“What’s your favourite book?” It’s something that is asked when you want to know someone better. It’s a very intimate question because of what books are. Books contain words and words relate the thoughts, ideas and the perceptions of people. Therefore, what you read has the capacity to influence you. When I ask what your favourite book is, your answer gives me insight into the kind of person you are. I get to see the reference points and worldviews that influence you.
Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible, is an ode to the Word of God. Every line and every verse mentions God’s Word. Moreover, it is an acrostic piece where each stanza corresponds to the sequence of the Hebrew Alphabet. (I wish I could read Hebrew so I can directly enjoy the poetic brilliance of this psalm!) I can confidently say at the time David crafted this piece the Scriptures consisted mostly of the Torah. If you asked David what his favourite book was, he would have said the Law of Moses.
The Bible, the perennial global best seller, is numbers wise the world’s favourite book. Lately, I have been thinking about it a lot. It’s not the passages and their meaning per se I have been reflecting on. I have been pondering over what it is. Apart from the theological issues, the form and presentation of the text have been on my mind.
When most people see a large, thick tome that is a little worn out, crammed with tiny writing, littered with reference material on very thin pages, they assume it’s a Bible. I must confess, that is a very unattractive book. The Bible however, as a literary work alone, has a long fascinating tradition. I guess it’s only quite recently in its history that it has taken this dreary form.
There is such a thing as Bible design. A friend of mine showed me an idea he had for arranging the text of the Holy Scriptures. Seeing this inspired me to rethink my perception of what a Bible should look like. I also laud the efforts of Adam Greene and his project Bibliotheca which fully opened my eyes to the realm of Bible design.
We live in the consumer age where things are tailor made to the myriad tastes of the public. Even in the world of luxury and high end goods, it’s still possible to have something customized for you. I recently read a Bible being described as “the Rolls-Royce of Bibles.” People have dream homes, dream cars and dream jobs. I want to have a dream Bible, a custom made Bible that suits my tastes.
So what would my dream Bible look like? First of all, I would get rid of all the verse and chapter numbers, headings, footnotes and everything that is not Holy Writ from within the text. Even though verses and chapters are great for referencing and studies, they cripple your reading experience. I remember an instance where I was mulling over a particular passage and I was not getting it (it’s very frustrating when that happens.) The Holy Spirit pointed out I should ignore the verse and chapter divisions. Suddenly, it all made sense. For millennia the Scriptures did not have these inclusions and I think it is time we went back to a native reading of the text. Also the text will be arranged in single columns like most books.
Next, I would alter the arrangement of the books. The Bible is not a single book but a compendium covering different genres and eras. On account of this, how the Biblical volume is arranged matters.
The Holy Scriptures are a heritage we enjoy from Jewish culture and tradition. The Bible is a very Jewish book and in my studies I endeavour not to ignore this. The Hebrew Bible is arranged differently to the English Bible. The first major difference is the designations “Old Testament” and “New Testament”. The Hebrew Bible, which is also known as the Tanakh, only consists of the Old Testament. TaNaKh is an acronym for Torah i.e. the Law; Nevi’im i.e. the Prophets; and Ketuvim i.e. the Writings. These are the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. I would like my Bible to conform to this arrangement.
There are several covenants in the Bible. The Old and New Testaments are two examples that are compared in the Book of Hebrews. I personally think naming the two parts of Scriptures after these covenants is inaccurate. The “Old Testament” can simply be called “the Former Writings” and the “New Testament” called “the Latter Writings.” People in Jesus’ time would often refer to the Former Writings as “the Prophets.” Prophets were central to the text (Hebrews 1:1, 2.) As you can see, the titles they gave were organic, proceeding from the text. In the same vein the Latter Writings can be called “the Apostles.” The apostles after all are the primary source of the material. I think there is strong precedence in the text for such a name.
The Latter Writings, like the Former, will have three divisions. They are the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation. The Gospels would consist of John, Mark, Matthew, and then Luke-Acts. I chose John to come first because its introduction is reminiscent of Genesis. Also its perspective is different from the “historical” pieces in the Latter Writings. Mark precedes Matthew because modern Biblical scholarship tends to think Mark was written before Matthew. Luke and Acts are placed together because Acts is really a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Acts is placed with the Gospels because it too is a historical record. The Epistles of Paul will still be grouped together but this time chronologically. The remaining epistles will be grouped according to their respective authors. Now the Book of Revelation stands on its own because of its uniqueness.
Before the era of printing took hold in Europe, beautiful illuminated manuscripts of the Bible were produced. I would love Bibles to have an artistic quality to them. I have fond memories from my childhood of the images and illustrations from the children’s Bibles I had. Even when I was a lot older, I came across a New Testament which had stunning full colour photographs of the Holy Land that really caught my eye. Even the style of the fonts must be considered. I would really love a font that somewhat resembles handwriting. Bibles that are visually appealing are not only attractive, they are memorable and they enhance a person’s experience of the book.
Lastly my dream Bible would be durable. I wonder, if the ancient manuscripts were produced with modern standards would we have such a rich manuscript tradition? I often see Bibles that are in various states of disarray. Perhaps it is because of the way we use and treat them nowadays. We have the Word of God in the Scriptures today because of preservation. We need to not only have our life spans in mind but posterity too. The thin translucent paper (which yellows over time) and the binding that all too easily breaks does not help. The form of the Scriptures needs to be robust like the enduring Truths found in them.
In the Tabernacle of Witness the tables of the law were kept in the ornately adorned Ark of the Testimony. God taught his people to treasure his Word and keep it. The Bible too needs to be thoughtfully designed and well presented. It is the most important book a man can ever read in this world.
When I described some of the features of my dream Bible I revealed a little of myself. I drew on the influences of Biblical scholarship, theology, history, Hebrew tradition, art and design, the innovation of others and my personal experiences among other things. In my Bible studies I mostly use software. I have ideas for my Dream Bible software too. (I think I’ll dub it “The Ultimate Bible”.) This takes things to another level all together. What does your dream Bible look like?