The most disappointing present I ever had was given to me for Christmas when I was eleven. Gift-wrapped in thick brown paper tied with string, it had promising heft and solidity: a chemistry set with a real Bunsen burner, perhaps; certainly not anything boring to wear. But it turned out to be a Holy Bible, from a pious aunt.
It had a dozen or so full-page coloured illustrations, and these implanted in my mind a totally mistaken idea of what the people of the Middle East were like in biblical times. Not until years later did I realise that they were actually not a bit like the rather wet characters in the pictures, hanging around carrying out godly activities like praying or watching sheep. Nor did I notice at the time, for I dipped into the text only very lightly, that many of the things they got up to in those days were very ungodly indeed. I was not then familiar with a bawdy Sunday School song which would have corrected my misapprehension. I mean, of course, a bawdy song about Sunday Schools, not a song which they sing at bawdy… oh, never mind. Anyway, its refrain was:
…Bring your toffee apples and sit down upon the floor
And you’ll hear some Bible stories that you’ve never heard before…..
Had the internet been available to me in those days, I could have got a much more accurate picture of what really went on in the Holy Land by studying this website. Launched in 2001, it was conceived and created by the Reverend Brendan Powell Smith (his priestly status** is unclear: the matter is discussed under faq on the website), and what it contains must surely be the most comprehensive and attractive set of Bible pictures ever published; there are hundreds of colourful and detailed illustrations of quotations from the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, with 431 covering stories in Exodus alone! Not surprisingly, it has had over two million hits since it was launched in 2001.
The Eighth Plague (Locusts): Exodus 10, 12-15
A very useful feature is that, in view of the adult nature of many Bible stories, every chapter and indeed every story is rated according to its content: N for nudity, S for sexual content, V for violence and C for cursing; of course, a substantial proportion are rated with three or four of these letters.
Parts of the website have been published in book form and would make ideal Christmas presents for eleven-year-olds.
**A note on the back of the books says "Though it remains unclear why Smith has been chosen to illustrate the Bible... most scholars and theologians agree it is of little use to question such matters". As The Rocky Mountain News (Colorado) commented in October 2003: Amen to that....
Thanks to martin g for the link.