The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation

Review by Ed Sizemore

In the Manga Bible, the authors want “to give you, the reader, a taste of the most important themes and characters, and a basic idea of what’s it’s all about.” As the subtitle states, this volume covers the narrative stories of the Bible from the first moment of creation to the end of time. The appendix of the book has two parts. The first part is the two authors discussing some of the choices they made for the adaptation. The second part is a gallery of rough sketches.

The artwork doesn’t look very mangaesque. In fact, it is more reminiscent of English independent comics. This makes sense since the artist, Siku, got his start working for 2000 AD. I found the art dissatisfying. It reminds me of the sketches artists do when they are roughing figures into a panel to determine what pose to use and how everything will fit together. There are lots of stray lines that appear to have no purpose and only the foreground figures are drawn in detail. Often midground and far away figures are just outlines. The book needs a good art editor to clean up and smooth out the linework.

The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation cover
The Manga Bible:
From Genesis to Revelation
Buy this book

The adaptation has deep flaws. First, there are the problems of narration in the book. On page 49, we are told the Israelites wander the Sinai desert for 40 years. On page 50, the nation of Israel is standing on the border of the Promised Land. Suddenly, pages 52-54 flash back to 37 years ago when the Israelites first came to the border of the Promised Land and refused to enter out of fear of the Canaanite inhabitants. There is nothing to let the reader know they have just jumped back in time until the end, when a panel has Moses tell the Israelites not to repeat their past mistake. To someone unfamiliar with the Biblical text, it would be easy for them to think that Israel wandered the desert for 77 instead of 40 years. Honestly, I keep thinking the pages got mixed up and pages 52-54 really should come before page 49.

The narrative reads like the scriptwriter is strip-mining scripture. He bulldozes over details and nuances in the Biblical text to move the plot along. Take the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:1-36). According to the Manga Bible, Joseph was a favored son of Jacob, who gave him an expensive coat. His brothers are so jealous of Joseph’s favored status and his new coat they decide to kill him. The oldest brother, Reuben, convinces them not to kill Joseph, but to just put him in a well for the time being. The other brothers agree not to kill Joseph, but to sell him into slavery.

The Biblical text adds a few more details. Joseph is the eleventh of twelve sons. He is the most favored and is given an expensive coat. However, Joseph also begins to have dreams in which he will rule over his brothers and his parents, dreams he imprudently shares with his brothers. (Joseph’s familiarity with dreams and their interpretation will play an important part later in his life.) It’s the dreams that push the brothers over the edge. The implication in the Biblical text is that the brothers are scared that Jacob will take heed of these dreams and actually make Joseph the head of the clan. To prevent this, the brothers plot murder, but Reuben steps in and saves Joseph. However, it’s implied that Reuben’s motivates are far from pure. It appears he plans to rescue Joseph from the well and then rat out his brothers to win favor with Jacob. While Reuben is away taking care of some business, the other brothers sell Joseph into slavery without Reuben’s knowledge.

By reducing this part of Joseph’s life to just four panels, the Manga Bible plows under all the subplots and subtly of the original Biblical story. I understand the Manga Bible is meant to be a quick survey of the entire Bible. However, even a summary of the text should include the important details, such as Joseph’s dreams. If you can’t tell the story well, then maybe you shouldn’t tell it at all and simply direct the reader to the source material.

There are also theological flaws in the Manga Bible. Let’s look at the story of Jonah. The authors do a good job with the first two chapters of the book. This is the famous story of Jonah refusing to obey God’s call to preach to Nineveh and being swallowed by a whale. However, chapter three is reduced to three panels and the major event of the chapter, the repentance of Nineveh, is reduced to a sentence. This radically changes the theology of the book. In the actual Biblical text, when Jonah preaches God’s message of doom, the king of Nineveh responds immediately. The king declares a day of fasting and prayer for all residents of the city, both human and animal. Everyone, including the animals, are to wear sackcloth and pray for forgiveness.

In the Manga Bible version of Jonah, God is a sadist who enjoys torturing prophets for refusing to deliver unnecessary messages. The main theological statement in the Biblical text of Jonah is a condemnation for Israel’s bigotry. Israel has come to believe that as God’s chosen people, only they are worthy of salvation. Through Jonah, God reminds Israel that He is the God of all the nations and His salvation is open to all who listen and obey His voice. Also, the repentance of Nineveh is meant to be a rebuke to the nation of Israel. They who call themselves God’s chosen people usually are deaf to His messages. It takes a prophet years to be taken seriously in Israel and rarely do they repent with the same fervor as the pagans did. The Manga Bible was the first time I had seen Jonah portrayed as the hero of the book!

It takes great skill to handle such a rich and multilayered book as the Bible. Unfortunately, the authors appear to lack the experience and subtlety needed for such a delicate task. Even though the Manga Bible is meant to be just “a taste”, it so alters the original Biblical text that all we’re left with is an artificial flavor. The Manga Bible serves as a cautionary tale for others trying to create a comic book version of the Bible.

The Manga Bible has a website where you can get more information on the book and the authors. A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.

15 Comments

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  3. What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher’s interpretation of the story? (here: samsonblinded.org/blog/genesis-37.htm ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I’d like to hear other opinions.

  4. Alex, All the translations of the text I can find say the same thing, Joseph’s brothers plotted his murder. I’m not sure it’s much of a joke to run away from a younger brother and leave him to the mercy of wild animals. Either way, the brothers want Joseph dead. I think Shoher is trying to be charitable to the brothers, but the Biblical text doesn’t cut them any slack. It lays bare their true intentions without any ambiguity.

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  8. “He bulldozes over details and nuances in the Biblical text to move the plot along.” One could as easily make the same comment on the book of Mark vs. the other Gospels. Each of which was also contextualized to its audience.

    The tendency to “over sacradize” the bible stories is interesting when contrasted with God born in a stable; killed on a cross – all at His own choice. To the Greeks foolishness, to the Jews a stumbling block.

    I love the irony that 2,000 years later, people still criticize this accessibility of the bible stories and God himself!

  9. Grant,

    Mark’s Gospel is an intricately written book. It’s not grandiose in it’s storytelling like the other three gospels, but don’t mistake simplicity for simpleness. Mark’s Gospel has been given an unfair reputation over the centuries. It’s a book with multiple subtle layers that it as well written as the other three Gospels.

    The Incarnation is not about accessibility at any cost. Christ never sacrifices the validity of the Old Testament in His own mission and ministry. He is always a careful exegete who often has to remind His audience what the Old Testament actually said versus how it was taught. I don’t
    oppose making the Biblical more accessible to modern readers, I oppose any attempt at accessibility that misrepresents or mistreats the text. You have only to read my review of
    Zondervan’s Manga Bible to see a good example of accessibility.

  10. I think the reviewer fails to realize that this in no way should be considered a complete look into the stories of the Bible, but rather, an appetizer to wet the appetite of those who read it, to have a hunger for the word of God.

    The reviewer obviously fails to understand this since he compares this work to being “a taste” which in no way is it. It’s a completely separate entity all to itself, and having been inspired by The Manga Bible to reread a few books in the Bible, I would have to say this work was a major success.

  11. Ed Sizemore

    Mint, the line, “to give you, the reader, a taste…” is a quote from the introduction by Siku. It’s Siku’s own description of the work. If this book inspired you to go back and reread the original text, thatls great. I’m honestly glad the book worked for you.

    My worry is not about people, like yourself, you are already familiar with the Bible. As a gateway to the Bible, this book fails. There are simply too many flaws in the narrative to recommend this book to anyone who isn’t already a student of the Bible. Even for students of the Bible, I only recommend this as a curiosity and not as a serious read.

  12. Though I’ve not read the Manga Bible, I browsed through it and found some points worthy of listing here: (1) for the Christian scholar, the Manga Bible is exciting in that the text can be evaluated as to its biblical accuracy (and thereby it fosters thinking) (2) it overviews Bible stories, giving their main points, which is important because it’s common for people to overanalyze verses and words and not see the big picture or message God gives (3) it brings the Bible’s text to life (or at least suggests how it may have been) (does so partly by using pictures), and encourages thought about the characters’ emotions.
    So I think the Bible-studier, anyways, should definitely check it out.

  13. Jason, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thought. I appreciate your input.

  14. Both my sons love the manga Bible. One of my sons has a form of autism but responds very well to printed media. He understands the Biblical stories better by seeing some of the exaggerated expressions. Neither of my sons particularly like to sit still reading for periods of time but they couldn’t put this down! I agree that the reviewer judges the work a bit harshly. I would never let my kids use comic-strip style as their sole source of Biblical knowledge. (I read different translations myself, though, to get a better understanding.) For kids, it’s a great introduction to Bible truths. Since reading the manga, my boys have raised a dozen excellent Bible questions and we’ve been able to discuss them as a family. I would say for kids, this is good “milk.” If you want “meat,” you probably won’t enjoy it much.

  15. Ed Sizemore

    Kelly, I’m glad your able to make gold from this dross. It’s great that your sons respond positively to their readings and have you to guide them to deeper truths.

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