Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Conservation & Innovation (2)

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Bible sells big; so do its spinoffs. These spinoffs include those developed for niche markets ("Bibles for archeology buffs, for young couples and for golfers") and "Biblezines" modeled on Seventeen magazine, as well as more familiar children's bibles, study bibles, etc. From a perspective on iconic books and our earlier discussion of technological innovation in religious publishing, what fascinates me is the almost infinite variety in form that Christian bibles can take without sparking much controversy in churches--and also apparently without affecting the status of the iconic Protestant bible (black leather-bound codex) as one of the most recognizable religious symbols in contemporary societies. On the other hand, slight changes in translation practices that impinge on contemporary cultural debates (e.g. gender-neutral language in the NRSV or the proposed revised NIV) can prompt huge outcries and lead publishers (in the case of the NIV) to withdraw and revise expensive translation projects. There seems to be a widespread and highly nuanced differentiatation between what is essential to bibles (and, I suspect, many other scriptures) and what is variable. It is tempting to see this as a distinction between form and content, but that dichotomy is too simple. After all, the standard contents of a modern Protestant Bible (Old Testament, New Testament, but no Apocrypha) is the product of 19th century publishers' decision that the apocryphal books are unnecessary and therefore can be safely omitted in order to cut printing costs.

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