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, May 28, 2011

Imitation Bible

The Good Book: A Secular Bible by British philosopher A. C. Grayling offers alternative content to the Christian Bible, but imitates its form, including two columns of text on each page, King James-sounding English, and familiar section titles, such as "Genesis," "Parables," and "Epistles." The collector of the volume explained the format to an audience in Virginia, reported The Christian Post: "Part of the success of the religious Bible is the function of the way it's organized, the way it presents itself," said the professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. "When you print something double column, chapter and verse, it's a very accessible, very inviting format." (The publishers, however, do not seem to have gotten on board: the book does not look very Bible-like.)

Reviews of the format have been decidedly mixed. The Telegraph called it "cheeky," while the New York Times review complains about Grayling's failure to cite the sources of his material and wonders, "Is this book an odd joke? A parody of the Bible?" The Guardian offers a more flattering account by focusing largely on Grayling rather than his book.

I haven't seen a copy of The Good Book yet, but it sounds as if Grayling has attempting to preserve the Bible's iconic form while replacing its semantic content. His mistake, I think, lies in failing to realize that the social power of scriptures is generated by being ritualized in semantic, iconic and performative dimensions. A Bible without a network of congregations to ritualize it is no Bible at all.

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