Imposing Cultural dichotomies on the bible: a Review of “Heroes and Villains of the Bible”

by Anna Blanch on January 6, 2012

I’ve been a reviewer for BookSneeze for a couple of years now. I often request books that I think might be of interest to Goannatree readers. I chose Heroes & Villains of the Bible published under the Tommy Nelson imprints, because I wanted to see what was on offer in the way of child-appropriate discussions of the bible as cultural text (which a heroes/villains subtext implicitly denotes).

The book is almost a children’s bible of sorts comprising large chunks of text from the International Children’s Bible translation with very short (paragraph length) headers and endnotes for each excerpt by Tama Fortner. It is a hardcover book that should stand up to rough treatment by the 8-10 year old child who I would contend is the likely best audience.

There’s not much to review here. Almost the entire book is made up of the 50 excerpts of episodes featuring the heroes and villains in the bible. I could review the50  passages chosen, 17 of which feature “villains” like Satan, Cain, Pilate, Herod, Judas and Haman. But there neither seems to be glaring omissions or strange inclusions – although within the dichotomy of good v evil, there’s very little room for the reality of life as complex and that some of biblical heroes, like David and Abraham, also behaved pretty badly on occasion. There’s only about a paragraph at the beginning and end of each excerpt that offers any additional material. Mostly these point out whether the biblical character featured in the excerpt is a hero or a villain and challenges the reader in the most straightforward didactic fashion to choose whether to behave like a hero and declares that to do not would be to live for the devil (244). There’s certainly nothing hidden there. I wonder, honestly, what these head notes offer to the text?

The images have been produced in the style of computer generated animation and are very slick. This may be attractive to the target audience. although generally of high quality these images by Eikon Bible Art do have some moments that are slightly questionable. For example, the painted over skin of the Ethiopian makes it seem like they started with a white person and put black-face on them. A few of them felt a bit overproduced to me. There’s certainly no feeling of grittiness in any of them.

It finishes with the sentiment “Real Heroes Choose God.” My question would be, do they? The narrative of the hero and the villain is culturally imposed on the biblical text in a way that I’m not sure is helpful. I’m not saying it’s not a narrative that in some ways the bible was instrumental in shaping as a literary trope, but it’s just done in a heavy handed way here. If you have a child 8-10 who is enamored by the stories of heroes and villains and you’d like to help them see how they can think about the bible in similar terms (meeting them where they’re at) then I can see that this book may be a great boon to you and them (to prompt discussions for instance). But, would I generally recommend this as a good excerpted bible for child where the bible is treated as literature? No. the additional text is too heavy handed and is didactic in a way that leaves it open to criticism (hence this review). As usual, I’d encourage parents to read these texts for themselves before handing them over to your youngsters!

 A copy of this book was provided to the reviewer as part of my involvement as a BookSneeze reviewer. These are my own opinions. See my disclosure for more information.

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  • Goannatree

    Darn. This post deleted a great discussion Steve and I had about children’s literature. Silly comment system. Hopefully it is all fixed now.

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