Bibliotheca

There is a part of me that is a bit sad about the waning popularity of the bible in popular discourse.

In many African spaces, the bible continues to be an influential text shaping the lives of many.  For many Africans, like myself, the bible is where we formed our earliest relationship with literary text.

I am no longer a Christian, but I remember reading the bible at home and participating in Christian gatherings where we read passages in the bible and reflected on them in ways that were meaningful to us.

That’s how I first learned that a text can have levels of meanings, and that sometimes the true meaning of a text is not always readily available. It is hidden and, as such, has to extracted.

This fundamental intellectual practice called interpretation has stayed with me. Today, I work with a different body of texts—novels— but I do essentially the same thing. I interpret these texts.

To be honest, the bible doesn’t always give the best advice on certain social and political issues dear to contemporary life. But the bible is a fine specimen of literary penmanship.

The bible is an enormously rich library of stories. Lots of these stories are weird. Some are supernatural. Some are erotic.

There is a good bit of sensational stuff too. If you’re into fast-paced thrillers peppered with graphic violence, there’s enough bible stories to keep you glued to your couch for a whole weekend.

In reality though, the bible is in need of a wider readership—people who do not care about the bible’s religious message, people who would connect with the text even though they do not particularly think of it as inspired of or “written” by God.

For that to happen, the bible does need a makeover. As far as design goes, the bible is a disaster. The tiny letters, text-heavy page, tome-like volume are not particularly endearing to contemporary readers.

Is there a way to redesign the bible in such a way that makes it more accessible as a literary text?

A book designer, Adam Greene, has stepped in to fill this gap through a project he is calling Bibliotheca. He received over a million dollars in Kick Starter funds to produce a four part volume of biblical stories redesigned for literary consumption. 

What do you think?

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

7 Responses to “Would You Read the Bible if it Were a Novel?” Subscribe

  1. Hope Nwosur 2014/08/18 at 12:03 #

    Well, I literally stopped reading where you said you were longer a Christian. What happened and why on earth did you abandon Christendom?.

    Kindly retrace your steps while it is still day.
    God bless you.

  2. Onyemelukwe 2014/08/18 at 21:31 #

    I think that is fascinating. Like you, I am no longer a Christian. But I also grew up with the bible, not as intimately as you did but in weekly Sunday school.

    I hope his project succeeds.

  3. Manowa Fufeyin 2014/08/19 at 08:50 #

    This actually called for some thinking and a look for a best way to verbalize what I have been feeling ever since I took a softer path as respects religious with rethink. The course I have taken is a bit akin to what Thomas Pain subscribed: it is better to believe that space is infinite than to believe that it has some abrupt brick-walled boundaries to it at some point out there; and some other thought flow by him in a similar fashion.

    Here in Africa, we have not been completely alienated from nature as yet by technology, as it was in many other cultures at some point in their history, we are still able to experience some phenomena that bound on the supernatural. ‘Tis no reference to hurricanes, earthquakes/tsunamis and other natural disasters beyond the control of man; and on the Western end, ’tis no reference to actualities like black holes, potential other universes, etc.

    Phenomena which bound on the supernatural
    I grew up with an Auntie, about a 100 old now, who was an Oracle to a god called Wenibuwo-Seikorogha [she believed hers was a mediator to a supreme God]. People from all over the creeks of the Niger delta came for solutions to their problems that were as varied as theft of personal property, protection from enemies, dwindling or how to grow wealth, health, to seeking fame and winning elections, etc. I still remember a ‘white-man and white-wife’ who came as one of such clients, as did the Steve Jobs, Richard Geres and McCarfeys on their visits to India and elsewhere. Just one case I’ll like to mention is the case I call the spirituo-bulletproof—a case of flesh and blood like like in you and me becoming impenetrable to cutlass assaults and bullets from AK47. Some of my own older siblings tried the stuff during the Ijaw-Itsekiri War; and it’s what gave the Niger Delta Militants, the temerity to try the Nigerian military in the Creeks.

    I witnessed magic, but it was no mere magic! Just such was the conclusion of a professional Western ‘magician’ in an interview with CNN’s Monnita Rajpal. Money is used up to perform tricks for which people pay to see, but at Pakistan, with just some dirt and leaves, he was taught actual magic by some local boys. His final thought on this: There’s a lot out there, and made reference to our not yet knowing anything about dark-matter and the like.

    This’s precisely the problem. The advanced nations can go on as far as they could but they will only stop on the physical and the explanations behind the physical and observable phenomena. Somehow the white-man believes all will be explicable through science and techn. But the farther they advance, the farther stuff such as the above, the gods, elude and evade them, making only the few among them who still somewhat sense the possibility of these to travel to far ends to get what they want.

    The Bible is still looked up to with respect in Africa, perhaps a bit more than in already opulent lands, because it somehow helps put the vast majority of our inherited belief systems and present convictions, wrong or right or in-between or ‘tri-einther,’ in perspective. All of our miracle-workers [all presently taking cover from Ebola], the ones that actually do any miracle, are just the modern versions of the oracles and native-doctors of then.

    Personally, I feel it is better to believe that man is just a link in the continuum of life upwards, than that he is at the finite upward end, judging from my background and stuff as related above. He is part of the chain, from the least virus that’s almost inanimate up-till man, and then upwards beyond. The lower in the chain the organism the more numerous, up until it becomes just one. I discovered quite some time ago with some amazement that this was also the view of J. J. Rousseau, but with the fantastic addition that this Supreme-One should also hold the entire chain. Some stuff will forever remain inexplicable. This acquiescence and yielding is what births the concept of a God in the African mind. But mind you, this’s steadily under attack and thus under erosion from the West.

    Actually, one shouldn’t expect any serious discourse on anything relating to God from the West, whether purely for literary reasons or not. Except you’re ready to go with the stereotype of one attempting to bring back medieval discussions.

    As for the Adam Green’s attempt, I don’t think it will make much of a difference. Except it’s in movie formats like the “Noah’s” and the Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Cross’s.

  4. Toree 2014/08/19 at 16:41 #

    was it actually necessary to state dat u re no longer a christian? Wats with writers and aethism?

  5. kenyancoffee 2014/08/21 at 12:56 #

    Excellent idea and project especially as it is a work of his hands. The originality is authentic enough to warrant a venture.

  6. Alex 2014/08/25 at 00:27 #

    This was special, ‘This fundamental intellectual practice called interpretation has stayed with me. Today, I work with a different body of texts—novels— but I do essentially the same thing. I interpret these texts’.

    You know, there’s a guy in the Religion Department at Duke, Wesley Kort, who theorised your kind of experience, all the dimensions in those your two sentences, nicely.

    However, in Take, Read: Scripture, Textuality, and Cultural Practice, he was working with a broader canvas, and you might want to check it out.

    The second thing is whether you remember the Reader’s Digest’s approach to this same objective of reaching a wider audience and the consequent need for a Bible made over.

    I think that was in the 1980s, and it was controversial then, but was also part of a long tradition of condensation. And there are quite a number of varied approaches, all hoping to converge on that singular, laudable objective.

    Much of the objections to this kind of thing will be founded on some sort of claim of desacralisation, but there it is.

    I wish Greene the very best.

  7. Omosefe Aisosa 2014/08/28 at 14:32 #

    Christ is The only Way,its hard to Believe but it is True….Do you believe A person as perfect as You I mean physically will be a Mistake or a World as well planned out as the one we are in will be a result of some cosmic explosion…MRS.Writer Think twice o

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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