Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Bibliotheca Bible: a Short Review

In the first quarter of 2015 my wife ordered me a special Bible for my birthday (which is in the summer). The Bible had been funded on Kickstarter and was still in production, with plans to ship that year. But things did not go as expected for Adam Lewis Greene and his Bible printing project. Some surprises were good―he received far more financial backing than he thought possible. That being so, he decided to increase the manufacturing quality of his project. Other surprises included the unanticipated difficulty and effort involved in “respectfully updating” an archaic English translation (more on this later), and other production hiccups. In the end, the project took far longer than he thought. It was finally packaged and delivered in December 2016. Greene calls the four-volume Bible set Bibliotheca. In an e-mail update dated 5 October 2016, Greene said:

I sincerely wish we had been able to deliver the finished product sooner. We did our best—and I’m confident that because we took the time we did, we have made the best books we could have shipped to you. The editorial team, the researchers, the proofreaders, the scholars, and Kösel have all brought their expertise to the table to create something that I trust you’ll find enjoyable, enriching, and enduring.

The Bible is a four-volume set. Each volume is very well made, having a cloth-over-board cover of a gray tone, with gold embossed title on the spine. Greene decided to spare no expense on the binding and the paper. The paper is a woodless, stone-based paper that is a hearty thickness for a Bible and allows very little “ghosting” of the text (where the writing on the other side of a sheet shows through). The books feel good in the hand, and are lighter than your typical Bible because it’s not the whole thing in one. Oh, and each one has a ribbon marker. Nice touch.

The main attraction of the Bible is that the text is laid out like that of a normal book. There are no verse or chapter numbers, no footnotes, study notes, or cross references embedded in the text. It is a clean and easy reading experience, without all the clutter we have somehow come to expect in our Bibles. The typeface (font) used for these books is a custom serif drawn by Greene himself especially for this project. Greene is a book designer by trade. The lines of text are aligned on the left, not justified (aligned on both sides), and I really prefer this. Even the ESV six-volume readers Bible and the NIV Books of the Bible have justified text, as do most books. This, I suppose, is because editors think the evenness on both sides looks better (it may also fit more text on each page). But justifying a column of text requires the word processing program to adjust the size of the spaces between words on each line. The unequal spacing that results can create visible “rivers” of white space on a page. Left-aligned text avoids this, as it leaves the spacing alone. Who cares if the text is “ragged” on the right side of the column?

The space between the lines (called the leading (pronounced “lehd-ing”)) in Bibliotheca is nice and generous. This reduces the density of the text on the page and makes for more pleasant reading. It is easier for the eye to track from one line to the next one. And the font size itself looks to be around size 10 (it is impossible to tell precisely). Many Bibles have smaller letters and lines packed closer together. This is understandable since the Bible is, well, really really long, and if you want it all inside of one volume, the laws of physics dictate that you’ll have to make some trade-offs. By splitting the Bible into four volumes, Greene was able to make each volume more spacious, with nice thick paper and a excellent typographical layout.

So, what’s not to like about Bibliotheca? Adam Greene and company really poured their hearts into this project and the end product is beautiful. There is only one possible place for critique, and that is the translation itself. Can a translation affect the reading experience, just like the size of the font and quality of the paper? Of course it can.

The text of Bibliotheca is based on the American Standard Version, published in 1901. The ASV was in turn based on the Revised Version, which was a revision of the King James Version, done in England in the 1800s. Adam Greene’s original idea was simply to replace the thees and thous and whatnot with modern equivalents. But updating a translation, it turns out, is not so easy. He ended up using some more of his funding on hiring some translation specialists of some kind to help with the update. The result is probably just what Greene was hoping for. (I heard an interview with Greene where he talked about what he wanted in the translation.) Now, I do not know how different the Bibliotheca text is from the original ASV. Granted, all the thees and thous are gone, but this was no “modernization” of the ASV. The Bibliotheca text has that very old and somewhat distant sound to it that some readers are sure to love. I, however, find reading it to be like chewing tough meat. For instance, on page 309 of volume I, we read about the time Balaam “smote” his “ass” because she stopped walking. On page 26, we read that the waters of Noah’s flood “assuaged.” We sometimes―though not often―talk of assuaging anger, but not water. Archaisms like these are not the only problem with this kind of translation. The phrasing and word order can also be odd and unnatural. Again, there are others who really enjoy this. To them, this is what “the Bible” sounds like! But the result for me, sadly, is that I often find myself reading my NIV Books of the Bible edition, a single-volume NIV readers Bible, instead of this beautiful and lovingly crafted set.

Some final notes: The original ASV is one of the few Bibles to transliterate the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Old Testament. That is, the covenant name God revealed to Moses―Jehovah, or Yahweh. The ASV uses “Jehovah.” Most English Bibles, including the KJV, follow the practice of the Greek Septuagint (LXX) and use “Lord” (often in small caps) wherever the Tetragrammaton occurs, as did the Apostles in authoring the New Testament under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. (The Tetragrammaton does not appear in the Greek New Testament at all, even in quotations from the Old Testament from passages that include it―since the Apostles quoted the Old Testament out of the LXX.) There is some controversy as to which practice is better. Bibliotheca, an update of the ASV, employs “YHWH” in small caps. This looks very nice. I think it was better than retaining the ASV’s “Jehovah” since there is even more controversy about whether we should use that particular pronunciation. This in fact leaves the reader to choose a pronunciation or not to pronounce it all (since four consonants are not pronounceable without the reader’s express and personal addition of some vowel sounds, at least mentally). Finally, be it known that Bibliotheca prints the words of Christ in black, just like all the other words … as should all Bibles.

P.S., I had originally planned to include some pictures of my Bibliotheca books for this review. But good book pictures are hard to take and probably wouldn’t turn out well. And besides, professional pictures have already been taken. Have a look-see here: http://www.bibliotheca.co/#about

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