Do you know what the most popular book in the world is? It’s not The Hunger Games – it’s not even Harry Potter. It’s the Bible. And while plenty of people have read it, it’s still quite the undertaking, with its 1,189 chapters. If you’re interested in the context but not all the copy, there is a digital solution at your fingertips: The Twible.
Author Jana Riess first got the idea to write The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less four years ago when she was looking up a piece of information in the Bible and found that there were many parts of it she didn’t know much about – and considering she had gone to divinity school, that was quite a realization for her.
“I was also interested in ways that people were creatively using social media. A professor I knew had tweeted a course on the world religions, with each religion presented in 140 characters or less. So I thought, why not tweet the Bible?,” says Riess. “I had tried reading the Bible from cover to cover several times without success. But would it turn out differently if I read the Bible in community this time, and tried to find some humor in it? In approaching the Bible, I wanted to imagine what The Onion might say about it.”
Riess set out to convert all 1,189 lengthy and sometimes-overly-wordy chapters of the Bible – which she believes a lot of people are intimidated by – into shorter, more manageable summaries using Twitter and the @TheTwible handle. She decided to throw in humorous references to pop culture and current events to appeal and reel in an audience that’s used to watching celebrity tweet wars and Instagrams.
Of choosing Twitter, Riess says she wanted to choose the platform of the people, a rather biblical tradition. “For centuries, people have sought to present the Bible using the media of their own age. In the 1500s, it was a Bible in the language of the people; in the 1950s, it was the Bible on the silver screen. Today, the language of Twitter speaks to who we are,” Riess explains. “The medium is brief, yes, and I can understand when people worry aloud about us having some sort of national attention deficit disorder. But I think such people might be underestimating the value of social media. Twitter is a fascinating means of understanding the Bible because it is by nature communal and interactive – as the Bible itself should be communal and interactive.”
The project has garnered a steady amount of recognition during the four years Riess spent tweeting for it – she has received tons of retweets from people who found her summaries funny or interesting, and even hate mail from the more conservative readers saying she’d go to hell for producing such a book. But that hardly deterred Riess; she says she loves the community aspect of Twitter and has even included some suggestions made by her followers on the site in the final version of the book.
“So far, most of the people who have responded have been more on the religious end of the spectrum—they’re generally thoughtful Christians and Jews with a healthy sense of humor,” she shares. “I’d love to hear from more non-religious people. I did have a terrific endorsement from Hemant Mehta [The Friendly Atheist on Patheos.com], who said he would not object if The Twible was in every hotel room. That made me laugh out loud.”
The Twible’s languaging is current, funny, and easy-to-read. However, Riess shares that she had to go through a massive number of Bible versions in order to effectively translate the text into tweets. “During most of the time I was tweeting the Bible, I worked for a publishing house with a wonderful line in biblical studies and I could get the books at half off. So I went a little crazy with commentaries,” she says. One of the books she used was Eugene Peterson’s The Message, which she describes as “a fresh, opinionated, and colloquial translation” that helped her understand more of the psychology and emotions of the biblical characters. Other references she used include the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and the King James Version (KJV).
Here are a couple of snippets of Bible chapters from the KJV, followed by their Twible translations:
5 – Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
10 – This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 – And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
#Twible Gen 17: Abram now Abraham. G was clearly not thinking ahead re: Twitter character count. Name longer; foreskin snipped. A tradeoff.
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) May 25, 2013
15 – And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast.
16 – And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
17 – And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he hath uncovered his sister’s nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity.
18 – And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.
#Twible Lev 20: More people (& animals) you can’t have sex with. Death penalty for you & the cow. Also, no Ouija boards @ slumber parties.
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) June 21, 2013
13 – She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
16 – She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 – She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
21 – She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 – She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
#Twible Prov 31: Dawn to-do list: Buy estate. Make winter coats. Weave cloth 1st. Make family look good. Be strong. Get Michelle Obama arms.
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) August 12, 2011
4 – And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 – To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 – And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 – And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
#Twible Lk 2: “Ma’am, we have no rooms available, but there’s a rustic barn out back that is, um, quite charming. The hay is free today.”
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) July 16, 2012
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
1 Cor 13: Love is patient and kind. It does not get annoyed that this chapter is read at Every. Single. Wedding. Love bears all. #Twible
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) October 29, 2012
1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
#Twible Rev 12: Sparkly woman gives birth to baby Jesus w/ killer dragon as midwife. This could REALLY spice up the nativity crèche at Xmas.
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) May 11, 2013
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
#Twible 1 John 3: “Love one another; obey the commandments; don’t hate.” The Bible would be much shorter if we’d done all this the 1st time.
— Jana Riess/Twible (@janariess) April 20, 2013
Aside from having a tweet for each of the chapters in the Bible, The Twible also has a tl:dr summary of every book, told in fewer than seven words. The print version also has a couple of hilarious lists – such as “The Top Five Incestuous Relationships in Genesis” (Cain and whoever he had kids with … his sister? His mom Eve??) or “Worst Careers If You Want to Remain Biblically Clean” (gynecologist, urologist, undertaker, hog butcher, vampire) – cartoons, a glossary of who’s who, and unicorns.
“My primary goal throughout this process has been to make people laugh and to make them happy,” Riess shares. “It’s a humor project. If they are entertained then I’ve done my job. But if, along the way, they also learn more about the Bible, then I’m thrilled.”