Every chapter of the Bible in 140 characters or less.
I summarised the Bible on Twitter between Aug 2010 and Nov 2013 - one tweet per chapter, one chapter per day.
Now available in Paperback and on Kindle
This is the first in a short series of interviews with people who have summarised the Bible on Twitter. I'll ask each person the same set of questions.
Jana Riess began her #Twible project in October 2009 and finished six months ago.
Firstly, what's your day job?
For most of the time I was tweeting the Bible I worked as an editor at a publishing house, but now I am freelancing full-time. Most of my clients are religion publishers or authors who are writing religion books.
Why did you decide to summarise the Bible on Twitter?
I had tried several times to read the Bible straight through from cover to cover, with no success. I generally gave up around Leviticus. So one reason was just to see if I could make it all the way through the text if I read it out loud, as it were, in community, and if I made it funny. Another reason was that I’d been impressed by the creative ways other people were using Twitter, sometimes to teach a class or to write a novel.
How would you describe your style?
I think you Brits would call it “cheeky.” My sense of humor has been influenced by Buffy, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Dr. Who and The Onion, if that gives you a sense of the tone. So The Twible is primarily entertainment, looking at the lighter side of the Bible. If people are also learning, and going back to the original source, that’s fantastic.
Here are a few examples:
Did you prepare the summaries in advance?
Yes, to varying degrees. In the beginning I was so well organized that I was working at least two months ahead of my schedule for tweeting. Toward the end there it was more like two weeks ahead.
Did you ever miss a day?
I missed a couple of days here and there by accident when I had prepared a tweet but failed to upload it properly using the automatic social media platform I’d chosen (first YouSendIt, now HootSuite).
And at one point in late 2012 I had to take a hiatus for several months, when my mom became very ill and then passed away. My heart was broken. So it took me longer than I had planned.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
Oh yes. Several times. Especially toward the beginning—Leviticus again!—when there weren’t many people following the project alongside me, I often wondered what craziness had resulted in my deciding to do this. But gradually more people began to hear about the project, which helped, and tell their friends. And as I settled into a pattern of research that I found very stimulating, tweeting the Bible just became a regular part of my own life, intellectually and spiritually. I learned a ton of things about the Bible that I didn’t know.
Which was the hardest book, and why?
Well, the most violent sections of the Bible, such as Joshua, Judges, Numbers, Nahum, and the Psalms of imprecation, were tough to tweet with a lighthearted sensibility. But sometimes we can use humor to reveal the things that are dark and disturbing, to bring them into the open, so I tried to do that.
Weirdly, though, the hardest book to tweet was my all-time favorite book of the Bible: the Psalms. I love the Psalms, so I was looking forward to writing about them. But what I enjoy most about them—the gorgeous poetry—was awfully hard to convey in just 140 characters, and it also turns out that there’s a lot of repetition in the Psalter.
Which was your favourite book, and why?
Oddly, my favorite book to tweet was Job, which is often regarded as one of the saddest parts of the Bible. But unlike almost any other book in the Bible, it has a narrative arc focused on a single person’s experience, which makes it much easier to help the reader track the story.
As well, the themes of Job are so timeless and resonant for anyone who has ever been in pain, anyone who has ever wondered where God might be hiding in the midst of our struggles. I was working through Job while a family member was in the hospital, and I found its relentless questions comforting, because they were my questions too.
How has summarising the Bible affected your faith?
I have so much more admiration for the people of the Bible than I did before—not because they were heroes, but precisely because they were not. So many sins, so much tragedy—yet God managed to use these people to do His work in the world. I wonder sometimes if the reason we often wrongly place the biblical figures on a pedestal is that we suspect that if we emphasized their human frailty, we’d realize that we have no excuse not to partner with God in challenging ways ourselves. And most of us really don’t want to take that risk of upending our lives for God. It’s much easier to imagine that the biblical characters were saints, wholly Other.
How much have you read the Bible since you finished?
A lot, actually, because I had to revise everything and add sidebars to get the project to work as a cohesive book. But now that the Twible book has just released, I’m afraid I’m sliding back into the more haphazard ways I had of reading the Bible before 2009. I need to be more disciplined.
What's your next project?
I’m working on a devotional now, a companion volume to Flunking Sainthood called Flunking Sainthood Every Day. It’s filled with great quotes from some of my favorite spirituality writers, like Madeleine L’Engle, Kathleen Norris, Thomas Merton, Richard Foster, and others.
How can we get hold of your complete summary?
The book released on November 8 and can be purchased at Amazon in the US and the UK. Here is a link.