High-Design Bible Draws Attention
By ANDREW LOSOWSKY
Special to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 15, 2008
A heavily armed freedom fighter in the Niger Delta stares angrily at the camera, his face hidden behind a black mask. Is this a news story from the latest war zone? No, it's the opening page to the book of Joshua -- the Israeli warrior -- in the new Bible Illuminated. The Swedish-language Bible marries the standard text to glossy magazine-style design. Full-color pages are illustrated with a striking combination of news and dramatized photographs: a homeless child wrapped in a sweater on the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, illustrates the book of Job; a man who drowned trying to enter Europe, for Deuteronomy; and models posing in stylized scenes convey joy or despair. Bible passages are pulled out as captions. The publishers wanted to draw new readers by getting rid of what they called "the old heavy book." "There are 40 million [glossy] magazines sold each year in Europe," says Dag Söderburg, creative director at the edition's Swedish publishers, Förlaget Illuminated. "But the Bible, a literary treasure, stays on the bookshelf." The work is aimed not at a religious audience but rather at readers concerned with ethical and philosophical questions surrounding issues such as global warming and religious fundamentalism.
Bible Illuminated's magazine-format Old and New Testaments, in Swedish.
"The Bible is much bigger than the power of the church -- it's connected to our history, and it's vital literature for us as human beings," says Mr. Söderburg, former chief executive of advertising company Euro RSCG Scandinavia. "Our laws, our morals, they all come from the Bible, whether you like it or not."
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The Old Testament was published last spring and the New Testament, last Christmas. An English-language version is planned for the U.S. in spring 2009. Förlaget Illuminated says so far it has sold 30,000 copies of the Old and New Testaments. In Sweden annual Bible sales are usually 60,000 copies. The company says they are selling to an audience that doesn't usually buy Bibles: One sales point for the magazines is Sweden's convenience-store chain, Pressbyran. The magazines are getting wide attention in the country, with several articles in Sweden's biggest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, and reports on the leading The book of Jeremiah television station TV4. The archbishop of Sweden, Anders Wejryd, gave the Old Testament to Prime Minister Göran Persson as a gift when he left office last spring. Jan Carlzon, the former chairman of SAS Scandinavian Airlines, started Förlaget Illuminated in 2000 specifically to publish the magazine-format Bible. The Bible Illuminated is an example of a range of classic texts that are attracting new audiences through modern methods of storytelling. The diary of Samuel Pepys has been turned into a blog, with daily entries corresponding to the 17th-century original, at www.pepysdiary.com. The creator, British actor Phil Gyford, says the site gets around 35,000 unique visitors each month. "I thought I'd like to read the diaries, but the 10 volumes were a daunting prospect," he says. Transmitting it as a blog "seemed obvious," he says. British company Classical Comics publishes classic texts as comic books -Shakespeare's "Henry V" was published in November; more Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" will follow this year. The company publishes both original text and abridged editions. So far "Henry V" has sold 10,000 copies, and the company's teaching materials available free on the Internet have had nearly 70,000 downloads from around the world.
The book of Joshua
Another British company, SelfMadeHero, began producing Manga Shakespeare last spring, using abridged text and Japanese-style illustrations. So far, it has released five plays, including "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which came out this month. The company added other classic texts in comic-book style in the fall, beginning with a collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe called "Nevermore." Ttitles by Bulgakov, Kafka, Wilde and Dostoyevsky are planned for this year. Meanwhile, audio-book Web sites like LibriVox and Audiobooks for Free offer audio versions of classic works in MP3 format, read by volunteers or actors, free to download for iPods and other players. For example, LibriVox, launched in 2005, has texts by Nietzsche, Plato and Descartes, alongside hundreds of other well-known texts. The Bible itself has been published in Manga form, although only with excerpts of the text, and it came
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out in a glossy magazine format in 2003 from U.S. publisher Thomas Nelson. This version was aimed at teenage girls, with the full text and discussion topics (one subject: "Are You Dating a Godly Guy?"). The Bible Illuminated is aimed at a more sophisticated audience interested in understanding the origins of Western morality. "We wanted to create a more ethical acceptance of others," says Mr. Carlzon, who says he doesn't belong to any organized religion. He says he wanted to foster understanding about the common heritage between Christians, Muslims and Jews and to get people to think about the bigger moral questions through the ancient texts of the Bible. Prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Sweden cooperated to write the edition's introduction. "Although Sweden is one of the most secularized countries in the world, we are seeing a growing interest in existential questions across the Western world, of which [Bible Illuminated] is a part," says Antje Jackelén, the bishop of Lund, in southern Sweden. "As people travel, as they are presented with a growing multiculturalism at home, they are thinking harder about what it means to be from a culture that is formed by Christianity." She says the Bible Illuminated editions, by highlighting passages and using photography, start a dialogue. Although the images used are deliberately provocative -- such as a child walking past a line of bodies from the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp -- there's little evidence so far of people taking offense in Sweden, where the vast majority of religious people are Lutheran. The only criticism seems to be the magazines' selling price, as much as 349 Swedish kronor, or about €37, each. "I'm not a fan of religion, and I think it's too expensive," says Johanna Ögren, a 32-year-old who runs her own PR company and writes for Sweden's most popular literature blog, Bokhora. "That said, the pictures are beautiful, and the layout is just fantastic. The whole idea really appeals to me a lot." Bishop Jackelén points out that the Bible has been presented in different ways throughout history. "When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in the 16th century, he gave it to the people to read and interpret themselves," she says. Since Luther's time, the Bible has been translated into more than 2,000 languages, including Klingon, an invented language from "Star Trek." Less conventional editions include numerous MP3s available for free download; the 100-Minute Bible, a condensed version; and Bible Animé, a new project from the Catholic Church in the Philippines that sends Bible verses to cellphones along with Japanese animé-style characters.
URL for this article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120302655149769595.html
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