Featured Reviews, VOLUME 2

Featured: THE MOSAIC BIBLE [Vol. 2, #42]

“Rooted in History,
Rooted in Scripture”

A Review of
The Mosaic Bible.

from Tyndale House Publishers.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

The Mosaic Bible.
from Tyndale House Publishers.
Hardcover: Tyndale House, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

[ Read an 80+ page excerpt from the Mosaic Weekly Meditations! ] [ Win a copy of the Mosaic Bible !!! ]

Mosaic Bible

It’s not every week that we here at the ERB review a Bible.  In fact, MOSAIC is the first Bible we have reviewed since we began publication two years ago.  However, it might be a bit misleading to call this review a review of a Bible.  The biblical text of the Mosaic Bible is the New Living Translation (NLT), that was more-or-less finalized in 2004 and is a very readable text, translated by a distinguished team of biblical scholars.  Given the facts that the NLT has been available for five years and that I am not myself a biblical scholar capable of fairly reviewing a translation, I will say very little here about Mosaic’s biblical text.  Rather, I will focus my review on two distinctive innovations of the Mosaic Bible, its design and the 300+ pages of “weekly meditations” that follow the cycle of the church calendar.  Mosaic is divided into two separate sections – the introductory materials (including the weekly meditations) and the biblical text — and design-wise there is a sharp distinction between the two sections.  The design of the biblical text section is pretty mundane, a familiar three-column biblical text, with two columns of the scriptural text on the outsides and a thin interior column with cross-references for the verses on that page.  In stark contrast, however, is the introductory section which is teeming with full-color reproductions of relevant pieces of art from various locales in Church history, and overall is more innovative in its design.  Page numbers, for instance, are located in the outside margin, centered vertically on the page.  And speaking of margins, the ones in this introductory section are ample, which is both attractive to the eye and serves the functional purpose of creating space for the reader “to creatively interact with the material through sketching, journaling or however else you would like to contribute” (11).  The design in this first section is full of flourishes:  ornamental initials at the beginning of each weekly section, tasteful use of red fonts to complement the primarily black fonts, etc.  The introductory section is elegant and inviting it its design, but I wish that Tyndale would have gone the extra mile and incorporated more of this sort of innovative design in the biblical text itself.  The two sections can even be distinguished by the paper on which they were printed:  the introductory, meditations are printed on a rich cream-colored stock and the biblical text is printed on a white, thinner, onion-skin type paper.

In reality, Mosaic is two separate books, and given that Tyndale already offers its NLT in a variety of formats, I’m not completely sure why the weekly meditations part was not published as its own book.  I assume that Mosaic is to be marketed as a Bible for the postmodern generation(s) but honestly that is not what it is; it is a wonderful worship resource for postmoderns to which is appended a plain vanilla version of the NLT text.

The introductory section, comprised of 52 weekly meditations, is – as I alluded above – an excellent, historically-rooted, worship resource.  Each weekly meditation consists of a piece of relevant artwork, scripture passages that are appropriate for the themes of that week in the church calendar, followed by historical and global contributions “that reflect on the scripture passages and the theme of the week” and a “meditation” that “connects the weekly theme to the modern world. ” These meditations are typically poems, hymns or brief poetic quotations from church history.  The contemporary reflection pieces – part of the “global contributions” – have been written by a diverse group of young postmodern writers, including Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Karen Sloan, Anthony Smith, Richard Twiss and Mike Morrell.  These reflections are generally thought-provoking.  The historical contributions span  every continent and century of church history, although skewed toward the nineteenth and  twentieth centuries, even including pieces from contemporary writers like Wendell Berry and Sufjan Stevens.  Taken as a whole, these weekly meditations deeply probe the experience of following Christ.  In our time in which the ahistoricism of modernity still dominates the popular imagination, the richly historical resources presented here are a breath of fresh air and offer hope for the transformation of our minds.  Not only have the editors assembled a diverse chorus of voices but they have worked in harmony with the historical liturgies used in many churches—for instance, the scripture passages for each week have been drawn in large part from the Revised Common Lectionary (with some improvisation, as the RCL is a 3- year cycle and the Mosaic cycle is only one year).  As a thorough-going bibliophile, one of my favorite parts of this introductory section was the “tessarae” (lit., the tiles that make up a mosaic), which gives references for the larger works in which all of the quoted sources have been drawn, an excellent resource and a reminder that the quotes here themselves stand in larger texts written within specific historical contexts.

These Mosaic meditations are a wonderful gift to the church, rich, historical reflections that are more creative than most breviaries or offices.  I look forward to seeing how they become used, especially in gathered church contexts that are broader than an individual’s personal devotions.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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