As the nation enters its Thanksgiving season, there is strong evidence that the Holy Bible continues to play a central role in American lives, say Scriptural scholars.
Sponsors of National Bible Week (Nov. 21-28), which coincides with the Thanksgiving holiday, report that this year's emphasis will focus on urging individuals to read and utilize the Bible more in their daily experience and on sharing the Scriptures with those segments of society who face special challenges.
For example, the American Bible Society is offering a Christmas gift of the New Testament to every prison inmate in the United States who desires one. So far, there have been more than 1 million requests for Bibles from prisoners, ABS officials say, and orders continue to come in. ''Prisons have been a very important part of our Scripture ministry since we were founded 166 years ago,'' explains distribution general-secretary Alice E. Ball. ''But no one here can recall anything like this for sheer scope.'' ABS translates, publishes, and distributes the Bible in over 500 languages.
In response to this year's theme - ''The Bible. Read it for yourself'' - several groups across the nation, under the sponsorship of the interdenominational Laymen's National Bible Committee (LNBC), are sponsoring Bible-reading marathons. For example, Church Women United of Indiana will host a 90-hour nonstop recitation of the Scriptures. And Interfaith Bible Inc. is promoting a one-day minimarathon in Boston where selections from every book of the Bible are read aloud.
LNBC president Victor W. Eimicke recently singled out the ongoing public Bible Exhibit at The Christian Science Center in Boston as an example of ''an extraordinary public service in times hungry for spiritual nourishment.'' With the theme, ''A Light Unto My Path,'' this display opened one year ago and has attracted 25,000 visitors so far. It features, among other things, a narrated Bible ''time line'' and a 30-minute film titled, ''Children of Light.''
The world's Bible societies are involved in translations that will soon bring books of the Bible to speakers of 466 languages. Most of these groups now have some portion of the Scriptures. For instance, one language soon to have an additional translation is Fon, spoken by 836,000 people who live in the southern half of Benin in western Africa and who spill over into the adjoining country of Togo. Another is Pakpak, sometimes known as Dairi Batak, the language of 1.2 million tribal people in Indonesia. Their New Testament will be the first part of the Bible ever available in their mother tongue, reports the United Bible Societies, a global partnership covering all aspects of spreading the Scriptures.
This year's commemoration of National Bible Week marks the 200th anniversary of the Bible's first printing in America. Amory Houghton Jr., chairman of Corning Glass Works and chairman of this year's Bible observances, points out that ''the Good Book is still here to read - and is perhaps needed by young and old alike more than ever.''