Horrible Herod and stinky feet

18th March 2005 at 00:00
THE COMPLETE BIBLE BADDIES. By Bob Hartman. Lion pound;5.99

EASTER STORIES (A Storyteller Book). By Bob Hartman. Lion pound;9.99

MOSES: A LIFE IN PICTURES. JESUS: A LIFE IN PICTURES. Masterpieces of Art series. By Neil Morris. Book House pound;13.99 each

David Self reviews retellings of Bible stories and art guides to biblical events

Bob Hartman is a Christian writer and performer, an outgoing American evangelical who has had an embarrassment bypass. No matter who forms his audience, he'll have them up on their feet, pretending to be trees, sea or sun as he re-tells the creation story. I know because I've been trapped.

But he can write stories that easily, even brilliantly lift off the page. In The Complete Book of Bible Baddies, he steals the style of the Horrible Histories series to describe the Bible's more obvious villains such as Jezebel, Herod and Judas; the baddies who became goodies (St Paul) and also flawed heroes (King David and St Peter). He is keen to show God's redeeming love and often glosses over a gruesome ending. The result, when the tales are judged simply as stories, can sometimes be anticlimactic.

In his book of Easter Stories (for children as young as five) he points up "the lighter, happier and even funnier moments in Jesus's final week" - so the story of the Last Supper becomes a tale of "stinky feet". Things do sober up for the crucifixion itself and the post-resurrection stories are well done although, inevitably, Doubting Thomas turns into Victor Meldrew:

"I don't ber-lieve it!"

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that medieval art is little help in making Biblical stories accessible to today's students. Those who believe this argue that the dress, the symbolism and the frequently Italianate scenery don't depict the Holy Land "as it was" but merely erect another barrier between the subject matter and pupils used to televisual realism.

Each book in the Masterpieces of Art series takes a dozen medieval paintings to illustrate the main events in the lives of Moses and of Jesus, with line drawing keys to help the reader decode the symbolism and less obvious detail.

Smaller reproductions of comparable works illuminate related aspects of the main themes as do the biographical notes, time lines and glossaries.

Children as young as eight will be able to "read" the superb reproductions thanks to the accessible text, while both key stage 3 and 4 students will find much that provides a challenging and engaging commentary on familiar stories.

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