Right of Reply: Claire Paterson

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The Independent Culture
The Commissioning Editor of Canongate Books defends their controversial version of The Bible

LAST WEEK not only were the Pocket Canons accused of blasphemy by a small group of Christian fundamentalists, but our project has also been charged, by The Independent, as a cheap marketing gimmick in which we deliberately sought controversy to sell books.

Any publishing venture is inevitably a commercial enterprise, but our project has been, from the very start, a serious cultural undertaking to make a major (if not the major) work of English literature more accessible to as wide a range of people as possible.

By publishing the King James Bible as separate books, as it was originally conceived, presents the text in a less alienating and daunting way, and opens up some of the most beautiful English poetry and prose ever written. As Doris Lessing says in her introduction to Ecclesiastes: "We are very much the poorer, because the Bible is no longer a book to be found in every home, and heard every week."

We did not set out to commission introductions from people "deliberately hostile to the Christian faith", but from prominent writers who had interesting, relevant, contemporary and, in most cases, passionate things to say.

For example, Will Self's introduction to the Book of Revelation is, I believe, the most passionate piece that he has ever written, and it opens up the book to thousands of people who might not otherwise dream of reading the Bible. Many will be enlightened by this all-encompassing series, and surely anything that brings more people to the Bible is a good thing.

Finally, I totally reject the ludicrous charge of blasphemy that comes from a small group of fundamentalists who seem to think that they own the Bible.

We are trying to reclaim a great text for the millions who have become disenfranchised.

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