Book burning has long been used as the most extreme form of censorship. Motivated by moral, religious or political objections, book burnings are almost always staged as public events. The burnings are often as much about symbolism as they are about eliminating the writings in question. What could send a clearer message about tolerance – or the lack of – than burning the words of those considered heretics? Or, for that matter, those you simply disagree with.
Here's a look at some of the books we've lost throughout history:
In 213 B.C., China’s Emperor Shih Huang Ti ordered the burning of all philosophy and history books. Those who did not comply with the state dogma were buried alive.
The Christian Emperor Jovian, in 364, ordered the entire Library of Antioch to be burned because it had been stocked with the aid of his non-Christian predecessor, Emperor Julian.
In 1242, the French crown burned all copies of the Talmud after the book was "charged" and "found guilty" in the Paris trial sometimes referred to as the Paris debate.
Countless Hebrew Bibles and assorted Jewish books were burned in 1490 per order of the Spanish Inquisition.
In 1624, the Pope ordered Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible burned in Catholic-dominated areas of Germany. This occurred at the early stages of the Thirty Years' War and was due in part to poor Catholic-Protestant relations.
The first known book burning in the U.S. took place in 1650, when a subversive theological text written by William Pynchon was torched in the Boston Common.
In 1842, Armand Dufau, director for the school of the blind in Paris, France, ordered officials to burn books written in the new braille code.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Richard Euringer, director of the libraries in Essen, Germany, identified 18,000 books deemed not to correspond with Nazi ideology. These books were publicly burned.
In 1948, directed by priests, teachers and parents, children in Spencer, West Virginia and Binghamton, New York burned several hundred comic books. When the story was picked up by the national press, similar book burnings were staged in many other cities.
In March, 1984, Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem burned hundreds of copies of the New Testament.
In 2001, Harry Potter books were burned at the direction of various churches, due to claims that the books promote witchcraft, magic and Satan.
How many great books have been lost due to these drastic forms of censorship? Imagine the history that has forever gone up in flames. Whether we agree with a point of view expressed in a book or not should not be the ruler by which we measure a book’s worth. We can each choose not to open those covers. However, once burned, we never have the luxury of looking back and realizing we were wrong.