Monday, November 14, 2011

Down with the Family Bible

Last week just came and went! Sorry for not posting more.  We're getting into the crunch time of the quarter and the assignments, they are a'pilin' up.

As I was preparing for Sunday Mass this week I kept thinking about family bibles.  Do you have one of these? You know the style I'm talking about, that massive tome of a Bible people buy you when you get married.  The kind that creaks when you open it, because it's so enormous it might as well be a door than a cover; and it has gold plating or big frilly letters (which are extraordinarily hard to read).

Seriously, I think this one was carved out of oak.  

Aren't those bibles just ridiculous? I mean, who's ever going to read a Bible like that? You could burst blood vessels just putting it on your lap.  You're likely to fall over when you try to lift it. It's the version you're "supposed to have", but honestly, I'm going to weigh in and say these family bibles actually keep people from reading the Bible.  They're way too big and too heavy for regular use.  And we'd all be a lot better off throwing ours and getting a fit-in-your-backpack handheld version.

And since we're on the subject, you know the other thing we need? We need a version of the Bible that is accessible to people who don't have degrees in Scripture.  And I don't mean a kind translation, although that's a fine place to start. I mean a version that isn't so overwhelming to jump into.  The Bible has literally dozens of books. And if you wander into the wrong one (and yeah, Leviticus, that means you)  it's like walking into a foreign film without the subtitles. Or walking into an accounting lecture when you thought you were going to see a movie. Or walking into the movie J. Edgar when you thought you were going to see something entertaining. Which it is most definitely not.

Point being: you're not going to like the experience. You're going to get up and walk out.  

How do we fix this? Some Bibles put a little "This is what this book is about" introduction on each new book.  That's not bad.  If written well it gives you some useful context.

Maybe we could attach tabs to certain books, ones that are a great place for a non-Scripture scholar to start. Books like Ruth and Jonah and Samuel and Kings and Genesis and Exodus. Short books, with a clear story, or books like the Psalms that are broken into really distinct chunks that can be absorbed individually (or skipped without hurting anything).  

Or maybe in the sections that are just impossible to appreciate, we insert an editorial comment telling us, this is what this section is about, and here's how long it goes, feel free to skip it.  I hate to say that, but the thing is, if you're not an academic, the Bible is first and foremost a place you go to for inspiration and direction. It's a place to meet God.  Hearing about how many freaking cubits the temple was long and wide is just not that.

Maybe in addition to the "complete works" we should sell the books of the Bible separately, the way we do the works of Shakespeare. That alone might go a long way to making it all more manageable for readers.  You could keep the first 5 books together (they are one unit); Luke and Acts; maybe Samuel and Kings.  But otherwise you split it all up, so that people can just pick up one book at a time, and not be overwhelmed by having them all there together -- or get frustrated just trying to find the book they want.  (It can be a real pain, can't it?)

We call the Bible the Good Book. And boy, it is.  Now what do we do to help people to use it?

PS And hey -- how about some visual aids?? Sometimes I think the children's bibles are the only ones that get it right.

Tells the story all by itself, doesn't it? 
(Although if you didn't know better, you might think
the baby Jesus was radioactive.)


Pete the Brit said...

Have you seen this book?

I find it a great primer as a way to introduce people to the large themes and story of the bible without them getting lost in Leviticus, and as the book is narrative it is an easy read :)

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

Oo! Thanks, Pete! I'll have to check it out. Other people have suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I have a "Daily Walk" bible (Tyndale, I think) that has some interesting notes. It is intended to help you read through the Bible in a year and while I am not a fan of that practice in and of itself, I do like the helpful notes -- maps, charts to explain who's who and what's happening, even little footstep icons with thoughts on how the passage is applicable. The overtone is sometimes a little Fundamentalist Protestant for my walk, but I can appreciate the guidance without getting too caught up in that.

I also think that online Bibles that are cross referenced help -- reading Creighton's daily reflections or the UCCB and then being able to connect to other, related readings helps.

All in all, I think the Protestants do a WAY better job at this than Catholics. I think the traditions as to who gets to interpret have something to do with that (and pardon the regression, but the new GRIM (oh, sorry... GIRM) and its background/overtone aren't going to help).

Carol said...

A little bit of a tangent, but I wanted a copy of the new Daily Roman Missal. What I actually wanted was something lightweight and portable enough to carry without strain, and with large enough print to read without strain, or drugstore reading glasses. The book shop clerk told me that what i really wanted was a Kindle or iPad version.

My current "most use" Bible is the Ignatius large print one (for the second reason named above.) Unfortunately, the reference material isn't in the giant type.

While I love a physical book, taking advantage of what computers have to offer in terms of organization may be the wave of the future for sacred scripture. It would be easy enough to be able to access excerpts of books, organize books by theme and "flavor," have help menus with explanatory notes, that sort of thing that just doesn't happen fluidly with printed matter.

Gutenberg must be rolling in his grave!

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