Comparing The Everlasting Light and The Dartmouth Bible

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: The Bible


Please, could you compare The Everlasting Light with The Dartmouth Bible regarding a complete reading of the Bible? Which is easier and more likely to provide inspiration? (I have got a worn secondhand copy of both). My native language is Spanish – I do not read English (in particular, KJV) fluently.


The Dartmouth Bible is an abridgment of the King James Version. An abridgment means that it is a condensed version of the book. All the parts are still there, but it is shorter. It was edited by Roy B. Chamberlin and Herman Feldman.

And who are these people? It turns out that Mr. Feldman was a professor at Dartmouth College ca 1938. He taught industrial relations, but decided he wanted to devote himself to the study of the Bible. He didn’t want to just read it; he also wanted to understand its history and background, but also its inspiration. He discovered that the book was very confusing. Nothing was in chronological order. Indeed, the scholars didn’t even agree on its chronological order. He also felt that various denominations slanted its writings to buoy up their own beliefs. So there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary strife within its pages.

He wondered what a Bible devoid of all those “pious meddlers,” as he called them, would even look like. Shortly thereafter, he met Dr. Roy Chamberlain who also thought a layman’s Bible was needed. Dr. Chamberlain was the college chaplain and had had training in biblical research. Their collaboration became known as the Dartmouth Bible. Soon after they had finished, Dr. Feldman died unexpectedly, so Dr. Chamberlain finished the work.

Scholarly reviews have been mostly positive. They did a commendable job of taking the King James Version and, through insightful editing, cutting its contents in half. The parts that are left out were repetitive and “of interest only to scholars.” The narrative is clear and concise. Chapters and verses are arranged as they should be. Poetry is written in verse. Rather than having 4 competing gospels, the narrative of Jesus is one long story comprising all of them. The prophets and the Pauline Epistles are arranged in chronological order. The book of Proverbs is arranged by topic. The books of Jonah, Ruth, and Esther are combined. There are notes at the end of each chapter. The index includes both names and subjects. Maps have been annotated. As a Bible for the Christian layperson, it is a good read.

The Everlasting Light is also an abridgement of the King James Version. Its author is Erma Wood Carlson. She, too, was irritated with the legalistic and repetitive texts found in the Bible. She spent 20 years editing this out, maintaining the poetry and rhythm of the KJV.

There are three sections in her version: The Old Testament, the “Life and Work of Jesus” (actually the four gospels), and the Apostolic writings. This researcher has been unable to find scholarly reviews, but one reader wrote in 2010, “A wonderful reading of KJV of The Bible. Very easy to read and extremely helpful.” Published in 1965 and reissued in 1967, it can still be found on internet book sites.

A review on states, “As noted in the foreword, The Everlasting Light is a simplification ‘designed to be enjoyed.’ Its formatting and intention are equally simple: allowing the Bible to be read without being interrupted by footnotes, maps and charts, explanatory analysis, and repetitive language – including all those pesky ‘begats.’ The message of the Scriptures truly shines in The Everlasting Light; the words flow unobstructed; and the theme – ‘God, One Power and man's relationship to Him’ – radiates from Genesis through Revelation. Note: The subheads, many of them biblical citations, used throughout The Everlasting Light and chronicled in the ‘List of References’ at the end of the book, are powerful one-liners – ‘Believe with All Thine Heart’ (1029) and ‘Be Ye Doers of the Word’ (1193).” (Read the BibleWise review of The Everlasting Light.)

Some observations are worth noting. There is virtually no information about the author, Erma Wood Carlson, on the internet. There is a library named in her honor at Lee College in Baytown, Texas. The college was founded in 1934 and graduated 4 women that first year. Ms. Carlson was not one of them. Nor is she mentioned as a distinguished alumnus. Though there is interesting information on the history of the college, I was unable to find anything about the naming of the library. Unlike the Dartmouth Bible, scholars have not reviewed The Everlasting Light Bible. It is unclear how many were published or how popular it was. Does gender play a role in this discrepancy or are other factors at work? Impossible to say.

The bottom line, however, in discussing them, is that they are both condensed versions of the King James. Both purport to be user-friendly. Both seem to have the same goals in mind. Without comparing them side-by-side, it is difficult to say which is “better.” If the questioner finds one to be easier to understand than the other, that is the one to use.

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