A California book designer is cleaning up the Bible. By removing unsightly chapter and verse designations, striking footnotes and cross-references, and using thicker paper stock, Adam Greene is hoping to present the Bible as a piece of literature rather than a encyclopedic compendium. Greene, a faithful Christian, undertakes this project (Bibliotheca, as he calls it) for anyone who wants to “enjoy the biblical library anew, as great literary art.”
I admit to having felt a certain degree of uncertainty when I first heard about this project. Doesn’t the attempt to rid the Bible of its annotations and internal structure make it an abstraction, something that fell fully formed out of the sky ready for mass consumption? Don’t the notes and commentaries remind us of the necessary wisdom and guidance of the Church that, after all, assembled the Bible as we know it? And isn’t it somehow deceptive to think of the Bible as just one more book upon the shelf?
These dangers certainly exist. But Greene has hit upon something valuable. Undoubtedly, most commercially produced Bibles today suffer from bad style and poor readability. The flimsy and nearly transparent stock of “Bible paper” sticks together, tears easily, and seems better suited for a magazine than the word of God. And while the encyclopedic format may serve well scholars looking for quick references, it does not quite manage to enthrall the average reader. The clinical and officious formatting of many Bibles today does precisely the opposite, dampening any imaginative engagement with the biblical text and quickly exhausting the reader. When you consider how thrilling and deeply moving the Bible really iswith timeless scenes of love, passion, war, and betrayalit is almost an accomplishment to make it seem as boring as most modern editions do. The Bibliotheca, on the other hand, is truly a beautiful book.
If the New Evangelization is about “re-proposing” the Gospel to those who have forgotten its essence, Christians can start by telling a storythe harrowing story of salvation, which has captivated readers for over two millennia. The Bibliotheca does this in an elegant and straightforward way. It invites readers to pick up the central book of Western civilization and engage with it on its own terms.
Of course storytelling is not on its own sufficientcatechesis must follow. But as any professor will attest, students need to have read the text before they can grasp its wisdom.