Like his illustrious forebear who discovered Halley's Comet in 1704, Henry Hampton Halley achieved stardom, though only among a certain sort of 20th-century American Protestants. His fame lives on in 2000.
One of God's doers, Halley pursued six careers in his 91 years. He was briefly a college teacher, then a Disciples of Christ pastor in Kalkaska, Mich., and the more upscale Kalamazoo. Ordered by his doctor to undertake physical labor, he began building homes but ended up in real estate in Chicago's Loop, where he lived the rest of his life.
Then emerged the two careers that were to impart lasting fame.
To while away time on train and streetcar trips, the devout businessman took up memorizing Bible passages. Over a decade, he spent 10,000 hours on the hobby and stored 25 hours of recitations that amounted to the entire Bible in abridged form.
He claimed no special skill and said anyone could do the same with proper diligence.
Halley demonstrated his feat in church pulpits and gradually became a coast-to-coast performer. Between 1921 and 1941 his ''Bible Recital Ministry'' went to platforms and pulpits in 35 states, drawing an estimated 2 million listeners. He lived off of freewill offerings.
A bigger break began one night in 1922 in New Albany, Ind. Halley always began with brief background on the book he would recite. A stenographer in the front row was taking down his every word, noisily ruffling her papers. Slightly annoyed at first, Halley realized he should write out his introductions and print handouts.
The result was a 16-page booklet, ''Suggestions for Bible Study,'' which was given to all attendees. Demand became so great he could no longer afford freebies, so he loaned booklets, asking listeners to pay if they wanted to keep them.
Thus originated ''Halley's Pocket Bible Handbook,'' which first went on sale in 1924. It was a brand-new concept, a condensed reference guide on each biblical book, aimed at ordinary lay folk rather than highbrows. Over the years the renamed ''Halley's Bible Handbook'' grew from 144 pages to the current 1,135.
When Halley switched from Rand McNally to Zondervan Publishing, five years before he died in 1965, a million handbooks had been sold. Zondervan says there are another 5 million in print today. Various foreign-language editions began with Korean in 1940.
In old age, Halley entrusted the handbook business to daughter Julia Berry, who shepherded the 1965 edition. Her granddaughter, Patricia Wicker of Minneapolis, supervised the succeeding 75th anniversary edition, which Zondervan issued some weeks ago.
Halley was a devout conservative who leaned toward amiable fundamentalism. The 2000 version maintains that outlook, though it quietly deletes Halley's Old Testament chronology, according to which Adam was created around 6,000 years ago and Noah's Flood occurred 1,600 years afterward. Also updated are accounts of archaeology and other historical matters.
But Halley's still says the world might have been created in six days of 24 hours, and it locates the Garden of Eden around Iraq's Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The latest handbook retains Halley's quick summaries of each biblical book (''Isaiah: The Messianic Prophet,'' ''1 John: Love'').
Many readers will lament the loss of some of Halley's Bible trivia. (The Bible has 1,189 chapters, the middle one being Psalm 117, also the shortest chapter. The longest verse: Esther 8:9. The shortest: John 11:35.)
Halley wrote ''THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THIS BOOK'' is the proposal that Christian congregations rally everyone to read the Bible daily, with all sermons based on that week's portion. The handbook suggests reading the entire Bible in a year at four chapters a day, or two chapters a day for two years.
The latest handbook perpetuates another Halley preachment, insisting upon weekly worship. ''If all Christians were to attend church every Sunday, our churches would overflow. It would mean power for the church,'' Halley wrote with a hint of wistfulness.
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