He especially enjoyed the Book of Ruth, which he interprets as people acting loyally and doing the right thing. But he disliked the plagues, killings and other violence scattered throughout the Bible. Although he respects Jesus for promoting peace and love, he finds the character portrayed in the Gospels too glib and condescending to his disciples.
More importantly, the countless hours of transcription has led him to conclude that the Bible is more sublime than just a bunch of stories from thousands of years ago.
“The begetting and the begatting and all of that, that’s really incidental,” he said. “These people are trying to understand where they fit into this world.”
In a way, Patterson is doing the same thing. There were times when he wondered whether he would ever live to finish the project. Now as it nears its end, he said, it has helped him become more patient, more confident, more loving and more open to differences.
“Every day as I write, I discover something new and it expands my mind more and more,” Patterson said. “Not so I can become more of a religious person, but so that I can become more of a whole person.”
That assessment is echoed by Laura Glazer, a photographer who has documented the project since its start. Glazer, who has become friends with Patterson over the course of some 4,000 pictures, said Patterson has become more introspective since she first started collaborating with him. But she notes that could also be related to the death of Patterson’s partner several years ago and the passage of time.
Although rare now, hand-crafted Bibles were common before the invention of the printing press. In those times, monks who made ornate copies of the Bible saw it as part of their sacred calling, said Anthony Tambasco, a professor of theology at Georgetown University. Patterson does not see any kinship to those long-ago scribes, seeing himself merely as a regular guy who ended up learning something.
“He’s not a martyr or a saint. That’s what’s so nice. It’s just what he does,” Glazer said. “He’s not trying to prove anything to anybody. He’s making something beautiful.”
Patterson will finish up the final lines of the Book of Revelation during a ceremony at his church, St. Peter’s Presbyterian, on May 11. His adult daughter and Glazer will be among the guests, and he will discuss the Bible with an eminent theologian. Once the books are bound, the Bible will be given to the church.
Patterson is already talking about turning a new page.
“I will take any opportunity I can find to do this again,” he said.