Building a colorful, accessible Bible, brick by Lego brick

Picture book by self-described atheist praised for whimsical approach

Pop Culture

November 30, 2003|By Meredith James | Meredith James,SUN STAFF

For as long as the stories that make up the Bible have been written down, their authors have been adapting them in varying ways. From the Hebrew Bible to the St. James Bible to more recent versions such as the Precious Moments Bible and the Extreme Teen Bible, the text's sacred stories have been tailored for different audiences.

The oddest new addition to this genre may be The Brick Testament (Quirk Books, $14.95), 10 stories from the book of Genesis "re-sculpted" using Lego toy building bricks.

"I choose to work in the medium of Lego simply because it's eye-catching and great fun to work with. And who doesn't get a chuckle out of seeing Lego Adam and Eve in the garden, or Lego Moses smashing the Ten Lego Commandments? For me, it's all about making the content of the Bible more accessible without changing that content," creator Brendan Powell Smith explains.

Smith began publishing his images on the Internet. The Brick Testament (at www.thereverend.com) quickly gained fame and a cult following. Over two years, the site has had almost 2 million visitors and has been featured in Time and Spin magazines. It now includes seven books from both the Old and New Testaments; one of them, Genesis, is now featured in a book released last month.

Although some may scoff at the idea of using children's toys to relate the Scriptures, Smith says that he's had a generally positive response.

"I've received hundreds of e-mails about the Web site and now the book, and there is a large following both among religious believers, including pastors and youth workers, and devout atheists."

The Catholic Telegraph, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, is including The Brick Testament on its annual Christmas book list. Trade publication Publisher's Weekly said: "This creative, iconoclastic book is colorful in every sense of the word, and will be appreciated by Lego enthusiasts everywhere as well as whimsical Sunday school teachers."

Still, just what Smith's intentions are remains a little fuzzy. While he refers to himself as "The Reverend," Smith describes himself as an atheist. On his Web site and in his book, he claims that while he was eating at Taco Bell, God spoke to him and told him to write this story. Whatever the inspiration, Smith insists that he is "not really out to change anyone's mind about the Bible, just to make them more aware of its content and hopefully entertain them in the process."

And whatever his beliefs, Smith seems to be trying to portray the Bible as accurately as possible. He says, "I think illustrating the Bible in Lego has been, for me, a chance to re-tell these stories in a way that's more faithful to the text than the other illustrated Bibles I've seen."

He bases his illustrations on actual Bible quotes and cites each verse and chapter. "For me it's all about making the content of the Bible more accessible without changing that content," he adds.

A self-described Lego "freestyler," Smith says he spends about a week to create each Bible story. He adds that he always uses authentic Lego pieces from his personal collection (worth about $5,000) to create the scenes, although some modifications, such as using a marker to enhance facial expressions, are needed.

It may be a small miracle, but somehow, Smith says, "You always have the right pieces for what you're trying to build."

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