By Killian Beeler
One graphic artist, Adam Greene, has taken it upon himself to redesign the Bible. He calls his idea “Bibliotheca,” and this summer he ran a monthlong Kickstarter campaign to raise $37,000 for what he thought would be a small project. Greene ended up raising $1,440,345.
He argues that people today find biblical literature dull because of the encyclopedic nature of bible design. Extremely thin pages strewed with vast amounts of text, notes and verse and chapter numbers are not conducive to a rich reading experience. They block the beauty of a story from the reader’s imagination.
Greene’s Bible is free from all notes and verse and chapter numbers. He argues that these are recent additions, added for in-depth studies of the Bible, not for actually reading it. Furthermore, instead of cramming the entire Bible into one volume (as has been done since the Middle Ages), Greene breaks it up into four volumes, each the size of a modern novel. The volumes are sewn and bound, and their proportions are based on the measurements of the Ark of the Covenant specified in Exodus.
I highly recommend watching the excellent Bibliotheca kickstarter video and visiting the official website at www.bibliotheca.co to learn more about the project. Below is an interview concerning Greene’s project, video and website that he was kind enough to allow me to conduct via email.
KB: Your project’s fusion of history, craft and sacred literature is quite impressive. You not only strive for excellence in design, but also to produce a translation that is both conducive for a contemporary reading experience while remaining true to the original Hebrew and Greek. How did you come to such a knowledge of the history of the biblical texts and their translations. Is this something you gained through formal education or sought out yourself?
AG: I was introduced to modern biblical scholarship at university, and I have fervently studied theology and biblical literature independently since then. I do not read ancient Hebrew, Aramaic or Koine Greek, so my knowledge of the biblical texts and the history of their translation is very secondhand, especially from Robert Alter, professor emeritus at University of California at Berkeley, author of “The Art of Biblical Narrative,” “The Art of Biblical Poetry,” and now his own translations with commentary. It is largely owing to his incredible knowledge, not only of the ancient languages but also of the history of English translation, which I chose to utilize the American Standard Version, and update it, rather than use a more contemporary translation.
That said, it’s important to remind oneself that there is much lost in translation. When we read an English translation of an ancient foreign text we are indeed partially reading something of that text, but we are also reading a creative work of English literature; a literary work in itself. The ASV presents itself as the “Version set forth in A.D. 1611, compared with the most ancient authorities and revised.” So we have in this translation a striving to convey the original languages – with all their strange idiom, ambiguity, etc. – and at the same time an attempt to preserve the beauty and heightened style of what is considered to be one of the most beautiful English texts of all time: The King James Version.
KB: In your video you discuss how book design attempts to eliminate any barriers between a story and a reader’s imagination. Book design has been around for centuries, but what are some of your contemporary inspirations?
AG: The artist Eric Gill (engraver, sculptor, typographer, book designer) is one among many whose creative work and ideas have shaped my approach. As a matter of fact he was Roman Catholic. He was active in the early part of the last century, but he anticipated the shallow aesthetic and cheap manufacturing we are dealing with today. His work has taught me a lot about beauty and how to recover it in an ugly, industrialized world. One of his well-known sayings is “Look after goodness and truth, beauty will look after herself.” There is a lot more to his thinking, and I would encourage any artist, or anyone interested in the idea of holiness as it relates to beauty and human interaction with objects, to read his work. The “beauty” and “goodness” of an object cannot [only] be measured by its final form, but also by the motivation behind its conception and how it is actually made. Does the object transparently reveal its origins and purpose? Does it dignify humanity? It seems to me we are turning a corner in this regard: we are starting to care more about intrinsic beauty.
KB: I think many here at UD would appreciate your inclusion of the deuterocanonical texts as an optional fifth book. On the FAQ section of your Kickstarter page you explain what these texts are to those unfamiliar with them. You end your explanation by stating, “Whatever your beliefs, I agree with Jerome: they deserve to be read.” Could you briefly explain why you see such value in these texts?
AG: For well over a thousand years, before certain English reformers came along, these books were…treasured and widely read as part of the Christian library. Jerome recognized their value early on, and preserved these books in his Vulgate, but he also thought it important to clarify that they were not a part of the Hebrew Scriptures. In his time, many in the Diaspora were reading the “Old Testament” in Greek, assuming that these books were a part of the Hebrew Bible, but he wanted to point out that in fact they do not fit into the Hebrew or Christian canons. He never intended them to be disregarded, much less despised, as some reformed traditions began to do over a thousand years after Jerome. Some Protestant circles are still reeling from a few excessively polarizing opinions of their Reformation. Iconoclasm and disregard for the Deuterocanon are, sadly, lingering sores from that time. These texts represent important historical and theological developments in the Jewish mind, arguably necessary for New Testament thought. If we don’t read them we are missing out on literature that Paul, who wrote most of our New Testament, and the other New Testament writers were very likely to have been familiar with and appear to have drawn from.