Trip to retrieve PNG bible from US cost more than king’s ransom
The Papua New Guinea government has funded a visit to the US last week led by parliamentary Speaker Theodore Zurenuoc, with five other MPs and 30 pastors, to receive a bible printed in 1611 that had been bequeathed to the country by an evangelist who died aged 77 in Indiana.
Their travel costs considerably exceeded the up to $95,000 value of the bible — whose translation was authorised by King James I of England and VI of Scotland, and which is one of a few hundred original copies that survive.
Mr Zurenuoc claimed the copy he brought back to PNG from the family of Gene Hood, a Nazarene Church pastor who operated and hosted gospel radio stations and missionary programs, is one of only five, and is “the best and most well preserved”.
The return of the bible party to Port Moresby’s Jackson’s Airport was acclaimed by a rapturous crowd of about 20,000 people.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill formally received the bible, carried through the crowd on its wooden case, from Mr Zurenuoc on a stage specially built for the ceremony.
Mr O’Neill said the new “national treasure … adds to the sense of significance as we define our nation” as it approached the 40th anniversary of its independence.
The bible will be housed in the parliament building, but details have not yet been announced.
Mr Zurenuoc was accused of Taliban-style cultural terrorism, when 18 months ago he launched a “cleansing exercise” to destroy the parliament’s traditional carvings and totem poles, which took three years by specially commissioned artists to produce — but which he viewed as pagan and demonic. He ordered these massive hardwood carvings, including an ornate lintel, which showcased the country’s diverse traditional skills, to be chopped up and burned.
PNG Trade Union Congress general secretary John Paska led criticism of the Speaker’s actions then and last week.
“I value antiquity and like others welcome the arrival of this bible and its placement in parliament,” Mr Paska said.
But he said he parted company “from those who advocate religiosity as a panacea”.
The core issues, he said, “are about good governance, abuse of power, and the fundamental constitutional tenet of freedom of religion and individual rights to worship in whatever religion or denomination”.
The Post-Courier newspaper hosted a lively debate in its pages on the issue. “In the past, those who opposed God were stoned to death, and Paska should be happy that PNG is a democratic country, so he will never face that consequence,” wrote Isaac Seeto of Hohola.
The PNG Catholic Bishops’ Conference stated that plans to “enthrone” the bible in parliament provided a good opportunity to reflect on the real meaning of “Word of God,” which has been present in “the heart language” of Papua New Guineans for more than a century.
And PNG Anglican Archbishop Clyde Igara expressed concern that only a single group, the PNG Bible Church, was involved in the episode — about which the country’s mainstream churches were kept in the dark.