Bible as Glossy

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So I thought I was breaking some new ground in Testament by interpreting the Bible through the comics medium. It gave me the chance to play with a near-future frighteningly like the deep past being described in the ancient mythical stories.

Now, a Swedish adman and former CEO Dag Soderberg is leading a team called Illuminated World that's reinterpreting the Bible as a magazine - complete with sidebars, coverlines, and subheads. He's using the straight text, for the most part, but embellishing it with Bennetton-style photos and pull quotes.

On the one hand, I feel like objecting to the project outright. Something about the combination of an advertising perspective with the Bible feels like a contradiction. This project is provocative, but it's also oh-so slick, and comes off a bit like what happens when an adman hires a team of people to manifest his vision for selling the Bible to a new generation. The Illumination is there to make the Bible easier and trendier, not truer. On the other hand, I tend to feel about St. Paul's modifications on Judaism much the same way.

As someone who reworked Bible stories to promote my own cultural agendas, I'm in no position to criticize someone else for doing the same - even if the agendas are a bit different than my own. Plus, it's only the New Testament Soderberg has reworked (in English) so far. And the message there is a bit different than the one in the Hebrew Bible - which he's releasing shortly.

This is an interesting object to peruse, and it does make you consider both the Bible - and efforts to illuminate it - in a new light.

76

  1. I haven’t seen the magazine yet, but your post made me think of one of my alltime favorite songs.

    Lyrics to Superstar (Jesus Christ Superstar) :
    Everytime I look at you don’t understand
    Why you let the things you did get so out of hand?
    You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned
    Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?
    If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation
    Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication

    Don’t you get me wrong – I only want to know
    Jesus Christ, etc…..

    Tell me what you think about your friends at the top
    Who’d you think besides yourself’s the pick of the crop?
    Buddha was he where it’s at? Is he where you are?
    Could Mohammed move a mountain or was that just PR?
    Did you mean to die like that?
    Was that a mistake or
    Did you know you messy death would be a record breaker?

    Don’t you get me wrong – I only want to know

    Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
    Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
    Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
    Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
    Jesus Christ Superstar
    Do you think you’re what they say you are?
    Jesus Christ Superstar
    Do you think you’re what they say you are

  2. Ha! I had to do a list of the ten best albums of all time for some Spin turn-of-the-century issue, and I really wanted to list Superstar as number one but my friends wouldn’t let me.

  3. I read an interview about your plans for Testament and IIRC, you made tha claim that it was “clear to anyone who reads the text” that Moses and Joshuah had gay sex. Were you just making that up, or can you really point to anything in the Bible that indicates that?

    Chapter and verse would help.

  4. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

  5. I think the 1973 movie was the most brilliant thing ever. That movie just kills me. The guy who played Judas? That is probably my favorite performance ever. He died recently. I’ve seen it live several times and it always just rips your heart out.

  6. Not really new. A while back, one of the American christian publishing houses puked out a couple of “teen” bible magazines. Revolve for girls and Refuel for boys.

    Based on the amazon suggestions for those, it looks like a bunch of other variants of this idea have been produced. “Refuel: The Epic Battles” is a particularly amusing entry.

    I respect people’s right to recut cultural objects however they wish; but I have the strong impression that anybody who actually cares about the bible(personally, I don’t; but the publishers claim to) is making a mistake in going down this road. It seems analogous to a teacher realising that students watch TV, and then cutting all their lessons down to 30 second sound bites recited by cartoon characters. It might get people to watch; but it loses the point. “The medium is the message” is overstating it; but you can’t cut down a bible down to gossip rag format and expect it to be the same thing you started with.

  7. oooh Brick Testament! way cool! I’ll bookmark that with the Lolcat Bible!

    And let me reiterate that familiarity with Shakespeare and the King James Bible is an absolute duty of those who would love English.

  8. I don’t have a problem with that concept.

    The Bible IS an advert. It’s advertising Christianity. It’s the best stories collected. It’s images and metaphors. In this magazine it’s just put into modern forms. (Though I have the feeling I’ve seen all these pictures before).

  9. “Something about the combination of an advertising perspective with the Bible feels like a contradiction.”

    Really? Because there’s a long history of using artwork, architecture and slick marketing to sell the Bible. From the medieval cathedral to the modern megachurch, it’s all the same thing.

    “The Illumination is there to make the Bible easier and trendier, not truer.”

    Well, it’s not like making it truer is an option. It’s a thin blend of historical fact with a thick layer of mythology. While it’s an interesting artifact, it’s not exactly the most interesting or uplifting reading. And certainly, not a good place to go for truth.

  10. I’m wondering how it handles the ‘begats.’

    Also, can’t help but think that if it was pure spoof, rshkff would be onboard.

  11. There’s an essay by Rabbi Al Bobroff that uses the same passage, Exodus 33:11 to suggest that face-to-face meant Greek man-on-man face-to-face sex, the way it was done between teachers and students. And he goes through a long explanation of sacred sex.

    As for me, it’s the simple stuff I think most modern readers don’t “get” – because we have no historical understanding. We aren’t the original intended audience, so we miss a lot of the jokes. Like the names of places, the way that Jacob’s sons’ characters satirize the qualities of the tribes they are supposed to represent, and so on.

    The stuff I meant that people who simply read the text would get referred more to stuff that surprises most modern readers- that Lot had sex with his daughters, and so on.

    If Bobroff and others are right about Joshua and Moses engaging in an initiation ritual, I have a feeling that this sentence would have been totally clear to the intended audience, even though it’s lost on us.

    But I wouldn’t mean to suggest that the sentence makes it absolutely clear to us.

    Bobroff sent me his essay in PDF form – a scan of something out of his typewriter. I wonder if there’s an easy place to post a file like that. I’d be interested to hear what people think of it. Though from what I can tell, he’s not the first to suggest it.

  12. All those kings in the Bible who captured their enemies and “shaved off the hair from off of his feet.” Feet is a metaphor for crotch. Too bad Tom of Finland never took a crack at the Bible.

  13. Putting aside my general disdain for the wholly babble, why would anyone value the King James version? It was solely and totally a political tract intended to con the population of England and Scotland that there was heavenly support for King James’ appalling claims to total supremacy in all areas of life.

    dts.

  14. GET OVER IT. They’re just made-up stories to either make people feel better, or keep them in under control (often, the same thing). Free your mind from ancient myths. The actual world is amazing enough without having to believe in fairy tales.

  15. the King James version is lyrical and poetic, to any English speaker and student it has reasonance not found in many other versions.

  16. @Takuan: But there’s better poetry out there. And if you’re interested in the Bible for history, or its role in history, or spirituality, wouldn’t you want the most accurate translation, not the prettiest?

    It’s worth saying that you can do better.

    @Art Carnage: It’s not entirely made up stories. Mind you, it’s hard to sort the history from the myth, and it’s mostly myth. In any case, it’s still worth studying simply because so damn many people have believed it for so long. You can’t deny the historical role, and the continuing role of the Bible.

  17. Further, colloquial modern English is largely derived from the King James version and Shakespeare. Almost every idiom used stems from these two sources, I shit you not.

  18. It appears they’re doing Revelations. I wonder what the Scarlet Woman and Beast With Seven Heads will look like?
    #12-The ‘begats’ would make a cool family tree. I hope all those ‘cubits’ will be technical diagrams. Make your own arks!
    #18-I read that version (okay, it’s the only version I’ve read. Some Apocrypha too) and was astounded by how much it affected western lit and art. Hell, even colloquialisms. Ha! I wrote hell on a bible topic thread. Hell, damn, Hell, Damn, Hell. That felt good.

  19. The section referring to Moses and Joshua is NOT about gay sex. It is about drug use. The tent in question is the “Tent of the Lord’s Presence” which is the hash (YO! I SAY: it’s Hash-eesh, y’all!) hut it tells how to make it somewhere in the Bible. The real giveaway comes elsewhere in the chapter in the recipe for the “incense”, which contains a sizable quantity of “sweet cane balm” in some translation. There are no canes growing in the Middle East which are either sweet, or used in balms, let alone both. The mistranslation goes back to the Middle Ages, when “sweet cannebaum” was rendered into Latin. Cannebaum = cannabis. Some people get really bent out of shape when you say Judaism was a middle eastern hashish cult, and hey, I’m not tryin’ to dis’ the Book Dudes: Judaism would be a big-time historical player just on sheer durability alone, let alone reasonable hygiene and basic human decency. Joshua could take higher doses of THC than Moses — he stayed in the tent all day, well after when Moss had to leave. . I have had friends in Masonic associated groups report that Rabbis supply hemp by the car-trunk-load to the Masons and the Klan to this day. Well, the early 80s, anyway.

    Kooky sounding, I know, So’s the 700 bills, T’d’sh!

    And just so I’m not a total cyber-putz here’s some links and verse numbers:

    Ok, I’m back from surfing and it’s Exodus 30 and y’all can just Google for judaism and hashish and that’ll be like y’all’s boingboing homework for today. Discuss!

    I have been a reader of boingboing since it was reality hackers on pulp paper and I will always love you. Now will everyone please quit sucking all the time?

  20. Fred H @ 26 – You read some Apocrypha! Either you’re an Unsatisfactory Catholic, in which case you’re going to purgatory (extraordinary rendition), or you’re just curious… in which case… ok…

  21. of course there is better poetry, that is not the point. The delightful, sweaty, brawling, lascivious matrix of language we roll in is shared by all English users. The King James, for good or ill, is a rootstock of commonality.

  22. What was that dead chicken – frog looking thing being shoved into the pot? I don’t remember reading about that in the Bible.

    Of course this was the first graphic novel rendition of the Bible: http://tiny.cc/2HvbA

  23. OK, I was going to mention the infamous Jack Chick comics, (comics, Bible, etc) which were distributed by the truckload in my troubled youth, but then I googled and found the Chick website and the image I saw there…

    http://www.chick.com/default.asp

    “What would Jesus drop into her pumpkin?”

    Oh, ick. Horrifying mental image.

    Now I will have to go to confession. I’m still doing Hail Mary’s from the last one, need three more Acts of Contrition.

  24. Takuan@25 ‘colloquial modern English is largely derived from the King James version and Shakespeare.’ – Why derived? Why not reflected in?
    (I get a bit pissed off when Shakespeare is credited with ‘coining’ so many words in modern usage, when perhaps he was just the first to write them down. Particularly since, as a Midlander who spent many years in the North, he was writing for the trend-setting south-east…)

  25. but of course Dear Sammich, credit goes unfairly to the loudest and youngest – just like in all holy writings.

  26. LOL Takuan – for sure you are louder and younger than me… but I can out-Beatle you any day :D

  27. But is that a Portugese or a Spanish ‘My Fair Lady’ you posted? Just where are you located Takuan????

  28. Any Anglo/American poet who is worth a shit has the King James and Shakespeare in his or her bloodstream. Unless they came before either of those noble works, like Chaucer. And it’s not about pretty; it’s about strength and clarity and the human heart . . . and the sound of summer thunder.

    “…perhaps [Shakespeare] was just the first to write them down.” Yeah, right, he heard somebody say:
    O world, though wast the forest to his hart,
    And he, O world, the very heart of thee.
    And in iambic pentameter too! No telling what you can overhear in a 16th century tavern.

    Antinous, you say John Derek? Shit, I’m in, and I’m not even gay.

  29. “So I thought I was breaking some new ground in ‘Testament’ by interpreting the Bible through the comics medium”

    Hw cld y wrt tht wth strght fc? Srsly. f y r thnkng y r brkng nw grnd by ntrprtng ‘Bk ‘ thrgh ‘Mdm B’ … wldn’t y d sm bsc rsrch frst .. lk smply GGLNG th bvs phrs frst? (Hnt: “Bbl” “Cmcs”)

    There are dozens of Bible interpretations through the comics medium. It certainly isn’t even close to breaking new ground.

  30. Y thght y wr dng smthng nw wth *th bbl* ?

    HHH HHHHHHHHH!

    bt Strypr thght th sm thng. (t lst cn cptlz thr nm n gd cnscnc.)

    HH HHHHH!

    Gt vr yrslf. n pl bl dt. Gnt nvrs. N gd, jst wshfl thnkng. t’s jst s. Y, m nd thm. Thy r gng t hv t cm p wth bttr wys t try nd cntrl s nw.

  31. Thanks for your clarification. I guess I don’t buy Bobroff on that. It seems like you have to wink and leer when you read “speak to”. And you have to forget that the text says YHWH spoke to Moses face to face, not Joshuah.

    Stuff like that sounds like it says more about Bobroff than the Bible.

    I also wonder why Greek sexual practices would have any similarity to ANE sexual practices. Especially when the Bible is so down on gay sex otherwise. I know, i know: the answer to that is the Documentary Hypothesis that some different anal-retentive priests wrote Leviticus, but I don’t buy that either.

  32. GEEKD: Right. I thought we were all atheists here. Are there actually santa clause, tooth fairy, and holy spirit believers here?

    NB: We’re way on the same page with the capitalization.

  33. If you’d been to a Christian bookstore in the last ten years, you’d know this is not at all an original or new phenomenon. They’ve been making magazine-style Bibles “for teens” for years now. Even when I was a kid (20 years ago) growing up in a conservative Christian family, I had old testament stories in comic book form. They were the only comic books I was allowed to have. I’m sure the trend goes back further, but I don’t remember any further back.

    It seems like the first two uses for any medium, historically, has been religion and porn.

  34. @author

    “This project is provocative, but it’s also oh-so slick, and comes off a bit like what happens when an adman hires a team of people to manifest his vision for selling the Bible to a new generation. The Illumination is there to make the Bible easier and trendier, not truer. On the other hand, I tend to feel about St. Paul’s modifications on Judaism much the same way.”

    Wow, way to discount the last two millennia or so! Yikes!

    Dunno, Bibles are retranslated and repackaged so the Word (if that’s what it is for you) can speak more plainly and clearly to its audience. Truer, not trendier: viz. Jerome’s Vulgate, Protestantism, modern editions of the Bible, etc. Some adman that Luther! :p

    Would you have us all reading the original Hebrew and Greek then, and those sans modern editions as well? What would be an acceptable repackaging of these vital texts in your mind?

  35. “O world, though [sic!] wast….”

    It’s THOU, not “though,” numbskull!

    Oh, the shame of it all! That I would misspell the great Shakespeare…

  36. Report on the thread: a great many commenters have pointed out that the Bible has already made it into graphic novel form. Most have been polite about it. My take, FWIW: (1.) Douglas Rushkoff is a comics professional. It would be safe to assume that he’s aware of other graphic-novel versions of scripture. (2.) If you think sequential graphic representations of the Bible started with Iva Hoth, you haven’t been exposed to nearly enough art history.

    Church @13, I always imagined the begats as a series of family photo-album shots in which the kid on someone’s lap in the previous picture is the father in the next one.

    By the way, everyone, Takuan, Sammich, and Buddy66 are dead right about primacy of the KJV and Shakespeare as the great rootstocks of Modern English.

    If you want a third source, it’s the Book of Common Prayer: Speak now or forever hold your peace. Our bounden duty. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The world, the flesh, and the devil. The quick and the dead. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. Just for starters. All three are part of the basic equipment of the language.

    (Note: the official version of the BCP is still the 1662 edition, highly esteemed by those who aren’t wrongfooted by linguistic drift.)

    Douglas Rushkoff @14, Antinous @15: the only possible descriptor for hawt Moses-and-Joshua action as played by Charlton Heston and John Derek would be slashtastic.

    Tim @19:

    why would anyone value the King James version? It was solely and totally a political tract intended to con the population of England and Scotland that there was heavenly support for King James’ appalling claims to total supremacy in all areas of life.

    It may have had its origin in a specific political context — all editions of major religious texts had political repercussions in those days — but that’s not “solely and totally” what it was, and it’s certainly not why it’s valued. What James I ordered was a vernacular English translation. What he got was a masterpiece of plain English style — proverbially, the only work of genius ever produced by a committee.

    I can imagine finding it offputting if you’re not fluent in Elizabethan English, or if your only experience with it has been having it read to you in that minatory style that sounds like the lector should say “So there!” at the end of every verse. The language really is wonderful — plain, elegant, flexible, and lucid — and gets its effects through use of a surprisingly small vocabulary.

    It’s been the single most important and familiar background text for centuries of English usage. No matter what your religious beliefs or lack thereof, if you want to be fluent in literary English, you have to know the KJV.

    Sammich @29, if the KJV is the only version Fred’s familiar with, he’s not a Catholic.

    Secret Life of Plants @31, all I know about the chicken-frog thing is that the pot can’t contain the chicken-frog’s mother’s milk.

    Wigwam Jones @32, I think we can take it on faith that Jesus wouldn’t drop a Jack Chick tract into her pumpkin. Look at his know acts of hospitality: loaves, fishes, wine. Normal stuff, appropriate to the occasion.

    If you can’t do three Acts of Contrition in the time it would take you to write one comment on Boing Boing, you must be doing them as interpretive dance.

    Sammich @33, you know how it works — the first guy who gets his findings into print gets the credit.

    MidnightBreakfast @40, watch the extra line returns?

    Mac @55, GeekD @56, you’re both being snotty. Knock it off. People do new things with the Bible all the time.

    ElSmiley @59:

    Right. I thought we were all atheists here. Are there actually santa clause, tooth fairy, and holy spirit believers here?

    Sure. We’ve got all kinds. We’ve even got some of those oddball atheists who think religion is as simple as Richard Dawkins says.

    Anonymous @61: First business records, then religion and porn.

    TDawwg @63, you’re being much too confrontational. Why not just talk to him? He’s right here.

    Buddy66 @65: Try not to worry about misspellings in Shakespeare. He didn’t.

  37. I want. I want NOW, not in Fall 2008. Oh wait…

    I think people’s confusion about this is that it looks like it was created without irony in mind — it says “it is aimed to be less intimidating than traditional bibles.” But if this exact same product were produced by ironic hipster artists, people would be gushing much more. Perhaps.

    What’s nice is you can buy it and then read it with either mindset.

  38. I know many Christians practice not developing those horribly myopic abstractions of diverse society that we recognize in zealots but I would never count on one to break ground in diversity. I would expect a Christian to instead always rely on the bible for the form of self-knowledge found in understanding difference. Later they may interpret into Christianity the things that less religious people have learned on their behalf about society at large. Thats how it works; everybody else tows the Christians through the process of social evolution.

    Non-christians (and non-performing Christians) invented this form of media-awareness first, then Christians adapted it. The same with Christian rock, Christ punk, Christian Guitar Hero, Christian sci-fi literature, Christian (?)…

    Christianity would not have survived so long if it wasn’t borg like. If you are a Christian just make sure it doesn’t swallow it’s own source of culture, kthxbye.

  39. @66: Huh? I was talking to him, wasn’t I? You know, by asking the questions I asked? How was that “way too confrontational,” or confrontational at all? I think you misread me….

    Oh, and it’s William Tyndale, whose translation of the New Testament formed the backbone of the KJV, who’s the real “rootstock” of English, along with Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer. Large parts of the KJV are recycled (often badly) from Tyndale’s version. Poor Tyndale! First burned for heresy, then mistranslated, finally forgotten: ouch!

  40. Takuan @71: but of course!

    Here’s Tyndale’s Wiki page, for starters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyndale

    I’m not a Tyndale scholar at all, but I found David Daniell’s introduction to his edition of Tyndale’s New Testament the most interesting, pithy, informational, etc., of the few things I’ve read about Tyndale: there’s a great list of the Tyndale versions of famous passages read against their KJV versions, with Tyndale winning almost every time for style and pithiness.

    Here’s an Amazon link to a list of Tyndale books: Daniell’s NT is 9th: http://www.amazon.com/William-Tyndale-quick-search-aid/lm/R1D57AHQBTAXRE/ref=cm_lmt_srch_f_1_rsrsrs0

    Daniell’s Tyndale NT is also a nice, thick, squat paperback, lovely to hold, with good paper and type.

    Apparently, there’s a recently-published facsimile version of Tyndale’s NT, also edited by Daniell: HOT. And Daniell also edited Tyndale’s OT, which Tyndale left unfinished, but which was also plundered by the KJV team.

  41. I think my favorite pop-cultural modernization of scripture to date was Apocamon on the sadly now defunct E-sheep.com. What better way to illustrate the end times than with cute, collectible agents of the eschaton?

    Thanks to the miracle of Archive.org though it looks like at least two chapters are still available:

    Part 1

    Part 2

  42. Nice thread all.

    Book of Common Prayer and King James version were all i had left when, in my adolescence, fewer and fewer people could give me the kind of information, learning or teaching for which i came to the tent in the first place. I even dreamed in that language at least thru my first year in college.

    Eventually, i taught myself enough Hebrew to blow my own mind. Tradition and root stock are terribly important and so is interpretation graphic or linguistic or personal. There is no place, however, one can draw the line on the need to commit to following back lest one have rediscover er… one’s own “uncircumcised lips.”

    “ZOT Torah” is ultimately a great mystery still to me. My lips would smell faintly funky if i said otherwise.

    -mason

    “When Beauty barks i heel” -the fugs

  43. Yeah – I was well aware of other comics treatments of the Bible. I originally pitched reviving the 1950’s series DC Bible Heroes instead of doing Testament. But they said they’d prefer a creator-owned new series with modern elements. Thus, Testament.

    When I said I felt like I was “breaking some new ground” I meant in terms of my particular treatment – putting gods outside the panels, making it about the telling of the story, and exploiting a lot of what I learned from Scott McCloud’s books about the “gutter.” Indeed, there’ve been lots of people using sequential narrative to tell Bible stories. I was trying to do something a little meta in the way I was relating past and future, bla bla bla. I didn’t mean to suggest mine was the first comic.

    As for St. Paul, I meant that as a way of saying that I’m hopelessly biased against all efforts to “market” religion, and see them too easily. So I look at Paul’s suggestion to the Pharisees that sacrament, though not real, would get people to practice Judaism as a cynical marketing effort aimed at getting Greeks and others to the table. Even though he later declared it to be a real thing.

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