“No Burn Zone”
“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”
American churchianity has consistently spawned an assortment of crazies, nuts and whackos – Terry Jones who planned on burning a Koran on 9/11 is only the latest in the parade. Sadly, burning books also has a lengthy tradition in history as the partial list below shows. As a committed book lover and occasional collector of sorts, I still hold that the best response to conflicting ideas, controversial theories or competing doctrines is NOT gasoline and a match but the truth – explained, articulated, and defended with clarity, non-fallacious logic and skill, passion, tact and grace and when necessary a willingness to count the cost as apologists and martyrs of old (and present) have.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all philosophy books and history books from states other than Qin — beginning in 213 BC. This was followed by the live burial of a large number of intellectuals who did not comply with the state dogma.
In 168 BC the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV ordered Jewish ‘Books of the Law’ found in Jerusalem to be ‘rent in pieces’ and burned (1 Macc. 1:56) – part of the series of persecutions which precipitated the revolt of the Maccabees.
“A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.” (Acts 19:19, NIV)
Under the Emperor Hadrian, the teaching of the Jewish Scriptures was forbidden. In the wake of the Bar Kochva Rebellion the Roman authorities regarded such teaching as seditious and tending towards revolt. Haninah ben Teradion, one of the Jewish Ten Martyrs executed for having defied that ban, is reported to have been burned at the stake together with the forbidden Torah scroll which he had been teaching.
Christian books by a decree of Emperor Diocletian in 303, calling for an increased persecution of Christians. At that time, the governor of Valencia offered the deacon who would become known as Saint Vincent of Saragossa to have his life spared in exchange for his consigning Scripture to the fire. Vincent refused and let himself be executed instead.
The provincial synod held at Soissons (in France) in 1121 condemned the teachings of the famous theologian Peter Abelard as heresy; he was forced to burn his own book before being shut up inside the convent of St. Medard at Soissons.
In 1242, The French crown burned all Talmud copies in Paris, about 12,000, after the book was “charged” and “found guilty” in the Paris trial sometimes called “the Paris debate”. This burnings of Hebrew books were initiated by Pope Gregory IX, who persuaded French King Louis IX to undertake it.
In 1656 the authorities at Boston imprisoned the Quaker women preachers Ann Austin and Mary Fisher. Among other things they were charged with “bringing with them and spreading here sundry books, wherein are contained most corrupt, heretical, and blasphemous doctrines contrary to the truth of the gospel here professed amongst us”. The books in question, about a hundred, were publicly burned in Boston’s Market Square.
On May 10, 1933 on the Opernplatz in Berlin, S.A. and Nazi youth groups burned around 20,000 books including works by Albert Einstein, Bertolt Brecht, Heinrich Heine, Helen Keller, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells.
As part of Joseph Stalin’s efforts to stamp out Jewish culture in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Judaica collection in the library of Birobidzhan, capital of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast on the Chinese border, was burned.
In June 1956, federal agents burned many of the books of controversial psychiatrist at Wilhelm Reich’s. Later that year, and in March 1960, an additional 6 tons of Reich’s books, journals and papers were burned in a public incinerator in New York.
On March 23,1980 hundreds of copies of the New Testament were publicly and ceremonially burnt in Jerusalem under the auspices of Yad Le’akhim, a Jewish religious organization subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Religions, following the Talmudic instruction to burn the New Testament. The same happened in May 2008 in Or Yehuda.
Nasir-i Khusraw Foundation’s library with an extensive collection of fifty-five thousand books in the languages of Arabic, English, and Pashto and a Persian collection including extremely rare 12th-century manuscripts and seals was destroyed on August 12, 1998, by Taliban fighters. Not a single book was spared, including a thousand-year-old Quran.
May, 2009 Army commanders in Afghanistan threw away and ultimately burned as trash, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages that had been sent to military personnel.