Making Manga out of the Bible

By Deirdre J. Good
15 Nov 2007

As a New Testament scholar with diverse cultural interests, I try to follow the marketing of the Bible - and here's an interesting example. Published by Tyndale in the UK in 2006, and in the US in September 2007, Manga Messiah heralds the Manga Bible, which is published this month (November 2007).

According to Anime News network, The Manga Bible is set to include the entire New Living Translation of the text with three 32-page manga tip-in sections that summarize the narrative. Zondervan is getting on board with its own contribution.

Tyndale's project with Japanese artists is different than The Manga Bible by British born Nigerian artist Siku, published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK, and endorsed by the US ABC Network in August 2007.

Its worth offering a few comments on the Tyndale venture, Manga Messiah. It's a synthesis of all four gospels which makes reading a bit jarring (unless you are used to Tatian's Diatessaron, a second-century synthesis of all the gospels combining them all into a single narrative).

At the same time, Manga Messiah has its own agenda. This has something to do with families. There's never a tension between Jesus and his family of origin. For example, Jesus' address to his mother in John 2.4, "Woman!" at the wedding in Cana becomes, "Dear Woman, What is that to you and and me?"

Instead of this being the only thing Jesus says to his mother as it is in John 2, and thus strange, Jesus and his mother say to each other on p.71 of Manga Messiah before the wine runs out, "Um...Yeshuah..our hosts have a bit of a problem here..." "What happened, Mother? Everything appears to be going well for them..." This exchange is not in the biblical text.

Similarly, texts in which Jesus seems to displace his family of origin ("Who are my mother and sister and brothers") with "Whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother" in Mark 3:35, for example, are the subject of an inserted comment (Manga Bible, p.149): "Yeshuah's words did not express hostility toward his family...but his new teaching defined a new family relationship...one created by mutual faith...the family of God."

Its obvious that there is a tension between Jesus and his family of origin. Why does Manga Messiah gloss over it? Is this an example of Japanese family values intruding into the text?

Most depictions of Pharisees or other opponents are caricatures of unappealing people which become sterotypes by the time one has finished reading the book. Pharisees are lurking in wheatfields looking out to catch hungry disciples eating wheat on the sabbath. This isn't good and it isn't plausible.

Similarly, Judas goes out to betray Jesus before the Last Supper. Which means he doesn't have the Last Supper with Jesus and the other disciples. Why should he be excluded from this important meal? This isn't the sequence of any of the gospels. Also, for some reason Judas wears a single earring. Does this stereotyping have to do with the genre "manga?" Likewise, the genre can't convey the long discourses of Jesus in John's gospel. In the Manga Bible, Jesus speaks in sound bites.

Parables are "picture stories" rather than something else like "riddles" or enigmatic sayings. Aspects of the parable of the sower receive a single explanation: "The seeds must be God's word! And the good soil must be someone who believes the word of God" (p.151). No other fate of seeds is explained nor is any attention given to different soils. Isn't this simplistic even for teenagers?

It would be a good thing if this kind of book was not an end in itself.

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Manga Messiah, Manga Bible, TNIV Manga Bible extreme and related products are available via Ekklesia's shop link with Eden Books.

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© The author. Deirdre Good is Professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary, New York City, NY. Her latest book is Jesus' Family Values. She writes a regular weblog. Her previous book was Mariam, the Magdelen and the Mother.

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