A Bible As It Might Be

GAS is the clinical term for a psychological issue first recognized in the guitarist community. It's an acronym for "Gear Acquisition Syndrome." I got it early on in life, and I've had it ever since.

It comes in a few forms. One of them - most prevalent with books, for me - is completism. Series of books are self-reinforcing, cookbooks especially. There are two series of cookbooks that I will buy less because I'm interested (or able) to make any of their recipes than for the simple satisfaction of a rainbow row of books lined up together, all the same size and series. The other - especially with guitar paraphernalia - is utopianism: drawing up the exact utopian specifications for every last detail, in ways that would honor Fourier himself. This year, my GAS has been for Bibles.

Starting in January, when I first found religion, it was driven by dissatisfaction with the one that I had, which (as I've testified before) I had no idea how to read or even approach. Starting in the late spring, it was linked to the discovery of new favorite authors and new versions. As of the last month, it's been enabled and furthered by the GAS-inducing Bible Design and Binding Blog, which finally confirmed what I'd realized without knowing: that the Bibles I like are both marginal and poorly-supported. (The marginality and support are directly tied into the Discourse of Decline, and while it's going to take a lot of research to get the details it will be touched upon.)

I'd tried outlining point-by-point things about my dream Bible before. I fell asleep last night on  another specific list from Christian Matters of Taste. And in the morning, I awoke to the ever brilliant Slacktivist's article, "When 'evangelism' intends to alienate and exclude," which just about brings me to the matter at hand.

Fred started with an Orwell-grade lead: "The Truth For Youth culture-war Bible we discussed yesterday is destined to be poorly received. I think that's by design." Invisible Neutrino followed up:
One attraction I could see is that for teenagers questioning their place in the universe - what their purpose is - one possible answer is given in the Bible and its associated faith. But it has to be a process of self-discovery. You can't just patly supply the answer and expect someone to uncritically accept it; that's not the bedrock of a proper foundation of a faith-based existence.
It's linked because I'm still responding to it, and will write more on that in the future. But the first words out of my mouth on reading that were "I've been mulling over something like that myself..."
Evangelicals have tons of teen Bibles, with very specific culture-war topical notes and horrid garish finishes that instantly doom them to a fate no Bible should ever have: being outgrown. (I can't speak for the mainline, but I was given more or less a bonded-leather pew Bible; I have sentimental bonds to it but it's been totally unapproachable my whole life.)
Teenagers are questioning and establishing their place in the cosmos, and the Bibles they're given either give them pat answers or walls of text that are clearly meant to be filled in by an outside source (which teens are challenging.) From a product-side view (inspired by lurking on the Better Bibles Blog), somebody needs to design a Bible that lends itself to being both critically engaged and kept.
I'd mulled over specifics in the past, but right there was a half-sentence embodiment of what my dream Bible is meant to be. And now I'm going to spell out why it would look like itself - and what that self would look like.

What should a gift Bible be for?

At heart, my dream Bible is a gift Bible, one that's meant to be given away. This means that it's going to involve a single presentation page in the front - but it means more than that, which the Bible market's product designers seem completely unaware of.
  • Firstly, a gift Bible should be respectable. In the old days there was such a thing as "the family Bible," which the family would actually read from and pass down through the ages. The people I know who had such things still have most of them, and prize them as heirlooms even if they don't read them much themselves.

    A huge part of the Bible market is (as a hardline moderate would say) cheesy, not classy: these are Bibles that only make sense when you realize that nobody buys them for themselves, only to give away. (This isn't even counting the many "gift" Bibles that are outright trash, with plastic covers and unfiled, punch-rounded corners.)
  • A gift Bible needs to be readable. I don't mean that it should be light reading. I mean that to say that it is, at its most basic, a text, and more importantly one that you're not going to have any control over.

    Most importantly, a gift Bible (especially one given at confirmation) is one that's meant to be read primarily outside of church. A lot of Bibles seem designed to be pew Bibles, which entails size requirements that in turn have layout requirements.
  • A gift Bible needs to be general.
 So with those parametric statements in place, let's cut to my design specs.

Design specs for my dream Bible

Starting off with the big one: the text block for my dream Bible is the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha. Why? First and foremost because it's my dream Bible, and I grew up on the NRSV, and right now I may occasionally need recourse to the Apocrypha in a portable format. But there's more to it than that...
  • The NRSV is desperately short on decent bindings. This is an attempt to mediate that.
  • I recently read a history of the King James Bible, which inevitably discussed the language - not just how the Anglicans meddled with Reformed prooftexts and stuff, but the prosody. In the modern day, we parse it as being opaque and Biblish - but in 1611, that wasn't the AV's vibe at all: it sounded a little bit old-timey and very smart. NRSV gives me that vibe.
Why the Apocrypha?
  • Because I have no idea what circumstances it'll be needed in. Leaving them in makes it a utility Bible - you can use the same one for liturgical reading, academic writing, and praying the Daily Office when you jump ship to higher churchery than you were born into.
  • The most cryptic part of the NRSV is the one that I'm pretty sure has to be left in - specifically, Bruce Metzger's address to the reader, during which he cites his sources and stuff like that. The thing with gift Bibles is that you can't control what part of them gets read, and I remember being genuinely curious about what the fuck Bruce was going on about.
  • The Apocrypha should be included especially because most Protestants don't read them. If I gave it to a teenage me, I'd expect to hear a question about what the hell were these books in my Bible that weren't in the pew Bibles. Attention, mainline authority figures: if you can make people ask you questions like that, you're doing it right. And the answers to those questions give you a chance to start talking about big questions, like how you understand the Scripture itself. That's a good thing.
My dream Bible is short and stout. I don't have numbers, but look at what he's discussing on the far side of the link. See that combined BCP/NRSV that's as thick as a phone book? Something like that. This makes it compact enough to be portable.
  • Oh yeah, like that link says, I said "short and stout" because my dream Bible is single-column paragraphed. In maybe 9pt font or thereabouts. This is already a hard slog, and I want this to read more easily.A small thick Bible has other ergonomic things too. If you want to get a soap box and a corner to stand on, you can hold it over your head for extended hellfire sermons. If you got a pulpit, you can thump it and it will thump satisfyingly.
Like that link suggests, my dream Bible is single-column paragraphed. Maybe 9pt. font. I've managed to dig up a NKJV that does this nicely, and it does read better as a result.
  • NRSV text blocks have many more subdivisions than I like. Adjusting that for paragraphs, you'd have to take a lot of them out or waste space. Maybe combine this with an Oxford-style descriptory tag in the margins, top or bottom I'm not sure? (Side effect of this is that it'd look classic.)
  • On the subject of margins, my dream Bible has a single page numbering that runs all the way through. Open up to the middle of your Bible, and then try to estimate how many pages you have to go before you get to page 150 of the New Testament - kludgy, especially if you don't read your Bible enormously.
Speaking of binding, my dream Bible is a two-piece lay-flat affair. Like the Wesley Study Bible, or any of a huge number of Zondervan NIVs. When you put it down and open it, I want my Little Black Book to lay flat.
  • Did I say that already? No? My dream Bible comes in any color you want, as long as it's black. This is the NRSV we're talking about; the market, at present, isn't big enough to support a huge amount of diversity, which would drive up the production costs for each individual one. (Given the design of the cover, it'd be a simple affair to produce a two-color Bible afterwards, but the first and iconic version of this would have two pieces, black and black.)
  • "Holy Bible" should be in gold lettering on the side. Everything else can be directly embossed into the binding itself. (The Wesley Study Bible did that very nicely.) Simple, classic, and understated.
  • The edging should be gold too, if not art gilt. (I recently saw an Oxford NRSV pew Bible, blue with copper lettering - but while I'd give ten inches of my penis for art copper edging and lettering, gold would be much easier to arrange.)
My dream Bible has cross-references on the inner margin, laid out sans-serif with a dotted line. It's an oddly specific demand for something like this, but since HarperCollins is apparently reliably able to do this right, I'm gonna say it like so, just so they know to copy their work.
  • Yes, those cross-references include the Apocrypha. No reason not to.
  • There's an enormous amount of connections that an unchurched reader is never going to make on their own. The connections between the Gospels and the Isaiah narrative, for instance, or the fact that Jesus references Psalm 22 while he's dying of crucifixion. Cross-referencing takes some of the edge off that. Cross-referencing also gives you a certain sense of satisfaction at connecting the dots yourself, even if you're connecting the dots the margin tells you to.
  • Cross-references on the inner margin will of necessity make the text thicker. This is a good thing, because it makes the next of my specifications more feasible.
My dream Bible has three (3) black ribbons stitched into the stitched binding. Why? Because of the letters B, C, and P, that's why. This Bible should be useful for a devotional Bible, too - and the Daily Office lectionary is one of the more demanding ones as far as sheer flipping of pages is concerned, with three readings plus Psalms. The Psalms don't need bookmarks of their own, for the simple reason that anybody praying the Daily Office lectionary already has a BCP to follow - with the Psalms included. (The Episcopalians doubtless have a press of their own. Why they haven't pushed for a three-ribbon NRSV with Apocrypha already is beyond me.)
  • My dream Bible is a mass-market affair. Three ribbons is an immediate distinctive.
  • Not everybody's going to try praying the Daily Office, obviously - but the cross-references on the inner margin make for a Bible that encourages you to skip around in it. When I was reading the Boomer Bible, I usually needed an entire hand to keep track of where my original page was; three ribbons will help with that nicely. (Isn't it nice when features coincide?)
Because I have no idea what the needs of the reader may be, my dream Bible has a few specific study helps with it:
  • The footnotes are an integral part of the NRSV. All those "Gk" and "OL" and "Syr" and stuff? If it includes a glossary (mine did), list and define every relevant term in Bruce Metzger's address to the reader. They don't teach you what a Peshitta is in Sunday school, and this sort of thing does wonders to debunk pop-culture understandings of Scripture and such.
  • Some maps are really unnecessary. One particular one that comes to mind as being necessary is from the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, of the peoples mentioned Acts 2 during Pentecost. Without that, it's an instance of "what the fuck is going on?"; with that map, the significance of the speaking in tongues becomes obvious and powerful.
And now, having written to exhaustion, I pronounce this Bible-as-it-might-be to be complete enough to post. More later.

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