story by Young Shin Lee; art by Jung Sun Hwang
published by Zondervan; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Zondervan’s Manga Bible is the English translation of the multi-volume Manhwa Bible originally published in Korea. Since the term ‘manhwa’ doesn’t have the selling power of the buzzword ‘manga’, Zondervan changed the title for the US release.
Reading the Manga Bible is like listening to an entertaining Sunday School teacher. The author, Lee, gives us his paraphrase of the Biblical stories infused with a sense of humor. This gives the book an informal and conversational feel. But don’t be fooled, Lee does a great job of staying accurate to the original text.
Making this a multi-volume adaptation was a wise decision. This gives both authors plenty of room to tell each story with the pace and details needed to show respect to the Biblical text. Lee has the room to include even the little details that give the Bible its particular narrative voice. Of course, there are a few cuts, but most of the events are minor and usually aren’t part of the grand Biblical narrative of God’s salvation through the generations. An example of a side story that was cut and isn’t missed is Lot’s role in Abraham’s life. Honestly, to me, Lot always read as a distraction and hindrance to Abraham, so I didn’t even realize he was cut until I reread the first volume.
An effective device is the inclusion of the authors themselves as narrators in the books. It works well because it provides breaks in the Biblical story that allow readers a chance to catch their breath. Second, it reminds the reader they are getting someone’s interpretation of the Bible and not the Bible itself.
The humor in the book is very hit and miss. The jokes work when they are based on the situations or characters of the story. It’s refreshing to see someone use humor that doesn’t either mock the Bible or its characters. (Think Bill Cosby’s Noah routine.) The worst jokes are the puns, and there are plenty. I’ve been know to favor some bad puns, so if I say some of the puns are real groaners, then you can bet they are scraping the barrel for jokes.
The artwork here is a little disappointing. It has an amateurish and slightly dated look. At times the character designs remind me of Dragonball Z. The artist Hwang has the odd habit of giving all the pharaohs thin Van Dyke beards and elongated faces which made them all look like French cavaliers. The storytelling is strong enough, however, that after a while you overlook the flaws in the artwork.
I really only found one flaw in the adaptation, in the narration of the Garden of Eden story (Genesis 2:15-3:24). In the Bible, the forbidden tree is called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and not simply the Tree of Knowledge. The ‘of good and evil’ is significant and can’t be dropped from the name. God isn’t trying to keep Adam and Eve ignorant; He’s trying to preserve their innocence. Changing the name of the forbidden tree radically changes the nature of the story from God protecting their moral purity to a story about God seeming to suppress intelligence to maintain control. Given that Zondervan is a Christian publisher, I thought they would have caught this mistake and corrected it. This is a pet peeve of mine because of the tremendous amount of bad existential writing in the 20th century that is based on thinking it’s the Tree of Knowledge and not the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
As good an adaptation as these books are, there are some odd narrative choices that don’t hurt the work but did having me scratching my head. The first is the excising of Hagar & Ishmael from Abraham’s story. Considering the role Ishmael plays in Islam and Paul’s use of Ishmael in Romans, leaving this story out isn’t the most prudent decision. Second, the judge Shamgar is given eleven pages in the Manga Bible, but only has one verse in the Biblical text (Judges 3:31). They make Shamgar out to be a master of the quarter staff and an invincible warrior. (Like those found in seventies kung fu films.) Why they chose to greatly pad Shamgar’s tale when there is plenty of action already in the book of Judges doesn’t make much sense to me.
I do have a few words for the publisher Zondervan and how they’ve handled the book. First, why are there no page numbers? There’s no reason for this oversight other than pure laziness. Second, among manga publishers it’s standard to give credit to your translators. They work hard and deserve recognition for their contributions. Third, it’s also standard to give the original publication date of a translated work. Why is there no reference to the original Korean edition on the copyright page? If this was a serialized work, where and when was the serialization? It makes no sense to act like this is the first and only publication of these books. Finally, it would have been nice to have Scripture reference interspersed throughout the books, so if someone wanted to read the source material they wouldn’t have to do a lot of hunting to find the appropriate verses. I hope later volumes will correct these mistakes.
I highly recommend Zondervan’s Manga Bible for anyone looking for a good visual adaptation of the Biblical text. I can easily see this being used in Sunday Schools as a way to introduce and familiarize elementary and junior high children with the various Biblical characters and stories. I plan on sharing my books with my six-year-old nephew. You can find out more information about the Manga Bible and download sample pages at the publisher’s website. Zondervan also has a website dedicated exclusively to their graphic novels. For comparison, I previously reviewed another Manga Bible here.