By Molly Freeman
Phillip Patterson, a retiree in Philmont, NY, made national headlines earlier this month just as he finished up his 4-year-long project of handwriting the King James Bible. On May 18, the St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Spencertown, NY hosted the event, “The Last Word,” where Patterson completed his Bible in front of a crowd of people.
It’s been a long journey for Patterson, which started back in 2007 when he was discussing the Bible and the Quran with his partner. Patterson tells BTR that they began considering the tradition of writing holy books out by hand, which exists in both the Islamic and Judaic faiths. Christians, Patterson told his partner, do not have the same type of tradition because the Bible is so long.
Patterson says the idea for his own handwritten Bible was born by his partner’s reaction to this lack of tradition: “So he looks at me and he says, ‘Well then you should do it.’”
In addition, Patterson, who was raised Catholic, had always wanted know exactly what was in the Bible; he never felt he got an adequate amount of comprehension from simply reading the holy book. It also struck him, he says, that people in court swear on a copy of the Bible, but they don’t even know what they’re swearing on.
“It could be a cookbook,” he says, “for all most people know.”
So he dedicated himself to this enormous project that he never doubted he would finish.
In 2009, Patterson began his handwritten version of the King James Bible, writing 12-18 hours everyday because he was worried about his progress.
“In the very beginning, I wrote frantically because I thought I really got to get into this because I don’t want it to be a month from now and only have four pages,” explains Patterson.
During the project, though, another factor halted Patterson’s work — his health. As someone with AIDS, health complications arose and Patterson became ill. He had to stop writing altogether for a total of about six months. When he finally resumed his project, Patterson worked for six hours each day, which he felt were disappointing, but much more sane.
As he worked through the bible, Patterson says there weren’t any sections that were especially difficult, even the more contentious parts such as the passages from Leviticus, often used to prove homosexuality is forbidden.
“There’re probably many books that one reads, or things that one reads, that one doesn’t agree with. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a mind of your own,” Patterson says. “Just because somebody says you’re fat doesn’t mean you’re fat, or maybe you don’t care that you’re fat.”
His favorite book in the Bible is the Book of Ruth because there is a lack of violence and duplicity within it. That particular book is female-focused, which is rare in the Bible, he also enjoyed its themes of loyalty and honesty.
Although Patterson knew it would take a lot of time and work, there was one aspect to his handwritten Bible that he hadn’t expected: its aesthetic quality. Patterson says others always told him how beautiful it was that it had never occurred to him that his handwriting would make the Bible aesthetically pleasing.
Two people who helped Patterson make his handwritten Bible project what it is today—a national story—were photographer Laura Glazer and filmmaker Justin Lange. Patterson met Glazer at a gallery showing of her work and asked the photographer to take some shots of his Bible, a meeting that quickly became a full collaboration.
“Without Laura Glazer, this little project would not have had legs at all,” he explains. In addition to photography, Glazer is adept at marketing, and used her connections to bring attention to the project, especially from the Associated Press. She also started a blog for the project called The Serenity of Knowing.
Lange shot a short film about Patterson and his handwritten Bible. Last weekend, A Short Film About Phillip and Me was shown at the culminating event of the project, “The Last Word.”
At the event attended by family, friends, and interested strangers from states all over the country, Patterson decided to write more than simply the last word and instead penned the last two verses from Revelations.
“The last word is Amen, so that’s a little bit lame,” Patterson says.
Though the writing part of the Bible is done, the retiree says there is still at least another year’s worth of work left to do. He still needs bind and stitch the book together before he presents it as a gift to his local church.
“It’s still a work in progress, even though I’ve written the last words.”
For more with Phillip Patterson, check out today’s episode of BTR’s premier current events podcast, Third Eye Weekly.