A longer look at bridges and bibles, this review of the One Hour Bible explores ways of approaching the Bible for someone unfamiliar with where to start for themselves.
A Long Look at a Short Bible:
My favourite bridge in the world is the Ponte Vecchio. I have crossed it 8 times, over two holidays. I have seen it from within, and without; at day and at night; crowded and very crowded.
The Ponte Vecchio is both bridge and home to the goldsmiths of Florence for centuries. Lined with ancient shops selling treasures of incredible value, as well as revealing spectacular views of the city’s Renaissance splendour, it’s a place of beauty and of wealth. Sitting over the wide waters of the Arno river at a mere 95 meters, it is the shortest of the world’s most famous bridges. Despite its diminutive length, the Ponte Vecchio attracts millions of people every year. It is a landmark that sits over water more than actual land.
In a lot of ways, the bridge is like a taste of Florence. All the elements of the city are there. The traders and street merchants all reaching out to grab your attention; the baked colours of the Renaissance architecture that towers above, reminding you that this is a grand city, an old city; and the crowds of people from all walks of life who are drawn to this spot of preserved history. You don’t have a sense, on the famous bridge, that much has changed. What would be considered elemental in both human experience and truth can still be found beneath the chatter of the masses.
I write about this bridge not because the tourism board of Italy sends me money. They don’t. Rather, because in approaching the Bible, I like to picture it as a city. Not any particular city in that Bible, but the Bible itself as a city. In a letter to Bertrand Russell, the Irish author James Joyce wrote of his grand novel Ulysses that if the city of Dublin were to be destroyed “it would be possible to rebuild the entire city, brick by brick, using Ulysses.” The scale of Ulysses, the detail and scope of the book, made the reader feel they were moving through the vast strings that make up city life. The moving lives that cross and recross over each other.
That is, in part, how I view the Bible. Each book its own postcode, each chapter a street, and each verse a building. And like a city, there is a unifying character to the Bible that marks it as a single place, a single book. Even the division between Old and New Testaments have their urban counterpoints. Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is actually made of two cities: Buda and, you guessed it, Pest. Both halves divided by the river Danube, which is not as blue as often believed.
Buda, the first half of the city in name, is a hilly region that is characterised by Buda Castle and the Fisherman's Bastion. These two old structures sit atop the steep, and difficult-to-climb, hills of Buda. From their position, you are able to see for many, many miles. The shadow of Buda looms over the rest of the city. Its adherence to old rule is always present, no matter where in the city you are. But even with their domineering silhouette, they are still beautiful. The white stone looks as clear as the day it was first set into place.
Pest, meanwhile, is as level as the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, America. Endlessly, perfectly flat. Equality is Pest’s defining feature. A large number of buildings remain below a set height of only a few floors. The two structures which protrude most from this level cityscape are Parliament and St. Stephen's Basilica. Both of these are also level. No one is higher, representing the nation’s equal weighing of human law and divine rule.
In meaning, the two half of Budapest couldn’t seem further removed. But, since two cities were unified in 1873, the two districts became one city. And though there are many bridges in Budapest, none come as close to providing a microcosm of their city as the Ponte Vecchio does for Florence. And as a city may come to represent the fullness of the Bible, the Ponte Vecchio is the most astute lens through with to look at the One Hour Bible.
Any pretence that is isn’t a real substitute for the Bible goes without saying. The One Hour Bible is closer to being the Ponte Vecchio, rather than the full city of Florence: a microcosm of the Bible that includes everything the text is known for, but in smaller bursts.
Even describing the text as an abridgement, whilst not related to the word bridge, does contain a grain of relevance here, and would serve as a better approach to the Bible. And an approach to the Bible is exactly what the One-Hour Bible is.
It’s the Bible from a distance, but still the Bible.
For anyone new to the Bible, approaching from a distance helps you to acclimatise to it. Grasp it. Understand the shape of its character. Like the boats sailing into New York greeted by Lady Liberty and the infamous skyline, or aeroplanes circling above a minuscule looking London to find the right approach, the long approach eases the weary into the rhythms and character of a place. If you were suddenly transported from where you are right now and zapped into the heart of a city on the other side of the planet, you’d be a little disorientated, to say the least. The same goes for trying to read the Bible when you’ve never even picked one up before:
Where is best to start?
If this is you, then The One Hour Bible will help you find your feet, know the basic map of scripture, and be better placed to plan your own journey through the many pathways and streets that thread through God’s word. It helps ease the daunting dizziness of choosing where to go. And when you find a story in the One Hour Bible which speaks to you, the timeline and references at the back will help you locate it in the full Bible.
The One Hour Bible chops up and condenses the text of the Bible (using the NLT Translation) into a series of short scenes. Nothing is added, but rather condensed. The space between many of the stories is left out, but the effect is surprisingly smooth. Yes, some of the ellipses may span centuries, but they read like part of a single story. Seamless and simple to read.
Yes, the Bible is sprawling, complex, and built on a history no one person can fully understand, but that shouldn’t put anyone off reading it. So take an hour out, and gain (or regain) a sense of the Bible. An understanding that will illuminate your feet as you explore the pathways and side streets of scripture with confidence.
Both a distillation of all the Bible is as well as a map of the Bible’s character, The One Hour Bible is an affordable and approachable resource for sharing God’s today.
The One Hour Bible is available to order today.
Also, for anyone inclined to timing themselves, it took me 48 minutes to read, but 'The 48 Minute Bible' isn't as memorable a title.
September 14th, 2018 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon