In a culture awash in celebrity endorsements, it was only a matter of time before a clever publisher realized the value of branding the Bible. A few years ago, Canongate issued the “Pocket Canons” — individual books of the Bible reprinted with introductions by various cultural luminaries. As Canongate’s publisher, Jamie Byng, said: “The Bible’s daunting length only added to its inaccessibility.” Still, he fretted about his decision. “However we jazzed the Good Book up, would anyone actually buy such editions?”
They did — in droves. According to Canongate, the Pocket Canons sold more than 900,000 copies. They were followed up, in 2005, by “Revelations: Personal Responses to the Books of the Bible,” a collection of the introductions written for the Pocket Canons. In his own introduction to the collection, Richard Holloway (the maverick former Bishop of Edinburgh) notes that some Christians were appalled by the less-than-orthodox sensibility of the Pocket Canons; a few even found them blasphemous.
But he assures readers that “the best way to get to the layers of meaning in a great text is not to ask propagandists or special pleaders to explain it, but to get writers to bring their own passion and insight to the task.” The Bible, he tells us, is “above all, a work of literature.” Ardent Christians, in other words, might not have as sophisticated an understanding of Scripture as novelists do — given that believers actually embrace the Bible as the inspired word of God.