Interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene: Part 2

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This is the second part of my interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene. If you haven’t read Part 1, start here. Last time we talked about the origins of the project, Adam’s passion for the Bible and good design, and the thought that went into designed Bibliotheca’s original typefaces. In this part, I ask Adam about the layout, his choice of the American Standard Version, and what the runaway success of the funding campaign might mean for Bibliotheca’s future.


J. MARK BERTRAND: Your decision not to justify the text column threw me at first. Now I think I understand, but since I’m a stickler for Bibles looking like books meant to be read, and novels are universally justified, could you explain what’s at stake in the choice to leave the right margin ragged?

ADAM LEWIS GREENE: This goes back, again, to the idea of hand-writing as the basis for legible text. When we write, we don’t measure each word and then expand or contract the space between those words so each line is the same length. When we run out of room, we simply start a new line, and though we have a ragged right edge, we have consistent spacing. The same is true of the earliest manuscripts of biblical literature, which were truly formatted to be read. I’m thinking of the Isaiah scroll, which I was privileged to see in Israel last year and is the primary model for my typesetting.

True, since the beginning of the printed book we have most often seen justified text, but back then they were much less discriminatory about word-breaks and hyphenation, so that consistent spacing was not an issue (i.e. imagine breaking the word “Her” after “He-”).

Unjustified text was revived by the likes of Gill and Tschichold early in the last century, and it continues to gain steam, especially in Europe. We are starting to see unjustified text much more frequently in every-day life, especially in digital form, and I would argue we are slowly becoming more accustomed to evenly spaced words than to uniform line-length. To me, justified type is really a Procrustean Bed. Too many times while reading have I leapt a great distance from one word to the next, only to be stunted by the lack of space between words on the very next line. I admit, I think justified text looks clean and orderly when done well, but it doesn’t do a single thing in the way of legibility. It is simply what we have been accustomed to for a long time, and since this project is partially about breaking down notions of how things “ought to be,” I ultimately decided to go with what I believe is the most legible approach; not to mention its suitability for ancient hand-written literature.

JMB: Bibliotheca will use the American Standard Version, and you’re planning to update the archaisms and make additional editorial changes based on Young’s Literal Translation. How extensive a revision of the ASV do you have in mind? What will the process look like?

ALG: While we’re on the topic I would like to touch on the choice of the ASV for this edition. Aside from being my favorite complete translation, to me, its literary character and formal accuracy make it the ideal choice for this project.

I appreciate and respect those who have other opinions, and I hope the success of this project will enable me to offer Bibliotheca in other translations. Obviously an unaltered Authorized Version would be wonderful, as would more popular contemporary translations. We will see.

As for editing the translation, aside from replacing the redundant archaisms (thee, hath, doth, etc.), modification will be extremely minimal. I will use Young’s Literal Translation (not my own whims) as an authority, and it will mainly function as a backup for syntax. If Young says something more plainly where the ASV is overly convoluted by Elizabethan, I will adopt Young’s syntax but will preserve the ASV’s vocabulary as much as possible. After all, Bibliotheca is for reading, and I believe using an even more literal translation for editing syntax is a safe limitation. In other words, I won’t be changing the ASV much at all; probably a fraction of one percent.

For those interested, I have added more details on the use of Young’s translation as an authority to the Editing the Translation section of the Kickstarter page.

JMB: I know the rapid success of Bibliotheca—you reached your funding goal in a little over 24 hours, and are set to surpass it by a considerable amount—was a pleasant surprise. It’s not over yet, and you may be too busy to indulge in speculation, but what do you think the outpouring of enthusiasm for Bibliotheca signifies to the world of Bible publishing? 

ALG: I think the response to this project signifies that the biblical anthology is much too large (and I don’t mean in a physical sense) to be contained in any one format or type of reading experience. This is a diverse literature, which transcends time, culture and style in a way that very few have done, and none to the same extent. It has always taken on different forms within various contexts—artistic and technical, story-driven and study-driven. These forms will continue to change and, at times, surprise us.

I also believe that the increased ability to dynamically study the biblical literature through web-based technology creates space for a project like this—by which we experience the text exclusively as story—to exist and thrive.

JMB: Any thoughts on how Bibliotheca’s fundraising success will change and expand the scope of the project?

ALG: I thought I would be inching through this 30-day campaign toward the $37,000 goal. After reaching it in something like twenty-seven hours, and as I write this six days into the campaign, with twenty-three days left, that goal is nearly tripled and there are more than a thousand people behind the project.

So to answer your question, the scope of the project has already been changed by the overwhelmingly positive response of the backers. Their excitement, backing and sharing are making this into something that is at very least three times what I imagined, and that very well could be available in a second and third print run, in other translations and languages, and maybe even in book stores across the nation.

I know that’s big thinking, but Kickstarter has made it possible to deliver ideas directly to people who believe in them. They are the ones who decide which ideas will have a life beyond the campaign. Time will tell, but for now I am thrilled that Bibliotheca is becoming a reality, even if only this once.

In closing, I want to thank you, Mark, for backing the project and giving it such positive coverage. It is an absolute honor to have Bibliotheca featured, talked about, and scrutinized on your blog.

If this was an on-location interview, I would be admiring your legendary collection of rare bibles right now.

JMB: Thanks, Adam. I’m glad you could take the time from what I know has been a crazy week to share these thoughts with Bible Design Blog readers. If we were doing this on location, I’d give you free run of the library … and while you were distracted, I’d help myself to those beautiful fonts!


 

The Bibliotheca Kickstarter campaign ends on July 27. If you haven’t already backed Bibliotheca, I encourage you to do it. This will be a groundbreaking publication. Needless to say, you’ll be reading more about it on Bible Design Blog.

22 Comments on “Interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene: Part 2

  1. An intriguing project! I very much enjoyed the interview – Adam seems like a very thoughtful person.

    Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t recall seeing a mention of the font size that these books will be printed in. As someone with tricky eyesight, I hope it’s on the large size…

    • Steve, in a personal correspondence Adam told me, “the text in the set is almost exactly the size of Adobe Garamond set at 11.375 point.” Font size is relative to the particular, but if you have that font on your computer, that’s what it’ll be. Sounds very nice.

      • Thanks for the info, J.! Sounds very nice indeed. His fonts are very pleasing…

  2. Yes!
    I knew waking up early had it’s rewards!
    I’m so excited to hear more about this great project, and I agree with Mark, the unjustified text seemed a little strange at first, but Adam seems to have good reasons for it, so we’ll see how things work out.
    Bibliotheca in stores nation wide- that would be so amazing, it gives me chills just thinking
    about it.
    I don’t mind the ASV/YLT so much, I actually think it’s a good idea. I wish there was a whole YLT out in this format, unaltered. A translation I would recommend would be the Lexham English bible from Logos. From what I’ve seen, it’s not bad at literal translating, and it’s quite readable without being ‘chummy-sounding’.
    Thanks for doing the interview, Adam. I know we’ll see great things from you in the future.

    • As I understand it, there are no print editions of the Lexham. Entirely digital. Pity, it’s good.

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  4. I prefer the unjustified text a lot. It’s more natural, and easier to find your spot on the page. I agree with Adam on this choice!

  5. I am legitimately surprised to hear of such a major translation project involving the ASV. It’s the among the least readable translations of the Bible, in my experience. The ASV is formally literal; I used it in first year Greek to check my own translations. But, it is not the best, most compelling, or most accurate translation for a modern English reader. Koine Greek syntax is just markedly different from English syntax. Obviously, many others disagree given his funding success, but I cannot imagine reading the ASV for long periods of time, without major emendation.

    • Indeed, it is kind of an oxymoron to issue a reader’s bible while claiming the translation of choice is the one that most closely follows ancient Greek/Hebrew syntax.

    • I agree with you, Stan, except for your last point. I started with the KJV and read it voraciously. I don’t think I’ll have a serious problem with extended reading in the ASV, but I do think reading would be easier with a more modern translation like the ESV, NET, NLT, or LEB. And if you really want to “read,” the NLT would be my first choice.

      • I agree with the NLT comment. I’ve spent several years in the NASB and the ESV, and while I love the ESV and would still probably call it my preferred version, I’ve been reading through the Bible in the NLT recently and am delighted with how much easier it is to read. I long for a “reader’s Bible” in the NLT.

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  8. The ASV would be all right, perhaps some who would like an ASV could get one. But it lessens the value to have it edited by an individual with the YLT. ASV as a version still has value, not the most readable, but the RSV, NRSV, NASB, ESV all are based on it. But one would wonder about the judgement of one individual who would edit it. What words are the ASV, what words are not? And why?

    There is a need for a multi-volume large print edition of the Bible. No chapters, no verse numbers, laid out in literary form. Moulton’s Modern Readers Bible about a hundred years ago came out with editions of books of the bible, a many volumed edition. They are rare, but can still be found at used bookstores. The books were pocket sized, and the print small to read. The version was the Revised Version. A larger version of like this would be about ideal, with a different translation. Something like the new ESV Psalms, but applied to the book of Isaiah alone, Jeremiah alone, etc.

    • Moulton’s Modern Reader’s Bible was published as one book, but also in a set of 21 multi-volumes.
      His philosophy of setting the Biblical text in its literary form for the ease of reading can be found in the Appendix of his book “How to Read the Bible”.
      He was ahead of his time.

  9. Mr. Bertrand,

    Question. Do you have any pull with Mr. Greene? I think I would have already signed up for 2 of these, 1 for myself and 1 for my Dad, who loves the ASV. But I just can’t get over the idea that Mr. Greene is going to be signing the Bible. I don’t want someone’s signature in my Bible. It’s God’s word, not Mr. Greene’s word. I know he isn’t signing it like he wrote it and that his FAQ states that he’s basically doing it because he designed it. But I seriously think this 1 thing will keep me from being able to do it. Maybe that’s a small thing, and perhaps it’s not something you would be willing to talk to him about. If that’s the case, then please let ignore my comment here. But would he be willing to forgo the signature for some of them? If I asked him to at least with my backing?

    Anyway. Thanks for your time.

    Nick

    • I wouldn’t let that objection stand in your way, Nick. If you can’t get past it, the thing to do is contact Adam directly with your question.

      • Please take this as a joke, it came to mind when I read nicks comment.

        What’s worse, having a bible with the designers name in the back in ink (Adam) or having something with the translation gold stamped into the spine 5 times (crossway)?

  10. I have been over one hour reading try to find out the cost of the Bible and how to become a part of the Adam Green project, also is there a release date? or store they will be available in. Please No Fluff! just straight to the point answers. Thanks.

    • Go to the Bibliotecha Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/530877925/bibliotheca. There you’ll see that expected delivery date is December — in time for Christmas. Pledging options are listed on the right-hand side of the page. There are various options, but the required pledge for the hardbound set is $75. Click on the Pledge Option that you choose and then just follow the yellow brick road to make your pledge. :)

    • Sorry, I forgot to say there is no plan to make these Bibles available in stores. For now at least, this will be a limited production and the only way to get your own set is to pledge within the next 3 days.

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