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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Animating the Word, with LEGOs
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

Back in February we produced a radio/web package on the manuscript preservation work of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s Abbey in central Minnesota. The Abbey is also responsible for commissioning The Saint John’s Bible, a new hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible using the tools of vellum, quills, pigments, gold leaf, and time-honored processes that declined after the advent of the printing press. The hope of the project’s champions is to illuminate “the Word of God for a new millennium.”

Another approach to that end is that of Reverend (he’s not really a preacher) Brendan Powell Smith — an actor, author, musician, and past theology student who has chosen a staggering collection of LEGOs, a hobby knife, permanent marker, and a camera to “animate” the Word and bring it to life in books and online. Smith’s Brick Testament has seen a lot of press worldwide and so you may have come across this before, but if not, I thought you might enjoy seeing just a handful of the highly imaginative and resourceful uses of LEGOs that Smith snaps together to retell Scripture.

You may notice that some of the dialogue in the images is black and some is grey. The black is actual Scripture and the grey, well, the grey might be called apocryphal or simply playful, or what Smith imagined what might have also been said at the time. His translation of choice is the New Jerusalem Bible, with some things updated in Smith’s wording to avoid copyright issues. Please note: some of the images and “playful” language of The Brick Testament may not be suitable for all audiences, but there is a content code to point out sections that some may find objectionable.

Illustrations courtesy of The Brick Testament.


Putting the Torah to Rhyming Verse

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m a lurker in the Jewish blogging community — my favorite being Rachel Barenblat’s smart and always provocative Velveteen Rabbi. In a recent post, she wrote about a friend, Seth Brown, who has translated the Torah into rhyming verse and is releasing one chapter a week on his blog From God to Verse.

For the past five years, writing the annotated guide ("program particulars") meant to complement each week’s broadcast has been a labor of love. I’m not theologically trained, so I wanted to better understand passing references made by Krista and her guests — particularly when it came to quoting sacred texts. The Web is handy, but, it lacks the depth of scriptural translations little known outside seminaries and divinity schools.

Sacred Texts (including my Mac)

Occupants of my desk as I write. (photo: Trent Gilliss)

Aiding my research, Krista and Kate have kindly directed me to translations I wasn’t aware of — everything from M.D. Herter Norton’s rendition of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet to A.M. Silbermann’s translation of the Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary, from JPS’ Tanakh to Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses. Here, I discovered a world of poetic interpretation that surpassed the more literal translations I was familiar with. These translations seem to capture the spirit and cadence of the original language that might evade other versions.

Barenblat cited two phrases from Brown’s work that struck my ear instantly: “when God was creating” and “all wild and waste” from the first chapter of Genesis. The sensibility of the Tanakh and Fox’s translation are distinct. And sure enough, these were two of the four texts that Brown referenced.

The latter phrase is distinctly Fox, “when the earth was wild and waste.” The former stems from a refreshing Jewish perspective. The past is present; God not only created the universe but continues to create today. It’s an ongoing cyclical process:

First, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

And from Fox’s The Five Books of Moses:

At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,

And now from the Tanakh:

When God began to create heaven and earth—

Although I’ve handed off writing particulars to our younger, more intellectual producers, I still get excited (yes, this job has ruined my street cred with my friends) when I see endeavors like Seth Brown’s. Once you traipse down this path of discovery, you’ll be forever changed.