It has come to my attention that there is some confusion over the origin of the about:mozilla text, what exactly it refers to, and the basis of its literary style.
about:mozilla was originally an “Easter Egg” – a hidden amusing feature put into a software program unrelated to its main purpose – in version 1.1 of Netscape’s browser. These days, it’s so well known that it hardly deserves the name. The history of about:mozilla, giving the different versions of the text displayed, is well explained on Wikipedia. After a small amount of editing on my part of the section about the most recent revision, everything that page says is now true to the best of my knowledge.
The current about:mozilla text is as follows:
And so at last the beast fell and the unbelievers rejoiced. But all was not lost, for from the ash rose a great bird. The bird gazed down upon the unbelievers and cast fire and thunder upon them. For the beast had been reborn with its strength renewed, and the
followers of Mammon cowered in horror.
from The Book of Mozilla, 7:15
This text was written by Neil Deakin in the days following the split of the Mozilla Foundation from AOL. It was one of several suggested texts that we evaluated; we considered this one to be most creative, and in the spirit and style of the previous two. At my prompting, the mozilla.org staff approved the inclusion of Neil’s version in forthcoming builds. You can read the bug which documents the development process. I checked a slightly modified version into Mozilla on the 1st September, 2003, and Ben Goodger checked the same text into Firebird (as it then was) later that month.
The nature and literary style of the text may be slightly mystifying to some. To understand it fully, you need to first be aware of the influence of the King James version of the Bible on modern English culture.
The King James (or Authorised) Version of the Bible is an English translation which was first published in 1611. It is so named because King James ordered the translation to be made. For several hundred years, it was the most commonly-used English Bible. Today, it has been superceded by more accurate translations which take advantage of modern linguistic scholarship and a better knowledge of the original text.
However, the language of the King James, which today would be thought of as archaic, has had a significant impact on English-speaking culture. Even today, people often quote the Bible (perhaps unknowingly) in the King James version, or language which approximates or imitates it. For example, they might say “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, rather than “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
The about:mozilla text is designed to be in the style of Biblical prophecy, such as that found in the book of Revelation, as translated in the King James version. For example: “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” (Revelation 19:15). The fictional “Book of Mozilla” is a book of similar prophecy about the rise of “the beast” (Mozilla, who has always been a great lizard) and his triumph over the world. When great changes happen in the Mozilla project (such as the release of the original code, and the split from AOL) the text is updated with a new ‘quotation’.
The word “Mammon” is actually taken directly from the original text of the New Testament. It’s a word of Aramaic origin, meaning something like ‘riches’ or, by personification, ‘money-god’. The King James rendering of Matthew 6:24 – “You cannot serve both God and Money” – is “Ye cannot serve God and mammon“. The word is also found in other related translations, such as the American Standard Version. Mainly because of the fame of this passage in its King James form, “mammon” in still used in English today, and is taken to refer to an imaginary God of money, possessions and pleasure.
So the use of “Mammon” in the text is an oblique reference to the Bible. Just as Jesus in Matthew 6 in the King James Version contrasts serving God and serving Mammon, following the truth and following falsehood, so the quotation sets up the difference between the followers of Mozilla (those reading the Book) and the followers of Mammon (those who oppose the coming world domination of Mozilla). (Some might well associate Mammon with Microsoft; I couldn’t possibly comment on that…)
I hope this clears up some potential misunderstandings about the origins and meaning of the about:mozilla text. As a Christian who believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and a mozilla.org staff member and Mozilla contributor, I do not believe that there is any problem with about:mozilla from a Christian point of view. I would welcome emails from anyone who wishes to correspond with me on the subject.