In two prior posts (here and here), I addressed Glenn Beck’s faulty reference to the purple triangle worn by Jehovah’s Witnesses while imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during WWII. Beck said Bible scholars were made to wear the triangle without telling the audience that Jehovah’s Witnesses were known as Bible students in Germany at the time. Very few people (some say less than one percent) from other religions wore the purple triangle.
After he held up the purple triangle, Beck then held up a Bible he said belonged to Louis the 15th and a prayer book he said belonged to British King George III. He remarked that the books were hardly used and proposed the lack of Bible usage led to various problems for the French and British. He then held up a Bible he said stopped the Salem witch trials. Finally, he told a story about the death of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint church. Because I anticipate the Joseph Smith story will raise different issues than the Bible stories, I will take it in a separate post. For now, I want to examine Beck’s claims line by line. Prepare for whiplash.
Here again is the sermon:
At about 10 minutes into the video, after identifying several colored triangles the Nazis used to identify prisoners, Beck said:
…what got you sent to the concentration camps for the purple triangle? You were a Bible scholar. The Bible is the enemy to fascists.
When we went to war as a country there were two other great powers on earth one of them was England and the other was France. At the time King Louis was the King of France. This is King Louis the 15th’s Scriptures. If you look at the gilding, it’s perfect, it’s perfect. It’s never been read! How could you live in that society and say let them eat cake? What led to the revolution where the guillotines were the answer? He never read his Scriptures. The other great power that we broke away from was King George. This is King George his book of morning prayer. If you look through this, it is absolutely perfect. I don’t think the pages were ever turned.
What do your Scriptures look like? Will someday somebody say this is my mom, this is my dad, this is my brother, this is my sister’s Scriptures. Look at they’re in perfect condition, or will they have been poured over, dog-eared, written in that tells the story of your life and your path. This [holding up a Bible] is what freed the world and this came at a great price. This is an original William Tyndale Bible, and if you see, it was owned by a Puritan because every time there’s the face of price it’s been blotted out. This was smuggled page by page in bags of rice smuggled in. When they tied him to the stake, he said my only crime is that I believe that you should be able to read God’s Word in your own tongue. Now we have God’s Word in our pocket. We can access it anywhere, in any language. Does it mean anything to us anymore? Is it just a series of words put together?
This is the Bible that’s stopped the Salem witch trials. People will say that the Salem witch trials were caused by Christians, but how come the witch trials happened for decades in Europe but lasted very short period of time here? Why? Because of preachers, preachers that knew their Scriptures and took this Bible and said your misreading the Scriptures, and that Sunday the governor got up and stood in front of the congregation weeping, “I am sorry, I misread.”
There are several problems here. Let’s start with:
When we went to war as a country there were two other great powers on Earth one of them was England and the other was France.
Not so. Another possibly greater power on Earth at the time was China. According to the British Museum, the Chinese empire of Qianlong “was the wealthiest and most populous country in the world. By the end of the eighteenth century, there were 200 million Chinese.” This is an important point because Beck wants to make a case that the Bible is somehow involved in a nation’s political fortunes. Obviously, the Chinese did not seek to base their culture on the Bible.
This is King Louis the 15th’s Scriptures. If you look at the gilding, it’s perfect, it’s perfect. It’s never been read! How could you live in that society and say let them eat cake? What led to the revolution where the guillotines were the answer? He never read his Scriptures.
I looked for information regarding King Louis’ Bible and have not yet found anything. However, I assume King Louis had more than one Bible and it seems presumptuous to make much out of the condition of this item unless one has additional primary source confirmation that the King never read any Bible.
Beck then leaps wildly through French history to link Louis’ purported lack of Bible reading with the phrase, “let them eat cake” and the French Revolution. The phrase “let them eat cake” is widely attributed to Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XV. However, historians believe she never said the phrase. Instead, the phrase has been attributed to a Spanish princess before Louis the 15th was born. The phrase was also used by Rousseau in the book, Les Confessions, who said an unnamed princess uttered the words. Regarding the French Revolution, Louis XV died in 1774, 15 years before the revolution started. In short, Beck links Louis XV’s alleged lack of Bible reading to events that happened before he was born and after he died.
About King George, Beck said:
This is King George his book of morning prayer. If you look through this, it is absolutely perfect. I don’t think the pages were ever turned.
Again, I have found little on this. Was this King George’s only copy? According to this British Royal Collection website, a Bible, psalter and prayer book used by King George is safely in the Royal Collection. A rare book house has a description of one of King George’s prayer books. In fact, the description says that “George III was deeply devout and spent hours in prayer, making this volume emblematic of his rule at that time.” We do know that King George called for prayer against the colonists and issued a book of prayers beseeching God to turn back the rebellion. King George also may have suffered from an illness which caused mental instability. In any case, without examining the evidence for this item, and given Beck’s other misleading statements, it is possible that the condition of the book he has means nothing about King George’s beliefs and practices.
Beck then claimed he has the Bible that stopped the Salem witch trials:
This is the Bible that’s stopped the Salem witch trials.
I have asked several historians about this with no one knowing what he means. I can’t tell if he means the actual Bible or if he is referring to the version of the Bible which was in common use at the time. Beck continued:
People will say that the Salem witch trials were caused by Christians, but how come the witch trials happened for decades in Europe but lasted very short period of time here? Why? Because of preachers, preachers that knew their Scriptures and took this Bible and said your misreading the Scriptures, and that Sunday the governor got up and stood in front of the congregation weeping, “I am sorry, I misread.”
There is no dispute that the witch trials were conducted by people who claimed to be Christian. Indeed, there were periods of hysteria in Europe, just as there was here. Salem was not the only town in the colonies to experience witchcraft hysteria. Connecticut did as well on at least two occasions. Both were related to Christians who believed witches were responsible for various problems in the community and should be handled in the manner taught by Old Testament law. Marc Carlson has compiled a comprehensive list of nearly 300 people tried as witches in trials in America from 1622 through 1878. There were more incidents in Europe but there were more people in Europe and the duration of the count was over a longer period of time.
The religious leaders in MA initially believed they were in the right. It was when allegations of witchcraft were directed toward prominent members of the community that caution came into play. An appeal to the Bible may have helped support that caution but there can be no mistake that an appeal to the Bible was the foundation for the hysteria in the first place.
All in all, the significant historical problems in this sermon raise questions about the accuracy of the rest of it, including his story of Joseph Smith’s last days. I will take that up in a future post.