Bibliotheca New Testament
A Book Review
By Brandon Brown
The Bibliotheca project was launched as a Kickstarter to create quality reader editions of the Bible. It was so successful that the creator, Adam Lewis Greene could assemble a team to lightly update and smooth out the language of the public domain American Standard Version from 1901 into the American Literary Translation. As a reader's book, the translation will be a crucial piece of this review and should be kept in mind if you are considering purchasing any of the volumes of the Bibliotheca.
Bibliotheca is a beautifully crafted printed edition of the English Bible. The printing is separated into several volumes to create a reader's edition focused upon readability and craftsmanship. The creator explains the scriptures are actually a multi-volume work, and the organization of the volumes speaks to the structure of the genres and writings found throughout scripture.
Physically, the volume of the New Testament is beautiful. The book cloth binding is made from cotton and woven in the Netherlands. The cloth has a bit of give, as finely crafted books should. The satin cotton ribbon is woven in France and the acid-free paper made from chalk (rather than wood pulp) is from Austria. The printing and smyth-sewn binding are completed in Germany, and the final binding is a work of art. The volume feels good in the hand, and the custom typeface created by Greene is comfortable to read. The paper feels especially nice in as I thumb through and observe very minimal ghosting of the text.
The text block is set wonderfully, and the choice of leaving out the chapter and verse nomenclature makes this a true reader's Bible. Because of the smyth-sewn binding, the pages lay flat when laid down, but the volume feels so pleasant I rarely set it down as I was reading through passages. The sensual experience of a fine book even comes across in the scent of the pages as I fan them and the cloth binding. This is a quality book and its price is reflected in the quality and workmanship. The New Testament retails for fifty U.S. dollars, while the full set of five volumes (including the Apocrypha) is listed for $199.
As much as I enjoy and appreciate the physical book, the American Literary Translation lets the Bibliotheca down. Even with the smoothing of wooden language and removal of pronouns such as thee and thou, the text still reads awkwardly and woodenly at times. This is the nature of translations, seeking to create a literal wording from the original languages into English. While I commend Greene on the attempt, a more modern equivalent would make this a much more desirable set, in my opinion. For one, the base ASV is really an updated translation of the venerable King James Version and retains many of the choices from that older translation. The gender exclusive language is an artifact of another time and reads as such in this volume. Unlike the English Standard Version (itself a revision of the Revised Standard Version) I do not believe the gender exclusivity to be the point of this translation. Instead, the public domain nature of the ASV which was translated in another time retains the gender exclusivity and so does the American Literary Version.
In conclusion, I like the idea and the physical execution of the Bibbliotheca New Testament, but the translation ultimately lets the project down by making the purpose of a reader's edition rather difficult for many modern readers. Of course, the expense of modern copyrighted translations is one reason this project chose to go with a public domain text as its base. I will reserve my criticism of publishers and copyrights of biblical translations for another review, but that is why I applaud the Bibliotheca project for its end product, which is beautiful and feels wonderful in the hand, but may not get the reading that it deserves.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.