Monday, November 17, 2008

Bible Illuminated The Book New Testament Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Bible Illuminated: The Book New Testament
Creators: Illuminated World, Dag Soderberg
In partnership with: American Bible Association
Publication: Illuminated World (October 28, 2008), American release, in English
ISBN: 978-9197669443
Full Retail Price: $35.00

Summary Statement: An Overpriced Trojan Horse

This book resembles a magazine with glossy paper, including the thin paper cover. It is not sturdy and my copy is showing wear after a small amount of gentle use. The cost is quite high for a magazine-like binding. I had thought it would be more like a coffee table book with a sturdy binding, possibly hardcover, but that is not what this is.

Regarding the text itself, the American Bible Association has given permission for The Good News version of The New Testament to be used in this publication. So this is not a new translation of text, if you are looking for a more modern language translation perhaps you should look into “The Message” by Eugene Peterson (it can be viewed online for free or purchased in book form).

The font is two different sizes, is quite small, and is laid out in either three or four columns. Readers over age 40 may need to don their cheaters to read this book. The typical Bible annotation with numbers and chapters is not here so it really looks like a magazine article layout (it is slick and modern looking). Also some of the text is highlighted with yellow block, and other times the text is in red font, which naturally catches our eye. At times the highlighted text also appears as a caption to the accompanying photograph. I had trouble at times connecting the meaning of the quote with the chosen image. It is interesting to ponder why that little blurb was selected versus some other. Also some photographs have their own caption (not a Bible quote) to explain a little about what we are looking at.

I was confused by many of the images selected and some of the captions and some of the quotes, and pondered for days what the source of my discomfort was and why I was reacting negatively to the book. Many of the images are not closely tied to literal interpretations of the text nor are they just artistic abstract images or nature images. Sometimes when a photo has an excerpt from the Bible I just don’t understand the matching of the image to the text, no matter how long I contemplate it. Other times it seems the captions led me to a belief that was apart from what the Bible was saying, extrapolating a notion in the Bible to possibly relate to air pollution, meat eating, global warming, over-consumption, poverty, access to modern health care, gender inequality in education and access to prescription drugs for HIV positive people in third world countries.

The second and more dangerous issue is that through these images and the added, new text inserted by the book’s creators, the message that comes across to the reader that is above and beyond what Christians usually take from the content in the New Testament. In other words a message from this book is not the same or typical messages gleaned by those who read JUST the text of the New Testament. Christians believe the Bible is the word of God and Christians take the Bible’s words, combine them with prayer to listen to what God leads them to do to put God’s words into action. However in this book, the creators have added the word of man (their words) mixed in with the Bible’s words, combining it with God’s call to help others. The creators of the book call readers to take action, to take specific actions, political and social actions to fulfill the stated goals of the United Nations. Instead of leaving the reader to contemplate, pray and figure out how they can apply the word of God and Jesus Christ to help their fellow man with their direct actions, the publishers boldly tell readers what they would like to see the reader do (support the United Nations and to donate their money for one thing).

I am referring to the portions that reference “Eight Ways to Change the World” which is a goal of the United Nations called the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ which they hope will be realized by the year 2015. Readers are called to action by supporting initiatives of the United Nations and to donate their money (just one dollar you donate can help…) to such causes as improving medical care for pregnant women in third world countries to try to lower the maternal mortality rate, and also a call to action to get more prescription drugs for Africans with AIDS, to name just two. In case you think I am exaggerating, I have an email from Dag Soderberg that confirms this stated objective, to try to influence readers to support the United Nations objective. Some of the photographs in this book first appeared in a show featuring photographs to support “Eight Ways to Change the World”. It seems that Dag Soderberg then hatched the idea to bring the message of that show to Americans and other English speaking peoples by combining that message with a New Testament Bible (the Bible is book that repeatedly sells the most copies year after year).

A section of the book has photographs of some people who have lived in this last century who the authors feel have done work to change the world for the better. Some include Angelina Jolie, Bono, Muhammad Ali, Al Gore, and Che Guevara. I will leave you to decide what you think about the individuals selected. Perhaps you will have some issues as I did. One would think that a New Testament that guides Christians might show Christians who have done good works. Instead I arrived at the conclusion that non-believers are ‘good people too’ and didn’t need the Bible to guide their actions. We all know that Godless people, and people of other faiths can do good things but why include it in a New Testament Bible? The fact that the most Christian book in the world has a ‘religion doesn’t matter’ notion is a bit hard for me to take.

Another impression I received was that the Bible is outdated and perhaps not the best advice to take. I point to the spread of what I thought was a gruesome image of a rich white woman tearing apart a roasted goose with her bare hands (an unrealistic and creepy image). The Bible text with it puts down what we call ‘being a vegetarian’. Will that not tick off and gross out the vegetarian social activists out there and lead them to put down The New Testament as outdated and just wrong? In another section the statement that women must submit to their husbands is highlighted but text about how a husband needs to treat his wife well is not highlighted. Another recommendation that women must have long hair goes against what many modern women choose concerns their hair length.

I called this a Trojan Horse because I think that people will seek to buy this because they want the message of the Bible with an appealing visual element, but instead they receive messages from non-Christians urging them in words and powerful images to take social and political action to support the initiatives of the United Nations. Readers who look only at the photographs, captions, highlighted text and read the new section about the United Nations will be more susceptible to that influence than those who already know the content of the New Testament or those who actually read the text in this version.

So who are the creators or illuminators as they call themselves? From the official website, we learn that creator of “Illuminated World” is Dag Soderberg who “ is a spiritual but not particularly religious individual”. The others involved are investors and business people. From the publishers website I learned this:
“Are any of the founders or business partners of Illuminated World religious?
There is no religious mission here. We believe that the success of The Book will be driven by the fact that this is not coming from within any specific faith, religion or church. We are from many faiths, backgrounds and beliefs and ultimately trying to create something for the many and not just for the few.”

According to Bible Illuminated website, they are currently working on their version of the Old Testament. Also shared is that the organization has future plans to do translations of other religious books as well.

My "First thoughts" on this book were published on my blog last month, here.

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Shez said...

Had to laugh at this because we tried one of those "mummy in a sarcophagus" paper projects. After an hour we all gave up and tossed it into the recycling bin

christinemm said...

Here is a thought-provoking blog post.

The blogger doesn't like "Bible Illuminated the book New Testament" either.

Carrie said...

THanks for the link up and the link to follow up on your own blog post! (I hadn't seen this post.) Awesome review.

Just last night I had a chance to pick up a copy of the magazine at Borders to flip through it. I was midly amused that it was accidentally printed upside down (at least I assume it was an accident) so that I had to flip the magazine in the other direction to read it right side up!

At any rate, I found the picture placement of the "historical figures" you noted in your post to be curious. I didn't understand why Al Gore was positioned where he was anymore than Angelina Jolie.

bah. Anyway....I'm glad for your post to reference to also. You have spent more time with the book in hand than I have.

Raffi Shahinian said...

Thanks for this. I really appreciate your perspective. I've also put in my 2 cents about the project, for anyone who may be interested.

Grace and Peace,