When I took Biblical literature in college, my classmates conducted a low-level battle over Biblical translations. Some advocated the King James translation, others preferred the New American, and still others pored through the original Hebrew. The versions that we chose said a lot about us. As a King James man, I liked the formal style of its classical English, although I appreciated that the New American was a little more accessible. My friend who advocated the Jeffersonian Bible was a bare-bones kind of guy, while my Hebrew-reading classmate placed a lot of stock in getting the original meaning and nuance of the scripture. Depending upon our personalities and level of imagination, a different version of the Bible resonated with each of us.
Ab Forlaget's Bible Illuminated seems designed for people with a total lack of imagination and only a tangential interest in scripture. The text is presented in a three-column style, with highlights around important passages, and key sections reprinted in large-type insets. All in all, the style should be familiar to any reader of Playboy, Harper's Bazaar, or Us. Essentially, it looks like a fashion mag that has been annotated by a not-particularly-bright high school student.
In case the highlights and insets don't make the message clear enough, Bible Illuminated also contains lots of pretty pictures, with captions taken from the text. Thus, "She shall have a son, and you will name him Jesus" appears beneath a photo of a veiled Middle Eastern woman and her son. Similarly, the Three Wise Men's question: "Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews?" graces a picture of three inner-city youths in full street wear, striking rap star poses. While the images are beautiful and powerful, as well-designed as the fashion photographs in any oversized women's magazine, the overall package is scattered, shallow, and somewhat condescending. This version of the good book, which is available for preorder, will undoubtedly be a big hit with the Glamour crowd, but it seems to send a confused, simplistic message.
Bible Illuminated is, arguably, a notch or two better than Revolve, a Teen People style version of the New Testament that is currently being published by Thomas Nelson. Featuring breathless introductions, "pop-up" trivia, and other stylistic elements borrowed from teen gossip mags, Revolve seems designed to evoke the response "OMG! Like G is so GR8!!!" In its effort to bring the Bible to a teen audience, Thomas Nelson has produced a frightening Frankenstein monster of a tome, crudely stitching the transcendent tale of Christ to the most vapid, mindless portions of pop culture. However, it will undoubtedly look good on a bookshelf next to The Rubaiyyat of Hannah Montana and Brittany Spears' Bhagavad Gita.*
The Bible has been shifted and altered endlessly over the years, and the recent publication of The Green Bible, The Manga Bible, and numerous others point to an ever-growing attempt to sell scripture to niche markets. While there is definitely a lot to be said for inspiring new audiences to gain a deeper understanding of the mysteries and beauties of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the key is to ensure that the medium doesn't obscure the message. In the case of the Angelina Jolie-accented Bible Illuminated, it's pretty clear that the celebrities have become the message!
*By the way, i have dibs on both of these ideas, so back off!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Reading back over this post, he just realized that he is, indeed, a total geek.