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Repackaging the Bible

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  • Wide range of Bibles on the shelves this Christmas
  • Green Bible printed on recycled paper with soy ink, sustainable linen cover
  • The Illuminated Bible takes on magazine format
  • "Always room for more Bibles," publishing exec says
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By Eric Marrapodi
CNN
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SPRINGFIELD, Virginia (CNN) -- Georgia Keightley strolled through the religion section at Barnes and Noble in Springfield, Virginia, on Monday searching for a last-minute Christmas gift.

The Illuminated Bible takes the text of the New Testament and mixes it with editorial photos.

The Green Bible looks at the text through the lens of the environment.

"I'm looking for a book on [the Apostle] Paul for my husband," she said clutching a 15 percent off coupon and lamenting the limited selection.

She would have had better luck if she had been looking for a new take on the Bible -- on the next rack in front of her were three shelves filled with Bibles of various shapes and designs.

Keightley said she and her husband already have five copies of the Bible in their home. Consistently the best-selling book on the planet, publishers are constantly repackaging it to lure new audiences.

Harper One in October released the Green Bible, looking at the Bible through the lens of the environment. In an effort to keep it true to its eco-conscious motif, it was printed in the United States on recycled paper with soy ink, and has a sustainable linen cover. "It is still printed on paper though," conceded publisher Mark Tauber, who said a digital format would be greenest.

Tauber said publishers were hoping to capitalize on the growing trend in Christian circles of eco-theology and creation care. The Green Bible is filled with essays from across the theological spectrum as a companion to the text.

Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote the forward while Brian McLaren, a popular progressive author and pastor, and N.T. Wright, the staunch conservative theologian, contributed essays. Anytime the text mentions something about the environment, the letters are printed in green, similar to how some Bibles print the words of Jesus in red.

In the United States, where religion and politics have danced and intertwined into a sometimes unrecognizable amalgam, environmentalism has been viewed by many politically conservative evangelicals as a "liberal issue."

Matthew Sleeth is the author of "Serve God, Save the Planet" and for years he has been trying to convince churches that environmentalism and creation care are theologically sound. Their attitude, he said, has changed rapidly in the past few years.

"Recently I went to Grace Fellowship, the largest church in Baltimore, [Maryland,] and the pastor introduced me and said, 'I used to be against this, but examined my heart and the Bible and came to the conclusion I was wrong.'"

Another Bible out in time for the holiday season is The Illuminated Bible. The glossy oversized magazine format could easily mingle on coffee tables with Italian Vogue and GQ. It takes the text of the New Testament from the Good News translation and mixes it with editorial photos.

Pages following a verse from Mark's gospel referring to John the Baptist -- "God said I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you" -- are adorned with pictures of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Angelina Jolie, Mother Teresa and Che Guevara to hammer home the point to a modern day audience.

"The text is our heritage even if you're not a believer. We are stuck with it. Let's know more about it," said Dag Soderber, the Swedish advertising executive who is behind the project. Soderber said his motives were philanthropic. Though not a practicing Christian, he said the more people who read the Bible, the more who will see what it is all about -- and that will generate more religious tolerance.

Soderberg's first goal was to make the packaging like a glossy fashion magazine so it would be more accessible to a modern audience, making it, "something you can find in a hair salon, something you can find anywhere," he said.

The Illuminated Bible debuted last year in Stockholm, Sweden. When bookstores wouldn't carry it, Soderberg brought it to friends who owned fashion boutiques and design stores and said it flew off their shelves. There have been a few tweaks to the English language version.

"There were some pictures that were sexy here [in Sweden] that we took out because I don't want to make it more offensive than I have to." Soderberg hopes to have an Old Testament version in stores in time for Easter.

So how do such repackaged Bibles sell among the other versions filling stores' shelves? A manger at Borders Bookstore in Springfield, Virginia, said the Green Bible is selling briskly. Georgia Keightley thinks that's a good thing. "Anything that gets people to read the Bible is a good thing."

Mark Tauber from Harper One said, "I've seen a statistic that the average American home has four to nine Bibles in their homes. There's always room for more Bibles. The industry has shown us that."

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