The Latin American Bible is becoming a big seller in the bookstores of the Argentine capital because of controversial claims that it mixes Marxist propagands with scripture.
It is about the size of a fat paper-back book, has a green imitation leather cover and sells for the equivalent of $8 here. In addition to the Spanish translation of the Roman Catholic bible, the Latin American Bible contains 25 photographs and footnotes explaining certain passages.
Juan Rienzo, an employee of a Buenos Aires bookstore, said: "We used to sell maybe one or two copies a month to churches of religious groups."
"But in the last three weeks, we've been selling 30 to 40 day and to people that I'm sure have never read the bible and never will. They're only interested because of the controversy."
The footnotes are excerpts from documents explaining the Catholic Church's views on social and economic problems in the region. The documents were approved by Latin American bishops at a meeting in Medeiln, Colombia in 1967.
The bible was edited and first published in Chile nearly four years ago, when Marxist Salvador Allende was president of a leftist coalition government there. Allende died in a military coup on Sept. 11, 1973.
During the three years that Allende was in power, many Roman Catholic priests openly sided with his plans to convert Chile into a socilist state, claiming that the upper class and previous governments had done little for the poor. In 1971, Chile was the site for an international meeting of "Priests for Socialism."
The Latin American Bible was approved for publication by Msgr. Manuel Sanchez, the bishop of Concepcion, an industrial city in southern Chile.
Since it was first published, the Latin American Bible has sold about 800,000 copies without attracting much attention.
The controversy was apparently sparked by an article in a magazine here several months ago, which re-produced one of the photographs in Latin American Bible - a Cuban political rally in a crowded plaza. One man is holding up a poster of Lenin with the inscription "The Fatherland or Death."
In the background a man waves a Soviet flag. A huge billboard on the front of a building behind the crowd show workers - one of them brandishing a submachine gun - holding up a banner which proclaims: "Long Live our Socialist reovlution."
Underneath the photograph is this message:"The faithful participate in political life and, under whatever type of regime, seek the kind of society which gives diginity to all."
One of the most vocal critics of the Latin America Bible is Msgr. Idelfonso Sansierra, Roman Catholic bishop of San Juan, Argentina.
"if a person wants to become a man without a country, an atheist, a pervert and a blood sucker, he should follow the Marxist intention of the Latin American Bible, which is really a prostituted version of the real bible," he said recently.
Conservative elements of the church in Argentina sided with the bishop, as did several Argentine publications.
In Concepion, Msgr. Sanchez defended the Latin American Bible and said that church leaders in Argentina closely examined the edition before it went on sale, and concluded that it did not violate church doctrine.
Liberal sources within the church in Argentina have claimed that the anti-bible campaign has been encouraged by rightist elements within the military government, at odds with church leaders who have complained about alleged human rights violations by security forces seeking to liquidate left-wing guerrillas.
A number of articles attacking the Latin American Bible appeared in print last month, just as the country's bishops began one of their periodic meetings.
The meeting wound up with the majority of the bishops refusing to disown the Latin American Bible.
They adopted a resolution starting that despite some "questionable points," the controversial bible also contained "many positive aspects."
The bishops conceded that the photograph of the Havana raly and another of New York City, and described as "impropoer and inconvenient."
The New York City photograph - showing skyscrapers along Park Avenue - was captioned. "Come, I will show you the big city. Everybody has prostituted themselves with her. The blood of martyrs has been found there."
As a compromise, the bishops said a supplement to the Latin American bible will be issued in Argentina to clear up "dubious elements and salvage its many positive aspects." The bible itself will not be revised, they said.
The statement, issued after the meeting, said that the bishops "condemn without any doubt the ideology and practice of Marxism."
However, the statement said, "This affirmation does not in any way signify the acceptance of forms of church." The phrase referred to capitalist societies which allegedly neglect the plight of the poor.