Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Bible Bending Marketplace

The Bible is king, in the marketplace of ideas and the marketplace of merchandise. In addition to enjoying a great deal of attention in social and political discourses, the Bible also boasts a venerable share of the economic market.

Publishers are finding new and creative ways to maintain the Bible's hegemony in the book market. The variety Bibles cropping up in the marketplace succeed because they have cornered new ways of packaging an old story.

B&H Publishers, for example, has a Bible for teachers, ministers, person's of poor eye sight (and really poor eye sight), graduates, brides, firefighters, and the police. The Sportsman Bible has non-reflective paper that "won't scare game" while the
Golfer’s Bible features photos of golf courses and meditations by golf tour chaplains. And though B&H has a Bible for every branch of the U.S. military, The Outdoor Bible, a waterproof New Testament whose books fold like maps for easy packing, is the current favorite among U.S. troops. (The Gospel of Luke can be used as a rain shelter.)

As impressive as B&H's list is, it has a long way to catch up with Zondervan, a Bible publishing giant. Zondervan makes Bibles in all shapes, sizes, and colors--from a Backpack Bible for kids to a fury-covered picture book for preschoolers.

But what is most striking about Bible publishers such as Zondervan and B&H, is that they tailor the Bible to fit the perceived spiritual needs of narrowly defined readers. Bibles like Faithirlz!, which is designed for every girl who "wants to know she’s totally unique and special", perpetuate the idea that the Bible can fill any emotional hole.

Perhaps it is this idea--that the Bible is for all people at all times--that propels another booming sector of the Bible industry: translations.

Organizations such as Wycliffe Associates and the Bible League support efforts to translate the Bible into hundreds of the world's most recondite languages. Since many of these languages have no written form, the translating process can take decades to complete.

The BBC reported today that the Bible has now been translated into an Australian Aboriginal language. Soon natives of New Ireland and Papua New Guinea will also have their own translation and initiatives to
show the deaf the gospel are being put into effect around the world.
As the Bible makes its way around the world, its words and meanings bend to carve a niche in an increasing variety of cultural imaginations. Peter Carroll, one of the translators in the Australian Aboriginal project, explains the particular kind of Bible Bending inherent in translations:

"The Gunwinggu people use a different part of the body to express emotions, and they have a word that is, broadly translated 'insides'," he said. "So to love God with all your heart was to want God with all your insides, and it was that use of the word 'insides', not the word 'heart', that established the right connection with emotions and made the translations effective."

For now, a word choice like "insides" rather than "heart" is innocuous. After all, every Bible contains its own set of linguistic choices. But it represents a new cultural twist to the Bible, one that fits the Australian Aboriginal culture. What they do with that twist, culturally and politically, may not be so innocuous.

Either way, it is all good news for the Bible Bending Watchdog: more Bibles equal more Bible Bending.

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