Too Holy to read? On Bibles as twenty-first century literature

What sort of book is the Bible? How should it be presented and read? I’ve long wondered about the dissemination of the Bible in popular culture. Does only good come from reading the Bible? Should it be read and interpreted alone? Some people speak about the Bible as though it were an instructional book that is self explanatory. Others venture that interpretation is all but impossible and better left to experts. And yet Bibles continue to roll off the presses every day. Some people stock them in their homes like amulets, talismans, and additions to the furniture. Others mark them up and toss them when the bindings break. Promoting biblical literacy is the job of groups like the American Bible Society. As the times change they work to keep the Bible in the public eye. As information changes, as the culture’s use of image and text change, Bible production alters to meet the demand. Enter The Book, a new glossy magazine format for the Bible by a Swedish group known as Illuminated World.

The marketing folder they sent me definitely caught my eye. I started a discussion with an artist friend of mine over the use of images and text, whether the images really served the text. She thought it did, I disagreed. So I ordered a review copy of the New Testament. It’s clear that the format is meant to be edgy and controversial. Some of the images are jarring, especially the more violent ones. There’s a celebrity section that doesn’t quite make sense to me. There are photos of Jim Jones and the Jamestown massacre with a warning about not misusing the Bible. The impression I’m left with overall is that the Bible as competitive literature, in the glossy throw away world of supermarket tabloids, just doesn’t make sense. The Bible is the book of the People of God. Its words demand faith of its readers in order to be received. This leads to a much bigger problem. The Bible is a book of action, wherein the People of God communicate with him and live out their reaction to His presence. The Book functions as an equalizer, attempting to make the Bible relevant as literature, but without the People of God involved the material has no real reference point. At every point the literature of the Bible is controversial, especially when it is read, but reading the Bible is only the beginning.

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1 Comment

Filed under books, theology

One response to “Too Holy to read? On Bibles as twenty-first century literature

  1. Michael Harris

    Good job on this one Chris. Your writing is getting quite good. You stayed away from the reactionary impulse that I probably would have taken, and you wrote a good thoughtful analysis. The title of the blog was maybe the best part. Provocative. I’ve finally got a username and password for the computers over here, so I’ll try to keep reading your blog. It’ll be a bit like being in on the good old conversations across the bookracks with you and Jon and Curt.

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