FOR THOSE progressive Christians asking “What Would Jolie Do?”, there’s a new Bible that’s part Life, part Vogue, part National Geographic. Illuminated World, a Swedish publishing company, just released the English version of The Book: New Testament, a 280-page Bible in magazine form, illuminated like the ancient medieval sacred texts but with photography and art.
Illuminated WoA style magazine version of the New Testament. -By Alisa Harris.rld is hardly a Christian publisher—co-founder Dag Soderberg’s bio says he is “spiritual but not particularly religious”—but its driving passion is to broaden the Bible’s readership by making it relevant and accessible. “If it’s so important, why make a stone out of it?” Soderberg asks.
The cover looks like a zoomed-in Givenchy ad, showing a woman’s painted emerald eye with magazine contents to the left. To read, “If Love Gets Cold,” go to page 260 (Revelation 3—the passage to the church whose love for God had grown tepid). To answer “Questions About Marriage,” go to page 187 (1 Corinthians 7). The pages have columns like a magazine, with headings but no chapters or verses.
Using pert illustrations to make the Bible culturally relevant is nothing new, but The Book escapes the others’ saccharine glitz with provocative art: pictures of a livestock slaughter in a dirty street, photographs of victims of human rights abuse, a black-and-white portrait of a prostitute weeping. Some wry photos smooth the raw ones. An image of a pert Chihuahua sitting on a cushion in a limousine illustrates Romans 1:22-23—“Instead of worshipping the immortal God, they worship images made to look like mortals or birds or animals or reptiles.”
Some of the photos seem slapped in for artistic effect, but most are at least arresting, at best moving. I would put this on my coffee table and read it on the subway—something Soderberg says some won’t do with un-illuminated Bibles.
The Book intertwines religion and politics artistically but breezily—the way too many people entwine it today, signing God’s name to every social petition that includes the words “compassion” or peace.” When God sends a “messenger” to prepare His way, the book illustrates it with pages of celebrity portraits: the Dalai Lama, Bono, Princess Di, Bill Gates, John Lennon, Al Gore and Angelina Jolie.
“Eight Ways to Change the World” are tucked into the book of Luke—a tribute to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals—with pictures of an Indian woman in labor (showing the need to reduce maternal mortality) and the dusty feet and long skirts of Guatemalan school girls (depicting the goal of achieving equality in education). The book endorses global solutions—“Only world leaders can tackle injustice on an international scale”—spurred by social activism—“But they won’t do it without pressure from you.”
Suffragettes and anti-globalization activists illustrate Acts. Revelation’s judgment wreaked is ecological, and it’s difficult to miss the parallel when the passage about Revelation’s Beast—the one the whole earth worshiped and said “Who can fight against it?”—is paired with a picture of oil gushing from a pump into a car.
Illuminated World seems to have accomplished its goal of broadening the Bible’s readership, at least in Sweden, where the market for Bibles increased by almost 50 percent. Newsweek says The Book makes the text “Maybe a bit less holy.” Christianity Today calls some of the photos “sexually charged,” but they’re nowhere approaching lurid. More like Hacking Christianity says: “Sexy. Not in a ‘rock me sexy Jesus’ way, but in a sleek sophisticated way.”
Illuminated World says the goal is to “drive an emotional reaction.” In a day when some see Christianity as a desiccated faith, an emotional reaction to the Bible is good. Its themes—suffering, justice, love and grace—should move people, Christians and non-Christians alike. A Bible that feeds your aesthetic side is also good and this one does, like the ancient texts the monks illuminated with their own rich illustrations.
Alisa Harris is deputy editor of Patrol. She teaches journalism at The King’s College in Manhattan.
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