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Sign of the times: Updated Bible

The National Cathedral celebrates Shrove Tuesday by hosting 'Mardi Gras Pancake Races.' Participants include National Cathedral clergy and staff as well as members from neighboring St. Alban's Episcopal Church.

The new Catholic Bible retools only the Old Testament. The first new version since 1970, it is meant to sound more poetic and more contemporary, with "spoils" replacing "booty" and "burnt offering" supplanting "Holocaust."

It could stir controversy, however, with decisions such as the one meant to be truer to the Hebrew - translating Isaiah 7:14 to say a "young woman" shall conceive, and bear a son, instead of a "virgin," which is how the previous Catholic Old Testament and most evangelical Bibles read.

Although the new Bibles are being released Wednesday, getting them into readers' hands will be a slow process. Zondervan released digital versions before last Christmas and already sold 40,000 e-books. The first print run for hardcover copies is 1.4 million, and Zondervan spokesman Brian Burch said he expected solid sales.

"We have seen little movement in Bible sales between recessions and good times," Burch said.

The question isn't whether people want to read Bibles, but in what form and to what end. Some experts predict that the radical fragmentation in the marketplace will kill the contemporary notion that the Bible is a fixed text meant to be read literally.

Timothy Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University who just came out with a book called "The Rise and Fall of the Bible," compared the flurry of versions to "a distressed crop. When a tree is about to die and puts out tons of seeds."

The Bible, Beal said, "is not a book of answers but a library of questions. It doesn't speak in one voice. It doesn't take one perspective. This frantic, desperate effort to resolve contradictions is going against the grain of the Bible, which seems to embrace contradictions."

Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, said the Bible's structure is an advantage in a busy, digitized market. Many books lose their meaning when readers can access phrases or chapters separately.

"With the Bible, it's already in chunks," he said, "It comes chunked."

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