November 18, 2008

Review: The Bible Illuminated (New Testament)



Heads up, everyone, I'm reviewing the Bible. Well, sort of. I am reviewing a particular edition of the New Testament, magazine-style, with pictures. I am, by and large, reviewing the pictures.

All I will say about the text is that this book thing uses the Today's English Version, which I think of as generally pretty crummy as translations go. But it's meant for people who like little words in short sentences, and on that note it achieves its goal of being simple to understand. I just don't like it.

So, the Bible Illuminated project introduces itself thusly (from the website):
The concept originated with a general philosophical dinner table discussion between Michel Gyring and Mats Rabe in Stockholm, Sweden. The conversation, which led to several other discussions with key individuals, asked the question “Why people don’t read historical texts” and they began pondering if the traditional format or design turned people off. They realized there was a huge opportunity to re-design or illuminate these types of old texts. This was the beginning of Illuminated World (formerly Förlaget Illuminated Sweden, AB.)

[snip]

Illuminated World seeks to introduce today’s audience to a revolutionary contemporary Bible, one that encourages dialogue and is culturally relevant, accessible and easily digestible for any reader regardless of religious, economic, racial or social background.

We have no religious agenda nor do we support a specific faith. Bible Illuminated is intended to be a unique vehicle for reacquainting today’s reader with one of the most important historical, and cultural texts ever written.

Okay. First of all, I don't understand the idea that people don't read historical texts because of their "traditional format and design" (by which I understand them to mean, you know "books") but perhaps this is the case. I dunno. We're all readers here, but maybe you guys know some people like this? And I find it strange that a group out there is publishing Bibles without supporting "a specific faith". Doesn't that seem a bit ... strange? It's like publishing the Quran, and saying "Oh, no, we don't have anything to say about Islam -- we just want to publish the Quran and for everybody to read it." And there's not much to say to that except, "um, okay."

But, whatever, you want to put together a big Bible magazine thingy, you go right ahead. And apparently sales of Bibles in Sweden have skyrocketed (Sweden being where this was originally published) and, as a Christian, I can't really argue with getting the Word out there. And I firmly believe that even people who don't want to read the Bible as a religious text should be reading it as literature, because boy, is there ever a lot of stuff in English lit that you just won't get if you don't know your Bible.

But. But but but but but. So much but.

I have a lot of issues with this particular publication. Can you tell?

First of all, it's shoddily put together. It's just a big magazine -- thicker than the TV guide, not as big as the Sears catalogue -- and it's bound as a magazine. And I can tell you that it crumples like a magazine, too, because my copy arrived damaged. I can't see this being the sort of text that will last for a long time in the same way that a book does. It just doesn't seem very strong. Why put out something that won't physically last? Especially when it costs about the same as a large hardcover.

Secondly, there are the pictures. Now how these work, as I understand it, is that the project people grabbed a bunch of other people and said, "Here, choose some verses and pick pictures for them." The results are... interesting and I suppose that they do "encourage dialogue" (I mean look at me, blah-de-blahing away). But for the life of me, I can't figure out why most of the pictures got in. They are a motly conglomerate of the irreverent and the irrelevant. Some are offensive. Many are blatant in their agenda. Few-to-none of them are particularly helpful in terms of illustrating biblical passages or helping to explain them.

I do believe that the Bible is a text that is "revolutionary... culturally relevant" and largely accessible. I do not think that this text futhers that reputation in any particular way. If you want to read a Bible, there are better editions to choose. And if you'd like to look at pretty pictures, I suggest going to the museum instead. Give this one a pass.

4 comments:

bethany canfield said...

I wrote a review on this as well...my feelings are similar to yours, some different things bothered me, but many of the same things that bugged you bugged me as well.

Thanks for being honest!!!

Across the Blogosphere | Bible Illuminated said...

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Raffi Shahinian said...

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

Grace and Peace,
Raffi