same is true for the book of Judith while the book of Esther has variations in Greek that do not appear in the original Hebrew versions. Therefore, “the Greek passages are ‘deuterocanonical,’ their history being the same as that of Tobit and Judith.”

Other introductions provide equally helpful information that ground us in the circumstances and history of each book. For example, the ”Introduction to The Psalms” informs readers that “The Psalter, or Book of Psalms, is a collection of hymns used in the liturgical worship of the Temple.” Arranged in five parts, “the 150 psalms represent the work of several centuries.” Although some psalms shock readers today, “in their own time there was nothing improper about violent curses against enemies…” Most of the Psalms, however, can be categorized as hymns of praise, thanksgiving, prayer, or lament.

One lament sometimes voiced about the JB has been its use of the sacred name “YHWH” rendered as “Yahweh” – the Name Which was once anglicized as “Jehovah.” Since the Hebrew alphabet does not contain all of those letters, newer versions of the Bible often translate the sacred name as "the LORD" in capital letters or small caps.

In its aim for accuracy and clarity, the JB clearly demonstrates its own goals, for example, by translating the opening lines of the 23rd Psalm in this way:

Yahweh is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.


As another example of clarity, the “Introduction to The Minor Prophets” offers brief explanatory notes “in what is most probably their true historical order.” This chronology places Amos first with Joel and Jonah last in the introduction but their typical positions retained in the actual text, ending the minor prophets with Malachi.

Finally, the “Introduction to The Book of Revelation” informs us that “The framework of a Revelation is always a vision of hidden supernatural events; the language in which the vision is described is richly symbolic and so allusive that the message can be interpreted in more ways than one.” Therefore, “the Book of Revelation is not to be accepted simply as an allegory which can be directly translated into other terms. It contains the author’s vision of heaven and of the vindication of the Christian martyrs in the world to come, but it must be understood first and foremost as a tract for the times, written to increase the hope and determination of the Church on earth in a period of disturbance and bitter persecution…,” such as we might be facing again.

Praise God, though, for this and other excellent translations of the Bible that let us know how this book and The Book end.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts. She’s the traditionally published author of 27 books in all genres, including the Bible-based poetry book Outside Eden.


The Jerusalem Bible, reader edition



November 10, 2014

The Message, Catholic/ Ecumenical Edition

If you want to see your friends and family who have fallen away from the church, non-readers of the Bible, and/or unchurched people get the message, The Message Catholic/Ecumenical Edition gets God’s Word across in an up-to-date, heaven-sent, down-to-earth style.

Not merely a paraphrase, as I’d thought, The Message renders the original languages of the Bible into a contemporary translation by pastor-poet-writer and Bible scholar Eugene H. Peterson. A team of Bible scholars, representing most of the mainline churches, then proofed the text and “ensured that it is accurate as well as faithful to the original languages.”

When I learned that Acta Publications now publishes an edition that includes the deuterocanonical books (aka Apocrypha) translated by Catholic scholar-writer-translator William Griffin, I requested a review copy, which they kindly sent.

Interestingly, my copy arrived right when my discussion group began a study of Revelation – a book that most people, including those of us who are lifelong lovers of the Bible, find difficult. Often, however, the difficulty comes in the approach.

In its Introduction to Revelation, The Message emphasizes the poetic vision John received as he worshiped God on the Lord’s day, giving us this to consider:

“The Bible ends with a flourish: vision and song, doom and deliverance, terror and triumph. The rush of color and sound, image and energy, leaves us reeling. But if we persist through the initial confusion and read on, we begin to pick up the rhythms, realize the connections, and find ourselves enlisted as participants in a multidimensional act of Christian worship.”

As letters to a group of mainland churches on John’s pastoral circuit, “Revelation is not easy reading. Besides being a pastor, John is a poet, fond of metaphor and symbol, image and allusion, passionate in his desire to bring us into the presence of Jesus believing and adoring. But the demands he makes on our intelligence and imagination are well rewarded, for in keeping company with John, our worship of God will almost certainly deepen in urgency and joy.”

Presumably, this Introduction can be found in every edition of The Message since New Testament books are the same, regardless of church affiliation. In every edition of the Bible (Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish), the Torah also remains the same with each of those first five books or Pentateuch including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. However, the books of history, wisdom, and prophecy vary.

For example, the Catholic/ Ecumenical Edition includes such deuterocanonical books as Sirach among the other wisdom books of the Bible, offering such wise sayings as: “Child, look closely at your soul. Examine your life. If you come across something obnoxious, stop doing it,” 37:30.

And, speaking of wisdom, Sirach 38:25 also says, “Wisdom in the life of a scribe comes from quiet time. Writers who down-size their workload upsize their wisdom output.”

In the writings of the prophets, we find the deuterocanonical book of Baruch, placed after Jeremiah and Lamentations since the author might have been Jeremiah's scribe -- or not. Regardless, chapter 5 prophesied the return of the exiles, saying: "Jerusalem, get rid of the dull clothes of grief and put on your best dress, the clothes of glory meant for you from all eternity. Wrap yourself in a lovely layered cloak; pick one from the justice collection. On your head put a crown in honor of the Eternal One." Then, "At the command of God, forests and fragrant woods will spring up to provide shade for the returning pilgrims. God will lead Israel home with joy, lighting the way with the majesty, mercy, and justice only he can command."

In the historical writings, we discover a variety of histories from the deuterocanonical books. For example, The Message Catholic/ Ecumenical Edition includes 1 and 2 Maccabees in the books of history, giving us texts about what went on during the time between testaments.

As the Introduction to 1 Maccabees tells us, somewhere around 167 B.C., “one of the Gentiles who’d won a previous battle against Israel approached a Jewish priest named Mattathias and politely demanded that he sacrifice to Zeus right there on the street in front of everyone. In a calm but firm way, the king’s agent explained the options: Sacrifice to Zeus or die. Overhearing the conversation and judging where the power currently resided, one Jew walked right in front of everyone and began to worship Zeus. Without a second thought but energized by a lifetime of fidelity to God’s word, Mattathias drew his sword and whacked both the gentlemanly agent and the idolatrous Jew to death.” As you might imagine, the story doesn't end there but continues throughout both books of the Maccabees.

From Genesis to Revelation, however, the whole biblical adventure continues in exciting, everyday language that clearly shows the Bible as it's meant to be known: THE message of our ongoing adventure with God.


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts. She’s the traditionally published author of 27 books in all genres, including the Bible-based poetry book Outside Eden.


The Message, Catholic/ Ecumenical Edition, paperback



October 31, 2014

NKJV Adventure Bible for children


The flyer that came with the copy of the Adventure Bible the publisher kindly sent me to review calls this “The #1 Bible For Kids,” and I can easily see why!

Zondervan published this particular edition of the NKJV (New King James Version) with 8 to 10-year-old's in mind, but the sturdy hardback cover, colorful illustrations, and kid-friendly features make this a keeper for children in almost every age group.

Written by Lawrence O. Richards, those features include:

• Life in Bible Times
• People in Bible Times
• Did You Know?
• Let’s Live it!
• Words to Treasure

Most of those special features are self-explanatory, but to give you an idea of what to expect in “Did You Know?” an example relating to Exodus 30:7 says, “Incense is similar to perfume, but it is a powder that is burned rather than a liquid that is put on a person’s body. Incense and perfume both smell sweet.”

As an example of “Let’s Live It!” one of these special sidebars appears with a list of the Ten Commandments, giving the meaning for each and also “How I obey it,” which translates each command into everyday acts that are doable. For instance, the fourth commandment to “Keep the Sabbath holy,” means “Rest and think about God,” with an example of “How I Obey It” given as “Pay attention in church.”

An example of “Let’s Live It!” in the New Testament discusses “How to Love Enemies” as mentioned in Luke 6:27-36, explaining “Love is not just a feeling. Christian love means caring about other people and doing nice things for them.” Suggestions then include “Smile. Be friendly. Pray for her. Help him with schoolwork. Say nice things about her. Choose her for your team.”

Other highly appropriate study aids for children include Bible verses in “Word to Treasure” – and maybe even memorize! Also, each book of the Bible has an introduction addressing such questions as:

Who wrote this book?
Why was this book written?
For whom was this book written?
What happens in this book?
When did this happen?


The “Where” of a book often matters, too, so the edition includes several pages of clear, colored maps as well as a concordance to help readers look up key words or topics in the back of the book.

Scattered throughout this edition, however, slick, sturdy page inserts carry along the adventure motif, colorfully illustrating that being a Christian is an ongoing adventure with the Bible as our companion and travel guide.


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts. She highly recommends this excellent edition from Zondervan as an ideal gift for children at Christmas time and throughout the year.

NKJV Adventure Bible, hardback




October 22, 2014

New Jerusalem Bible, reader edition


The first time I read The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), I had a study edition with footnotes that were hard to see because of the small font but were so interesting, I got sidetracked from the Bible text! Recently, however, Image Books kindly sent me a review copy of their NJB reader edition, which rarely adds any footnotes, but has a nice, clear font and bonded leather cover.

The main additions in this edition are a brief but important-to-read “General Editor’s Foreword” by Henry Wansbrough in the front of the book and, in the back, black and white maps showing Palestine in Old and New Testament Times. Being somewhat geographically challenged, I wish a modern-day map had been included, too. Nevertheless, those of us who customarily lug around plump study editions will find this regular book-sized Bible highly refreshing.

Most importantly, the NJB translation itself is refreshing.

Instead of telling you about this, I’ll try to show you some examples of well-known passages in favored forms followed by the fresh, sometimes startling way NJB has of getting us to see, hear, and think about things we’re apt to glide by without realizing it.

Isaiah 60:1-3

"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (King James Version, KJV)

"Arise, shine out, for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh has risen on you. Look! though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, on you Yahweh is rising and over you his glory can be seen. The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness." (New Jerusalem Bible, NJB)

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (New American Bible, Revised Edition, NABRE)

"For this is how God loved the world:
he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in
him may not perish
but may have eternal life."
(New Jerusalem Bible, NJB)

Romans 8:28

"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." (Revised Standard Version, RSV)

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (New American Bible, Revised Edition, NABRE)

"We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good." (New Jerusalem Bible, NJB)

Romans 12:2

"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." (New American Bible, Revised Edition, NABRE)

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." (New International Version, NIV)

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (King James Version, KJV)

"Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and mature." (New Jerusalem Bible, NJB)

Romans 12:4-5

"For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." (King James Version, KJV)

"For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another." (New American Bible, Revised Edition, NABRE)

"Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same functions: in the same way, all of us, though there are many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another." (New Jerusalem Bible, NJB)

I Corinthians 12:4-6

"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." (KJV)

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." (NIV)

"There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all." (NJB)

I Corinthians 13:4-7

"Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (KJV)

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (NIV)

"Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited; it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes." (NJB)

Hebrews 11:1

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." (NIV)

"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." (NABRE)

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (NRSV)

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (KJV)

"Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen." (NJB)


[Note: The Bible verses chosen as examples can be found on Bible Gateway along with Holy Scriptures from many other translations and other languages too.]


©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts. She’s the traditionally published author of 27 books in all genres, including the Bible-based poetry book Outside Eden.


The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition, bonded leather