The Word-for-Word Bible Comic goes gospel

I’ve posted a couple of times about the Word for Word Bible Comic, first when its graphic-novel presentation of the book of Judges was being developed, and then again as Judges and Ruth were released. I’ve been so impressed with the historical and cultural accuracy and compelling visual imagery of this series that I’ve gladly agreed to become a biblical consultant to the project. And now I’m pleased to announce that it’s moving into the New Testament with a Kickstarter, beginning today, to fund development of a presentation of the gospel of Mark.

Let me share one draft image from that book, with the artist’s kind permission, to illustrate its groundbreaking approach. This is a detail from the scene where Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist:


Contrast this with the type of depiction you may have seen before:


What are the differences? For one thing, the landscape of the Jordan River is far more accurate in the Word for Word version. It shows how the area is basically desert, sloping down dramatically to the river, with vegetation appearing only near the edges of the water. The river itself is strong and rushing, which it was in the time of Jesus, particularly in that season and location. By contrast, the traditional image shows a verdant scene with hardwood trees and gently rippling water.

Another difference is that in the Word for Word image, Jesus and John the Baptist both look Jewish. Which they were, of course. In fact, readers of  the series may even recognize that Jesus bears a family resemblance to other characters from the tribe of Judah who have been depicted in earlier books, while John the Baptist resembles those from the tribe of Levi. Of course we don’t know what any of the ancient Israelite tribes looked like characteristically, but this series is adopting certain conventions to illustrate how they developed distinctively into clans, and then carrying that distinction forward right through the Bible. What better way to visualize the continuity of the biblical story? This is the kind of subtle attention to detail that’s embedded in every panel of these graphic novels.

But probably the biggest difference between the two images is that in the Word-for-Word illustration, Jesus is excited! Something amazing is happening here. Not only has he “fulfilled all righteousness” by being baptized (an overwhelming emotional moment, as any who have experienced it can testify), heaven has opened up and the voice of God has spoken! (Depicted in the full image, shown below.) The crowds are excited, too. Who wouldn’t be, at such a moment? Well, Jesus in the traditional image, for one. And I guess it’s only one, since there are no crowds in that image!

One more remarkable thing about the Word-for-Word image is the standpoint from which the artist views the scene. It’s from the middle of the river, slightly above the action! No human being could observe the scene from there. It’s the visual equivalent of an “omniscient narrator” in literature. By contrast, the traditional image is from the perspective of someone standing on the shore of the river, perfectly possible, but much less remarkable and revelatory of the actions and emotions involved. (As I’ve read through the forthcoming Joshua volume in my capacity as a biblical consultant to the series, I’ve been struck over and over again by the fresh perspectives from which the artist views the story. This often gives greater insights and is a significant contribution that should not be overlooked.)

I hope these few observations on one part of one image from the planned Word-for-Word Bible Comic: Gospel of Mark are enough to give you an idea of the radical and refreshing approach it’s taking. I invite and encourage your support for the project on Kickstarter.


Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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