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Old Bible pages are answer to a church's prayers

Wind, water and woodpeckers have taken their toll on a Shady Cove church, but a 400-year-old Bible is funding its repairs. Requests to purchase pages of the stained and tattered Bible are pouring in from across America.

"I'll tell you what, it has been quite a journey," says Jack Bacon, pastor of the Shady Cove Assembly of God Church.

The pastor believes God sent him the water-stained book, which was purchased for a buck at a yard sale, as a way to fund $30,000 worth of repairs.

"I'm not keeping the money," said Bacon. "So God has just blessed it. We're at $8,000 so far. I had a lady buy the whole Book of Nehemiah at $200 per page."

After the Mail Tribune ran a story on Bacon's efforts on Nov. 13, Bacon was inundated with page requests from local residents and Bible-lovers from Oklahoma, Florida and elsewhere.

The story's timing is perfect, Bacon says.

"It's Christmastime," he says. "What a gift to give someone. They frame up so nice."

Bacon got the rare 1599 Geneva Bible from his son, Daniel Bacon, as a Father's Day gift. He is offering the pages in trade for hundreds of dollars in donations, which will be used to fix his church's leaking roof and flooded basement. And then there's damage inflicted by hungry woodpeckers, he says.

"The woodpecker damage is all over the church," Bacon says. "The cross is almost eaten away."

Bacon has maintained his sense of humor even as the woodpeckers' wreak their havoc. The foraging birds tap-tap-tap on his church as they embed their acorns. The noise disrupts Sunday sermons, he says.

"I prayed for a 'holy' church," Bacon says. "God must have misunderstood me."

Some of the money raised will be used to install cement siding, he says.

"If the woodpeckers can peck through that, they're stronger than us," he says.

The Geneva Bible is the version experts say was brought to America by Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. The first English Bible to introduce numbered verses, it was the version read by William Shakespeare and used by Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War.

Bacon's Bible has endured much and suffered extensive damage during the past four centuries. But it still holds exciting mysteries, Bacon says.

"I opened the binding and found some hair. Wouldn't that be something if that was Pilgrim hair?" he asks.

There are also burn marks, souvenirs of fireside readers, and mistakes from early printing presses, Bacon says.

"Some of the lines slant down and then come back up," he says. Inside the distressed tome are messages in faded handwritten script that details births, deaths, marriages and other important milestones. He recently discovered a note from an early owner of the bible, Helen Crombie.

"My daughter Jean Stephen was born June 26th one thousand seventeen hundred and twenty eight. Likewise my son William Stephen was borne July the eighth one thousand seven hundred and thirty years."

If he can find Crombie's "great, great, great, great grandchildren," he'd like to send them a few pages of their ancestor's Bible, Bacon says.

A fully intact Geneva Bible, in good condition, would likely bring between $4,000 and $8,000, says local bible expert and fellow Pastor Terry Pruett.

This Bible is missing its spine and original cover. It contains 423 individual leaves, begins with Genesis 44:17 and ends with Revelations 19:17. Inside, the Metrical Psalms, Song of Solomon and other pages are missing, says Pruett.

The Song of Solomon was likely purposefully removed, says Bacon. Bibles were used to teach children to read. And the Pilgrims would have though the content too adult for young minds, he says.

"The Song of Solomon was a little on the risqué side," says Bacon. "He talked about his lover. The Pilgrims wouldn't have approved of that."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

MT file photo The title page to the New Testament of Jack Bacon's 1599 Geneva Bible. - Jim Craven