Gospel truths;Reviews;Books

26th November 1999 at 00:00
21ST CENTURY CHILDREN'S BIBLE. By Derek Williams and Stephanie Jeffs. HarperCollins pound;14.99. THE FOUR GOSPELS: (Good News Bible). Study Notes. By Michael Keene. HarperCollins pound;8.99. TEACHERS NOTES. By Michael and Jan Keene. pound;25.99. 2000 YEARS: The Christian Faith in Britain. By Nicola Currie. Lion pound;9.99.

Paul Noble looks at the pitfalls of modernising the Bible's language

Nobody has yet put Jesus into disposable nappies, but the time will come. The Good News Bible, first published in 1976, changed the "swaddling" of the Authorised Version into "wrapped him in strips of cloth" in an attempt to update and simplify. The 21st Century Children's Bible uses the same phrase but goes further in its attempts to be modern. It presents the Bible as 365 "stories" - one for each day of the year - annotated in the margins to make it a handy volume for a teacher or a storyteller at bedtime. The language is not much different from that of the Good News, but sadly the text is filled out with apostrophe-laden soap-like dialogue, for instance, "Perhaps I'dbetter call off our engagement" (Joseph) and "Do whatever you like!" (Abraham).

If one is going to play about with biblical text like this, surely it would be more satisfying to go for a full imaginative retelling? It has been done with stories from Shakespeare. Ways have also been found of making some of the Bard'spoetry accessible to children, so it should be possible to do the same for the language of the Authorised Version. Perhaps nobody thinks it worth doing for the 21st century.

The Four Gospels is the best version of the Good News Bible that I have seen. In two-column format, it is well-illustrated and has a handy colour-coded margin for each Gospel. The format isideal for the young reader. The Teachers Notes are very informative and helpful for lesson preparation, but the photocopiables are as dull as a shipping forecast without a Dogger Bank or Finisterre to cheer them up. An unvarying typeface combines with crude drawings to create a celebration of monotony, although I did find the section where the children filled in the blanks mildly diverting. ("The --- came in the form of a --- and sat on the --- of ----.") The Teachers Notes sensibly use AD and BC, as does national curriculum history, while The Four Gospels inconsistently uses BCE and CE. The issue is further confused when a horizontal and a vertical timeline are placed in direct opposition to each other on one page - foolish errors that should have been avoided.

2000 Years: The Christian Faith in Britain is a pretty book, sharply focused and very straightforward. Inevitably, squeezing 2000 years into 20 double-page spreads and rigidly sticking to the format accentuates the book's lightness of touch. Crusaders and pilgrims, for example, are dealt with in one double-page spread, the same space devoted to George Fox, who started the Quakers. Surprisingly, this book is conventional in everything except in its use of conventions. It places CE next to every AD date on its recurring timelines, which strikes one as being more in the cause of point-making than clarity.

Paul Noble is head of St Andrew's Church of England primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire

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