It seems like publishers don’t need much of a reason to print new Bibles with even the slightest deviation of theme. The Men’s Bible, NIV Men’s Devotional Bible, MANual: the Bible for Men, Every Man’s Bible NIV, Every Man’s Bible NLT, Every Man’s Bible (NIV or NLT): Deluxe Explorer’s Edition, Quiet Strength Bible: Men’s Bible Study – those are all real and they are only the very first page of “Men’s Bibles” on Amazon. When will we see something truly different? Enter Brendan Powell Smith and The Brick Bible. But is it a Bible?
The Brick Bible: The Complete Set
By Brendan Powell Smith
In this version, which collects both the Old and New Testaments, the artist/writer of the Brick Bible Brendan Powell Smith created and shot over 2000 different scenes from the Bible’s main stories. It is clear from the start that these are not photos for children. The violence, sexuality and nudity that exists in the Bible is on naked display in the depictions. (Brendan Powell Smith did create some children’s books that avoid some of the messier elements, like Jonah, Daniel, Noah’s Ark, the Christmas Story and such.)
The fact that every scene pictured is built, one brick at a time, is the real joy and accomplishment of this book. It is pure genius! Even seeing how Brendan Powell Smith overcomes issues like height (Saul has a 2×1 white square as his robe then 1×1 flat yellow rounds for legs to make him taller than everyone else, for instance), or outstretched arms (he has connected arms out of socket sideways to have them straight out), are very clever. Further effects with focus and perspective make almost every picture an achievement in itself.
The Old and New Testament have most of their major stories and some minor ones that seem to fit Brendan Powell Smith’s design (see below). You will see a ton of New Testament space spent on Jesus and Revelation, with little time spent on the Epistles, which makes sense since they aren’t visual stories but didactic letters. Understanding the difference in the type of literature of the Bible helps understand why he would or wouldn’t have photos. But in some cases, where there are visual portrayals of certain kinds of literature, specifically apocalyptic, the scenes are very literally envisioned. And in other situations that require interpretation skills, the author relies on English 21st century understanding of words rather than what the words meant originally.
The violence and nudity that really help to bring even more distinction to this version of the Bible. So often these are glossed over. Stories about David taking out Goliath, for instance, usually ends with the stone killing Goliath. We gloss over the fact that David then chopped off Goliath’s head like a trophy. When stories in the Bible tell of murder and war, the Brick Bible takes, what looks a lot like, “glee” in telling them in gory, clear red brick building glory. While this is jarring at times it also makes real some of the parts of the Bible that we skip past when reading.
While I enjoyed the honesty in the violence, I didn’t enjoy some of the commentary in the pictures. At times the fact that this is satire is very clear and real. Picture and headings says more about Brendan Powell Smith’s opinions on the subjects he is depicting than allowing proper Biblical interpretation to take place. Instead of exegesis, many times there is simply a very wooden literal reading of the English which is infused with the current meanings and interpretations. For instance, there is no evidence and it is not implied in the original languages or in 2500 to 3000 years of orthodox belief that Jonathan loved David in an erotic way. But in the depictions of their interactions it is clearly set up as a homosexual relationship. Hearts floating above Jonathan’s head – like a teenager with a crush – and when David greeted Jonathan with a kiss it is on the lips rather than what the Bible is saying. Jonathan did love David and pledged his life to him. And in that culture a kiss in greeting was much more akin to what we see in foreign films – a sign of respect. Not an erotic thing. Likewise, headings titled “Genocide” instead of “Judgment” also clearly show Brendan Powell Smith’s wooden literal and bias.
I have a ton of respect for what Brendan Powell Smith has done here with Legos and art. I’ve read that he is an atheist and I think that bias comes out in ways that will offend sincere believers – many prospective buyers and readers may be turned off by his choices in what to include and how to irreverantly depict them. Interestingly, in reviewing Brendan Powell Smith’s online site (http://www.bricktestament.com/home.html) you will find some pictures online were redacted or cropped from the published books. I noticed this with scenes that I was concerned with above, where commentary steps the story a little further from orthodox acceptance. If he or the publisher were aware of the possibility of offense and so removed from publication certain scenes it seems like they should have considered what scenes should perhaps have been removed from both. After all, the primary audience of a book about the Bible should be Christians who love creativity and art and also God. But with a focus on satire, and by allowing his bias to color what he selected to depict in such an overt way, it overshadows evertything else and we end up losing some of the primary audience for the much, much smaller satire audience. I’m not sure that was very wise.
Even with the satirical commentary, this is a genius book. It is not Christians who may be offended by visual depictions of some of the seedier stories in the Bible or who may be offended by the way that the author treats a reverant subject in such an irreverant way at times. It is also not for children. But it is for art loving people who enjoy creativity and brilliant photography. It is also for lovers of Lego and the amazing things that toy/tool allows us to do with it. With all my concerns listed I would stistill recommend it to those audiences for this amazing achievement.
To answer the question posed at the start of this review: this is not a Bible. It is a work of art. As long as we think of it like this we may be more inclined to enjoy it for what it is rather than what we believers would want it to be.
@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.