Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bible Illuminated: The Book: New Testament

Earlier this week, my review copy of Bible Illuminated: The Book: New Testament arrived. (My initial thoughts on this project can be found here.) I'd agreed to post further thoughts on the book as well. For those that don't remember, the translation being used is The Good News Translation (formerly called Today's English Version).

While this one won't be for everyone--for every reader--I do think it will appeal to those that may be turned off by the traditional looking two column, red-lettered, black leather (or leather-like) gold-embossed lettered "Holy Bible". Stereotypically speaking, the "big black book" gathering dust on the shelf. For those that find traditionalism to be a real turn off, this Bible is one plus after another. It does not have the look or feel of a Bible. It's in magazine format. There are glossy pages. There are photographs. Oodles and oodles of photographs.

What may not be so apparent is that this edition of the Bible is minus chapters and verses. On the one hand, that is good because books are then taken to be a cohesive whole. Also, though it's hard for us to imagine in some ways, the chapters and verse separations were added in centuries later. They're not original to the text by any means. I can't begin to count the number of times where coming across a chapter marking will signal me to "stop" reading for the day. Oh, I've read a chapter, two chapters? Then, I'm good. Let's call it quits. Without these chapter, verse markings perhaps there won't be that excuse. But on the other hand, they are convenient. Very convenient. It would be impossible to go to a Bible study or Sunday School class or church and hope to follow along because without chapters and verses to identify your location...then you'd be at a loss or disadvantage. But that is really beside the point in a way. This book is marketed for those that have no inclinations to go to church. It's marketed for the un-churched. For those that have never opened up the Bible (or haven't in a decade or so) it must be strange to encounter the Bible laid out so completely unlike any other book. Do chapters and verses make sense to strangers? Especially since in some cases, the chapters will interrupt the flow of the text mid-paragraph or mid-sentence even. Yes, chapters and verses break things up into manageable and reasonable sizes, but they're not always that logical.

One of my favorite Bibles--and it's now over a decade old--is The Narrated Bible. It's a bible (New International Version, NIV) that arranges the Bible in chronological order. It's designed to make the Bible read more like a novel. A cohesive whole. This seems to be similar in that it wants the text to read more like a magazine. To make readers more comfortable with it. Or not so comfortable as the case may be.

Here's the truth as I see it. People bring to it their own baggage. You either approach it with "this is a holy book, this is inspired scripture, this is God's Word" or you come to the experience with the preconceived notion that it's not...that's it's garbage, nonsense, a waste of time, propaganda, etc. Or you come to it that it's a sometimes beautiful or lyrical piece of literature. But it's literature or mythology not scripture. Changing the format of the bible isn't going to automatically remove those feelings, those notions, those mindsets. Some approach it with their minds already made up. But others may approach it with a sense of curiosity or questioning. That last set--the curious sort--is who this Bible may be best for. Those wondering what this whole Christianity thing is about...but who are too intimidated or weirded out by the traditional Bible and the traditional churches that seem so alien, so out there from where they're standing.

You can't make the Bible be comforting or comfortable. You can't ignore the fact that it does the opposite in fact. Not to preach a sermon at all, but the whole goal of the Bible is to make readers uncomfortable. "The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves." (231)

It doesn't matter what the presentation or format is, the words within don't change. And it is the words themselves that might turn some people off.

The photos are there to engage you, to catch your attention, to make you think, to make you squirm in some cases, to shock you in others.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

great review!

Anonymous said...

Great review! I turned down reviewing this book because I didn't know what I would think of it.

Anna said...

I'll be reviewing this one tomorrow. I really got me thinking, so much so, that I'm not certain exactly what I'll say. I enjoyed reading your review.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I picked up the book and found it really inspiring. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

The concept sounds cool but... a magazine Bible? Is it at least better constructed than most mags, which fall apart in record time for me?

I think I'll still check it out, though.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a good idea for a Bible at all... I mean, it has a picture of Angelina Jolie in it. I'm not opposed to a colloquial Bible or a magazine Bible, but the fact that it is a celebrity Bible kind of demeans the gravity of a holy text.

Raffi Shahinian said...

Thanks for this. I really appreciate your perspective. I've also put in my 2 cents about the project, for anyone who may be interested.

Grace and Peace,