On one level, “The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less” might seem, well, just a hair short of sacrilegious: summarize each of the Bible’s 1,189 chapters in the 140-character limit of a Twitter tweet. On another, it’s just plain fun, which might well be one way to approach the overall themes of Scripture.
Disclosure: I’m a friend of “Twible” author Jana Riess and looked over the manuscript just before it was published, earning an acknowledgment in the book (and a very nice thank-you note). But I came to Ms. Riess‘ chapter summaries the way many did, via Twitter and Facebook. A Religion News Service blogger and a scholar with a great sense of humor, Ms. Riess is a devoted believer who can laugh at herself, as is evidenced by her 2011 book, “Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor” (Paraclete Press).
Ms. Riess‘ secret in “The Twible” is that she really “gets” Twitter and understands how to compose a tweet, something that isn’t always easy. Here’s her take on the 36th Psalm: “Ps 36: The wicked imagine that all their dark deeds are in secret. We’ve got news for you: @GInHvn just posted them on Twitter. Ha!” For the uninitiated, “@GInHvn” would be Twitter shorthand for “God in Heaven.” Indeed, throughout the book, God is “G,” Jesus is “JC” and so on.
Her summary of John Chapter 2: “JC starts his ministry by turning water into wine, forever silencing all those who would dismiss his followers as killjoys.” Whatever your position on Christians and alcohol, you can chuckle at that one, I’d imagine.
Starting with Genesis, and taking satirical newspaper The Onion as her touchstone, Ms. Riess took four years to tweet her way through the Good Book, including summaries of each book in the Old and New Testaments. As for many others who have read the Bible straight through, she said, it was a transformative experience.
“What struck me most is how human and flawed the biblical characters are,” Ms. Riess said in a news release for the book. “In church, we tend to quote Paul’s gentle odes to love (1 Corinthians 13), but we ignore the rougher edges, like when he wishes aloud that his opponents would be castrated (Galatians 5:12). Knowing that those rough edges are there increases my admiration and sense of connection with Paul and other biblical figures. They were ordinary people, more like us than not, who did extraordinary things for God.”
Being a scholar, Ms. Riess includes essays about some of the Bible’s elements, and her perspective tacks toward a more “liberal” interpretation — three authors for Isaiah, for example — than others might have. But that’s OK, I believe, since “The Twible” is meant to be neither a definitive Bible commentary nor a tool to catechize. It’s meant to be a fun read and, well, it pretty much is — except for, say, Psalm 88 and the book of Ecclesiastes, both downers. But, as Ms. Riess notes in an essay, you have to tweet the bad with the good.
There have been other attempts this year to transform the Bible into something more accessible to an information-age readership, such as “A Story of God and All of Us: A Novel Based on the Epic TV Miniseries ‘The Bible,’” by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett (FaithWords). I enjoyed reading this book, even though it didn’t cover every last chapter of the Scriptures. It offered a nice overview and enough drama to keep one’s interest. Versions for younger readers are also available.
Also worth considering is “The Story,” published by Zondervan, which takes the New International Version translation of the Bible and renders it into a novel-style book. You get more of the sweep of Scripture here, but there is no loss of drama or wonder.
Whether it’s 140 characters at a time or in a novelized version, I can’t fault those who use these books as an introduction to the more serious notion of reading and studying the Bible itself. The most timid might do very well with Ms. Riess‘ “The Twible” and enjoy a laugh or 20 along the way.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.