THE GOSPELS: Manuscripts
THE GOSPELS: Manuscripts. Four Volumes. Portland, OR: Manuscripts, 2018. $28.00.
Back in February I was directed to an NPR story about a company named Manuscripts who used a successful crowdsourcing fundraiser to print the gospels from the Bible as individual volumes. The rationale for this new approach to publication was simple. The Bible, when published as a single volume of sixty-six books with verses, introductions, and footnotes is an intimidating book. If the individual books of the Bible were published as single volumes, it would be less intimidating and people would be encouraged to read the book as a story and less like a textbook. I was inclined to agree, so I shelled out the $28 and purchased the boxed set for my goddaughter for her birthday.
When the books arrived in the mail I was shocked at how small they were (I never did watch the video on the crowdsourcing website which was very upfront about the size). The volumes are truly pocket-sized. I can literally fit the Gospel According to Matthew in the breast pocket of my clerical. The four gospels fit neatly into a slipcase, the back of which gives a brief rationale for this unique publishing format which is worth citing in its entirety. It reads:
“Manuscripts is inspired by the way the scriptures were originally created, by individual authors with diverse points of view. The Gospels collection presents Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in a format that brings the story of Jesus to life. These pocket-sized books are designed to enhance the reading experience. Each Gospel is formatted like a traditional book. Text is arranged in one column, without verse numbers or notes. These books are presented in the New American Standard Bible, a translation widely respected for its word-for-word accuracy. Jesus’ words are printed in red and are placed between line breaks for emphasis.”
When it comes to actual biblical manuscripts, I know quite a bit. The title of my master’s thesis is “Manuscript 2193 and Its Text of the Gospel according to John.” I spent the bulk of my research working with tenth century minuscules, but I became quite familiar with the entirety of the NT manuscript landscape during my studies. The company Manuscripts may have been inspired by the manuscripts that first carried the Word of God, but other than the absence of footnotes and verse numbers, they really don’t reflect NT manuscripts at all.
To be fair, you wouldn’t want them to. The earliest NT manuscripts were written in the equivalent of ALL CAPS and they didn’t have spaces between words. There were no paragraphs, no headings, and almost no punctuation at all. Nobody would want to read a book like that today. ITWOULDBELIKETRYINGTOREADTHISSENTENCE. However, the company Manuscripts could have made some other typographical changes to better reflect the first manuscripts and aid the reader in digesting these texts as “a traditional book.” Here are three things I would have liked to see done differently:
First, these pocket-sized gospels contain headings. This is cumbersome. Many NT manuscripts had headings (called kephale), but they didn’t break up the text. The headings found in the Manuscripts Gospels do. There are eleven such headings in Matthew 13 alone. They are: “Jesus Teaches in Parables”, “An Explanation”, “The Sower Explained”, “Tares and Wheat”, “The Mustard Seed”, “The Leaven”, “The Tares Explained”, “Hidden Treasure”, “A Costly Pearl”, “A Dragnet”, and “Jesus Revisits Nazareth.” Do you see headings like this in a “traditional book”? I don’t. It’s distracting to the reader. What function do the headings serve anyway? Think back to your own Bible. When do you rely on the headings? Typically you rely on them to aid you in finding a passage. If the goal of this book is to get away from being a “reference” book or “textbook” and more toward a “traditional book” then they should have done away with the headings like the ESV Reader’s Bible did.
Second, the Manuscripts Gospels also printed Jesus’s words in red. This is not like a traditional book at all. Can you imagine reading JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit where all the words of Bilbo were written in red font? Why? Furthermore…because there were no quotation marks back in the first century, sometimes a judgment call is required to determine if the words are actually a quote from Jesus or the thoughts of the narrator. This is particularly an issue in John chapter three. Also, there is no manuscript support for this move. There are plenty of NT manuscripts that capitalized on their ability to change the color of the “font”, but they never did this to designate the words of Jesus. Rather, they would sometimes do this to denote an OT citation, like Codex Claromontanus does here in Romans 11:9 citing Psalm 69:22.
Third, the Manuscripts Gospels made the cumbersome decision to put an entire space between every paragraph. The entire Gospel according to Matthew is formatted just like in this blog post. I’ve never read a John Grisham or Brandon Sanderson or Stephen King or Cormac McCarthy novel formatted that way. Have you? It’s annoying and moves the needle away from “traditional book” and closer to “reference resource.”
These frustrations aside, the individual publication and small pocket-size is still helpful to encourage people to dive into the gospels. It is undoubtedly less intimidating. I look forward to hearing from my goddaughter (who’s currently in second grade) and seeing if this “less intimidating approach” is enough to get her tackle the Gospel According to Matthew on her own at age eight. She might need some incentivizing from her godfather and pressure from her parents, but at least she won’t be intimidated before she even opens the book.
The Manuscripts Gospels are a nifty option to have available to you, and I’m glad to make you aware of the option if you were unaware of it before. If you’re interested, you can find the Manuscripts Gospels for sale at www.manuscriptsbooks.com.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, SD.