In a previous newsletter I mentioned the beautiful work Dana Tanamachi did for Crossway’s Illuminated Bible. In this edition I want to say a little more about the recent revival of interest in beautifully printed and bound Bibles and prayer books.
If you’re interested in how Bibles are being made these days, your first stop should be the Bible Design Blog — mostly dormant for a few years now, but full of interesting entries with many useful photographs. See also this excellent post by my friend Wesley Hill. I myself own some beautifully bound Bibles, but I am always slightly uneasy about them. They are precious, but that’s a word with several meanings, and all of them are operative here.
Gabriel Josipovici, The Book of God: A Response to the Bible:
The Bible, for most of us, is distinguished from other books first of all by its physical appearance. It is a book bound in black leather, its pages edged with gold or red, printed on very thin paper in double columns, with numbered verses and headings to each chapter or page, and sometimes with medial margins crammed with references in tiny print to other verses in the book. The reason for the double columns and the thin paper is simply that it is a very long book and that, unlike the complete works of Shakespeare, it is meant to be carried about, so it can’t be too large. The paraphernalia is there to help us find our way about its labyrinthine recesses. But so strongly does habit colour our responses that a major reason why the New English Bible was greeted with such a chorus of disapproval was surely that in most editions it was designed to look just like any other book.
I first read Josipovici’s book thirty years ago, and few texts have done more to help me reckon with what a strange thing the Bible is and how difficult it is to read it. (Josipovici is an English novelist and critic who realized at some point in mid-life that he needed to get to grips with the Bible and so taught himself Hebrew and Greek to facilitate the task.)
For the last couple of years my everyday Bible has been this ESV Reader’s Edition, a plain hardcover that’s printed and bound like a novel or a work of history. I typically do not use highlighters, but I’ve been doing this little experiment in which I go through the Bible to isolate certain themes. For instance, the blue highlighting marks passages that relate to N. T. Wright’s comprehensive (some might say rather too comprehensive) account of the Big Story of the Bible; the green marks passages that deal with Christology. I also have been marking in a different color the passages that deal with what St. Paul calls the “principalities and powers,” a topic I am profoundly interested in. It’s nice to have a Bible around that’s marked up in this particular way. Perhaps later I will add new themes, and use new colors to identify them.