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August 7, 2014 3:29 PM   Subscribe

On 28 June, Santa Cruz typographer Adam Lewis Greene submitted his Bible-as-literature project Bibliotheca to Kickstarter for one month of crowdfunding. Within 27 hours, the project had attained its $37,000 funding goal. People kept pledging support. By 26 July, following publication of a Verge article about the project, backing passed the $1 million mark. Two days later, when the fundraising period closed, the project had raised $1,440,345 from 14,884 backers. "No notes, no chapter numbers, no scripture verses. Just the text." What the Success of Bibliotheca Tells Us About the Future of Publishing.

Here are some more articles/interviews worth reading (if the subject interests you!). Greene has clearly given a great deal of thought to the product he's developed, and his views on its design are quite compelling.

Bible Design Blog, 4 July: Interview with Bibliotheca's Adam Lewis Green (part 1)

Bible Design Blog, 5 July: Interview with Bibliotheca's Adam Lewis Green (part 2)

Bible Design Blog, 7 July: Bibliotheca, the ESV Reader's Bible, and the Future of Printed Bibles

Co.Design, 17 July: Redesigning the Bible with Readability in Mind

Bible Gateway, 21 July: A Bible Designed for Beautiful Reading: An Interview with Adam Lewis Greene

The Verge, 22 July: The Bible's a mess, but a designer is fixing it

Bible Design Blog, 28 July: Lessons from Bibliotheca, and More Thoughts on the ESV Reader's Bible
posted by paleyellowwithorange (55 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Instead, he took a public domain translation, tweaked it for modern readers..."

well, as long as he was divinely inspired, I guess.
posted by Earthtopus at 3:39 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Those chapters and verses are actually pretty handy for when you're trying to find something.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:46 PM on August 7 [12 favorites]


Sure, but the same could be said for any book. And it's not as if we live in a world without ready access to many other tools for finding particular passages. The proposition isn't "the apparatus in all Bibles is useless," it's "here's an edition specifically meant for reading."
posted by Shmuel510 at 3:51 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Now the people have delivered a new bible which will sit there unread.
posted by panaceanot at 3:53 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


In regards to this being the future of publishing, doesn't the fact that this is a Bible kind of skew the results? It has a pre-existing readership and "fanbase" (so to speak). Certainly this may be true for some other books but not most or even many (that aren't already conventionally published).
posted by doctor_negative at 3:53 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Design is one thing but the translation is another. The ESV just doesn't read all that well, in my mind. I have been a fan of The Message as a reading Bible for a number of years now. It is a fantastic reading Bible and has a great layout. It has some reference marks, but it uses ranges of verses rather than dividing the text into the familiar individual verses of reference bibles.

I wish the guy well with his project, but what has he done that The Message hasn't?
posted by salishsea at 4:00 PM on August 7


I wish the guy well with his project, but what has he done that The Message hasn't?

Divided the Bible into four volumes, reordered the books, designed a very readable typeface, and put a lot of thought into the layout of the page. You know, like the links said.

Also, he adapted the ASV. The ESV Bible mentioned above is another project with some similarities.

And, unlike the Message, the ASV is a translation. I don't really think the Message can be fairly called that or intends to be that.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:08 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


Sounds more like a book for admiring than a book for reading. Because yes, there are parts of the bible that make good reading, but as a single linear narrative it doesn't really work, does it? They honestly will look nice on the shelf, though.

Also, from the first article "Elegance is always right.". I'm just now helping my sister set up her new computer with Windows 8 on it. Elegance is not always right.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:10 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Ok...that makes sense. I get it. I was just wondering if I was missing anything.
posted by salishsea at 4:15 PM on August 7


Having great success selling a book that is famously purchased far more than it is read does not exactly strike me as something that signals much of anything to the publishing industry in general. Is there really any other book that has such a high ownership to readership ratio?

Actually, maybe I should get a kickstarter going for "Semi-Infinite Jest" -- a new, modern version that puts all the footnotes in-line and splits up the text into four volumes. I'll even invent a new font!
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 4:16 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Is there really any other book that has such a high ownership to readership ratio?

The Yellow Pages, circa 2000 onwards. Assholes won't stop dumping those books at my doorstep.
posted by anonymisc at 4:20 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


Windows 8 is not elegant.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:24 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


In regards to this being the future of publishing, doesn't the fact that this is a Bible kind of skew the results? It has a pre-existing readership and "fanbase" (so to speak). Certainly this may be true for some other books but not most or even many (that aren't already conventionally published).

Yes.

Relying on established brand and name recognition is going to be (already is) a big part of the future of publishing.
posted by grobstein at 4:26 PM on August 7


If they like this, they'll love my Bible II: The Third Testement Kickstarter.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:40 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


From the lead:
They crave elegance—even beauty.

For what purpose? Is this vanity?
posted by meehawl at 4:49 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Dibs on fifth volume in same style for the Mormons.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:52 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


well, as long as he was divinely inspired, I guess

forgive me, but this sounds a bit sarcastic. I think it should be taken seriously. Wars have been fought over whether the masses ought to have access to the content of the bible. historically, the clerical caste have derived their power from their monopoly on the sacred texts. Language has evolved since the major English translations of the bible such that today the uneducated have no chance to understand the message- except through the intermediary of clerics, who we all know are fallible and sometimes flawed, or worse. So, not having read the latest version, I applaud the effort to bring the message to the people, and the intent behind it.
posted by Jeff Dewey at 4:56 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I feel like a lot of the believers I know don't read the bible as literature and don't know how to read the bible as literature. And I emphatically don't mean that in the sense where it's contrary to the bible understood as a divinely-inspired didactic instrument of salvation; I just mean it in the sense that aside from everything else that it is, it's also great literature and should be experienced that way, by believers and non-believers alike.

Realistically, I don't expect non-believers to read, for example, Job. I wish they did for the same reasons I wish people would read many other great books. But it really bothers me that many of the people who have read Job haven't, really, read Job. It's like all those high school students with bad teachers who've had to read Shakespeare but gotten very little from it.

I mean, if you're a believer, then it'd be like those students possibly getting salvation from Shakespeare but otherwise being oblivious to the plays as great literature and drama. I understand that; salvation is pretty darn important. But, as a non-believer, I naturally place a lot of importance on the non-salvation aspects of the bible and, anyway, the bible-as-literature is not exclusive of the bible-as-salvation. So it just bums me out that even many believers aren't reading the bible as literature. Therefore, this seems like a good thing to me on its own terms regardless of what it tells us about the state of publishing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:31 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


There are a lot of good translations of the Bible in contemporary language. But for anyone who wants to read it in the context of its place in the canon of English-written literature, I'd have a really hard time suggesting anything other than the KJV.

I'm not sure which translation is currently considered the best for reading it in the original Hebrew/Greek cultural and historical context, though.
posted by prize bull octorok at 5:57 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


It was a bit sarcastic--it seems a deliberate choice in the sourcing of the text to combine two (conveniently public domain) translations according to his own feel for what will work best. And that's fine, for what it is. The sarcasm was more directed at the breathless marketing summaries, mainly the phrase "tweaked for modern audiences" (and the "but a designer is fixing it" headline from lower in the FPP).

I also cannot help but note that the text being "free from all added conventions" (per the Kickstarter) mercifully does not seem to extend to the numbering of pages. Now *that* would be a radical choice.

Anyway, if the intent is to give "the uneducated" a chance to "understand the message", there may be better ways to do it than a $65-75 price point--I'm not sure I could agree with you that that particular theme is the main point of the work.

But then again, I like the whole textual apparatus and comma-fucking that goes into any massive (re-re-re-)translation project of canon, and the deliberate removal of all that as extraneous probably predisposes me against it a bit. :)
posted by Earthtopus at 6:04 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


There's no easier way to make a mint than by tapping American religion.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:20 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


If they like this, they'll love my Bible II: The Third Testement Kickstarter.

The Book of Qur'mon?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:20 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I bought one. Looks like a real delight. Shipping to Seoul, though, exceeded the cost of the books themselves...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:25 PM on August 7


I also cannot help but note that the text being "free from all added conventions" (per the Kickstarter) mercifully does not seem to extend to the numbering of pages. Now *that* would be a radical choice.

Nah, it would be a return to tradition. Page numbers are a relatively modern extravagance, dating only to 1470 (and didn't become a standard practice until about 1520). If it was good enough for Gutenberg it should be good enough for us, damnit!
posted by jedicus at 7:39 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


From a joke quoted in The New York Times in 1881: "What's the matter with the good old King James version? That was good enough for St. Paul, and it's good enough for me."
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 7:48 PM on August 7


My dream is one day someone will produce a handsome biblical volume that also restores the "camel" from Matthew 19:24 back to a rope.
posted by bionic.junkie at 8:17 PM on August 7


Don't know about you guys but I thought that was one hell of an effective video at selling the product.
posted by chisel at 8:42 PM on August 7


I ordered a set of these and I'm excited to get them. I'm not religious, but I did once set out to read the Bible and found it pretty interesting. I think what a lot of people are missing on the reading angle is that the Bible, as a book, not just as scripture, underlies so much of Western culture. Our literature, speeches, rhetoric, allude to it and echo it constantly, our history has been shaped by it and people's understanding of it. To have not read any of it represents a lack of cultural capital and maybe even cultural literacy.

But hell, no Bible that I'd seen to date is all that readable. Even Bible apps are kind of more reference-y than readable. I mean they're ok for looking stuff up, and if you're religious, I'm sure you want to do that, I don't particularly. I want to read it like a book of literature. Or more accurately, like a series of books of literature -- some novellas (Job), some compilations of short magical realism stories (Genesis), some poetry (Song of Songs).

In some news articles about this, I saw lots of commenters who seemed to think themselves very clever commenting things like "hahaha, who cares? It's all just a bunch of made up stories anyway!!" and it seemed very odd to me given that many many books are a bunch of made up stories and some of them are very good and very culturally important. Even if you think it's all fiction (I'm not sure what I think on this point, to be honest), what's wrong with fiction?

Oh, and leotrotsky there's already a fifth volume. It's the deuterocanonical books. However, a sixth volume containing the Book of Mormon would be awesome. I am not a Mormon. I do own a book of Mormon, but I haven't actually read it because it's not set up to be very readable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:12 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Agreed, re: Book of Mormon. I think it's the second most interesting testament.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:30 PM on August 7


There is a good modern English rendering of the Book of Mormon. I don't have my copy at hand so I can't remember if it had things divided into verses or not, but my faulty memory is telling me it was more-or-less continuous text. I do remember it was quite readable.
posted by honestcoyote at 11:33 PM on August 7


"I must say that the first few hundred pages of this manuscript really hooked me. Action-packed, they have everything today's reader wants in a good story. Sex (lots of it, including adultery, sodomy, incest), also murder, war, massacres, and so on.

The Sodom and Gomorrah chapter, with the transvestites putting the make on the angels, is worthy of Rabelais; the Noah stories are pure Jules Verne; the escape from Egypt cries out to be turned into a major motion picture . . . In other words, a real blockbuster, very well structured, with plenty of twists, full of invention, with just the right amount of piety, and never lapsing into tragedy.

But as I kept on reading, I realized that this is actually an anthology, involving several writers, with many - too many - stretches of poetry, and passages that are downright mawkish and boring, and jeremiads that make no sense.

The end result is a monster omnibus. It seems to have something for everybody, but ends up appealing to nobody. And acquiring the rights from all these different authors will mean big headaches, unless the editor takes care of that himself. The editor's name, by the way, doesn't appear anywhere on the manuscript, not even in the table of contents. Is there some reason for keeping his identity a secret?

I'd suggest trying to get the rights only to the first five chapters. We're on sure ground there. Also come up with a better title. How about The Red Sea Desperadoes?"

- Umberto Eco, Misreadings
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:14 AM on August 8 [15 favorites]


I would love to see a version of this for the Quran.

hoping this doesn't get me all the smites from my muslim family
posted by divabat at 3:02 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


~ What the Success of Bibliotheca Tells Us About the Future of Publishing.
~Instead, he took a public domain translation, tweaked it for modern readers.


Um...That sharing profits with any writers is dead?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:11 AM on August 8


Um...That sharing profits with any writers is dead?

Man, John the Baptist's estate is getting so ripped off
posted by threeants at 6:18 AM on August 8


My dream is one day someone will produce a handsome biblical volume that also restores the "camel" from Matthew 19:24 back to a rope.

Yeah, all those miserable rich people unnecessarily giving away all their possessions because of a translation error. It's about time someone reassured Christians that it's okay to be wealthy and eat lots of HAMBURGERS.
posted by straight at 7:39 AM on August 8


Divabat: Yeah, I was also thinking co-oordinated sets of the scriptures of major world religions would be cool.

Yann Martel in one of his letters to PM Harper wrote about a Hindu scripture. I went out to buy a copy, but they didn't have the translation he talked about and I couldn't decide between the available translations and though the books were much more readable than a typical Bible, none of them stood out as pretty enough to make me say "I'll take that one!" so I couldn't choose, so I didn't get one.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:55 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I would love to see a version of this for the Quran.
Divabat: Yeah, I was also thinking co-oordinated sets of the scriptures of major world religions would be cool.

Yeah, my thoughts also.

As someone very non-religious, I'd love to have a gorgeous text to read through, not because I'm interested in memorizing a verse and a chapter, or because I need to look up a particular passage at any given time, but because these are old stories, passed down through generations, that a lot of people deem as important and valuable to their lives.
posted by suedehead at 8:33 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


This will get religion back on tract.
posted by Chitownfats at 8:33 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Why do all these articles ignore Richmond Lattimore's New Testament?
Although verse numbers are indicated at the top of each page, the body of the text remains unnumbered, so that one feels one is reading a narrative, the way the text was originally presented, and not a hallowed volume that has been canonized. Although literal, with masculine terms for God, the rendition is smooth and gives a sense of the Greek style. Notes (limited to questions of translation) are kept to a minimum and relegated to the back.
It's been available in very readable editions for more than thirty years. None of them match the Bibliotheca for typographical elegance, but they still represent a clear modern precedent for treating the Bible as literature.
posted by Iridic at 10:46 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I can't read Arabic, so I when I think of what can be done with the text of the Quran I think of things like this Bismillah.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:09 AM on August 8


prize bull octorok: "There are a lot of good translations of the Bible in contemporary language. But for anyone who wants to read it in the context of its place in the canon of English-written literature, I'd have a really hard time suggesting anything other than the KJV."

I'd have to agree with this. This is going to be pretty to look at, but the ASV is definitely not what I'd choose for a "literary" reading of the Bible. It's like reading a dumbed-down version of Shakespeare with the language slightly modernized here and there.

Either go with the classic King James Version, or get a well-done modern translation (NRSV, New Jerusalem Bible), or try an individual translator's attempt to render the text in modern English (Lattimore's NT or Peterson's The Message). Even the ESV Reader's Bible would be better than the ASV's watered-down, almost-but-not-quite KJV.
posted by straight at 11:32 AM on August 8


posted by straight: It's about time someone reassured Christians that it's okay to be wealthy and eat lots of HAMBURGERS.

Matthew 19:20-24 (ESV):
"The young man saith unto him, All these things have I observed: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions. And Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a rope to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."


Ehhh? I would think that the rope analogy would actually do the opposite. As it stands now with the camel, the rich man in the story has no options. He either completely discards his life as he knows it (his wealth and probably with it his friends, family, associates -- generally his whole identity) so he can attain salvation or he continues exactly as he is and remains exiled from heaven. Most people are not willing to completely abandon their life on a whim.

When the rope is substituted, the goal becomes attainable. The rich man can start to unwind the trappings of wealth and work his way down to the single thread that should be his purpose, then he can fit through the narrow gateway of the needle's eye.

The passage is complete and correct in the (Assyrian) Church of the East's (aka Nestorians) Peshitta. And also St. Cyril (an absolute NOT friend of the Nestorians) made reference to it being a translation error in one of his homilies, saying that the word should be the greek for "cable" (a large thick rope used in sailing).
posted by bionic.junkie at 11:54 AM on August 8


“All things (e.g. a camel's journey through
A needle's eye) are possible, it's true.
But picture how the camel feels, squeezed out
In one long bloody thread, from tail to snout.”
― C.S. Lewis
posted by straight at 12:17 PM on August 8


You didn't quote the rest of the story:

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
posted by straight at 12:20 PM on August 8


benito.strauss: you mean this surah? "Bismillah" is just the first word you say when you recite a Muslim prayer. It's a bit like calling Christian prayers "Our Lord Who Art In Heaven"s.

That link is gorgeous, but no so much what I was thinking - I was thinking of a narrative in English laid out the same way Bibliotheca or most literary works are.

A series adapting the world's scripture to this style would be great!
posted by divabat at 2:52 PM on August 8


"Bismillah" is just the first word you say when you recite a Muslim prayer. It's a bit like calling Christian prayers "Our Lord Who Art In Heaven"s.

FWIW, the Lord's Prayer goes "Our Father..." and Catholics generally call it just that. (See also "Hail Mary.")
posted by Sys Rq at 3:17 PM on August 8


A series adapting the world's scripture to this style would be great!

Surely there must be a mefite typoographer to get this onto Metafilter Projects and Kickstarter. I don't think we can count on Adam Greene since his interest is religious, not just typography-based.

So whoever is doing this, you'll want to also do the other Mormon scriptures, the Doctrines and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price (I'm curious to know what those are about, too). And I just looked up the Talmud because I don't know much about that, and if you aren't already familiar with it, be warned: it turns out it's really long.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:18 PM on August 8


I was referring to the top part, which maybe I should have called 'basmalah' instead, although the sura underneath is gorgeous too.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:19 PM on August 8


huh, color me corrected then.
posted by divabat at 3:28 PM on August 8


So I went and looked at my copy of the Bible ("The New English Bible"), and the chapters aren't so bad, but the verse numberings, even though they're relegated to the margins in my edition, still make it feel more like a technical spec than a story. I think I have to take back my earlier dismissiveness — I can see how reading it in this format could be a different experience.

But I still want a Quran that has beautiful Arabic calligraphy on one page and an English translation on the facing page. Maybe set the fancy chapter headings in muhaqqaq, but put the body in naskh, which I think is closest to the simple but elegant font used in Greene's Bible.

(Free bonus article on modern Arabic typography.)
posted by benito.strauss at 6:13 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I couldn't even begin to attempt the Quran, but I've made a brief start on the Book of Mormon since the book's layout and flow are similar to the KJV, and I'm very familiar with the KJV.

Here's the beginning: First Nephi, chapters 1 & 2 (PDF). I am not a typographer in any sense beyond rank amateur, but I think this turned out mostly ok. I used a font that, to me, gives the feeling of a nineteenth century printing with a set of type which has seen better days.

I kept the chapter divisions, got rid of the verse divisions. I made some very small edits in which I removed some, but not all, of the "And it came to pass", which are used constantly. My division into paragraphs is an arbitrary choice of what seemed to fit.

The original text is the version on Gutenberg, which is probably a copy of the original 1830 printing. The current version of the book is still under copyright and has some things changed from the original. There are a variety of sites which will tell you what has changed in the various versions. I personally could not.

Anyways, if there's any interest, I'll make a project page and continue.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:46 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Here's the entirety of the first book in the Book of Mormon: First Nephi (PDF).

Just a rough draft. I'm proud of most of it. I'm not yet thrilled with the layout of chapters 20-22, which is entirely prophecies and sermons. I think some more work will be needed for that.

I'll put up a project page when the whole BoM is finished. If anyone still reading this thread has any suggestions or criticisms, they would be most welcome.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:16 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


honestcoyote, when you do put up a project page could you link to it here so I pick it up in my Recent Activity? I don't check out Projects that often but I'd like to follow what you're doing. Or maybe put up the Projects post now, 'cause posts on the blue get locked after 30 days, no?

honestcoyote, have you thought about starting a blog?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:37 AM on August 16


A blog is good idea, with updates as each book is done. Hadn't thought of doing that. Thanks. I'll get one set up and will post the link here.
posted by honestcoyote at 3:16 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Here's the blog: A Verseless Book of Mormon.

It's a bit minimal for now, and the title for the project could possibly be better, but does offer an RSS feed so it should be easy to keep track of updates. I'm hoping to have Second Nephi and the Introductory Testimony done by the end of the week.

And then, after that, only 13 more books to go. Should be fun.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:02 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


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