The Old Testament. The New Testament. Like you've never seen them before. Above all, a testament to the versatility of little bits of Danish plastic and the boys and girls who take their childhood passion into adulthood. The Brick Testament is the Bible... in LEGO*. Just when you thought that Mindstorms was the pinnacle of polymer intellect, along come faith and the world's perennial best seller to spoil your secular, materialistic jollies.
The Brick Testament, as seen at http://www.thebricktestament.com/, is the world's most famous blend of fact and speculative fiction "retold and illustrated" by The Reverend Brendan Powell Smith, self-confessed closet heterosexual and generally known as The Reverend. Rev Smith is not some fundie from a walled and gated nut farm in the Ozarks. In fact he's not a reverend--or even reverend--in any way. He is your average atheist with a knack for rendering some of the favourite, or at least more influential, tales of our culture entirely in Lego bricks. His heresy is immediately apparent in the fact that he uses the New Jerusalem Bible instead of some king-tested, Jehovah-approved version. His site bills itself as "the world's largest, most comprehensive illustrated Bible." Verily, I tell you, this has to be the most detailed and elaborate rendition of the Good Book outside of a Baptist theme park.
"Illustrating the Bible in LEGO was not my first career choice."
I am not one of those who blame their continuing juvenile antics on the toys that they were given as children. My Lego collection was passed on to my brother, after which it was probably dispersed and lost among various households of relatives with small children. I no longer own as much as a single 2x4 white brick and don't miss it terribly. On the other hand, I spent enough rainy days immersed in a world of Esso gas stations (this was long before the days of Octan) and blue rail tracks to appreciate a well-done construction. And all of Smith's sets are extremely well-crafted and smartly photographed.
The Reverend's artistry and attention to detail are not to be faulted. We must keep in mind that this is only Lego, not plasticine, so his materials are limited to what the company sells. The figures are probably the most amusing part. I'm pretty sure that Jesus from the waist up is Qui-Gon Jinn. God's beard was no doubt borrowed from Albus Dumbledore, though the accompanying shock of white hair is an adapted helmet. Smith does have to deface some of the heads in the name of expression since so few Lego figures display any emotion. The stories definitely benefit from the magic marker addition of eyebrows, three-day stubble, and lipstick. Mind you, it makes the Twelve look like the proletarian subversives that they were. Very rarely are there non-Lego props and they tend to be simple and discreet, like the rubber band tying king Agag's hands in 1 Samuel. Some of the dress decals are definitely not period but I don't think the white trash and harem outfits are something that the Lego Group produces. As for the Holy Ghost, well, it's real Lego but you can't keep a straight face looking at it. I suppose we'll have to ask the author if we want all the answers.
How much Lego does the man have, you might ask. I sure did. Loads. And loads. And more loads. Just the battle scenes in Judges 4 and elsewhere suggest that he has recycled several dozen Star Wars sets and every castle set ever made. That includes Hogwarts since I'm pretty sure that the resemblance between Jerry Springer (um, yes, read on) and Harry Potter is more than passing. His collection of base plates, with which he conscientiously builds stuff like mountains for Abraham to climb up and slopes for the blood to flow down, must have cost a fortune. Very little of the Brick Testament's sets seems to be made of bulk blocks.
The question arises whether the Rev Smith is respectful, faithful to the word, or just taking the mickey. The answer, I think, has to be all of the above. Many of the stories from the Pentateuch in particular are graphically violent. This is not to say that the first five books of the Old Testament aren't R-rated to begin with. Smith does little to sanitise them. Some of his chapter titles are a bit less restrained. Acts 15, on the subject of circumcision, is titled "The Great Penis Debate." Deuteronomy 7 is accurately but not popularly titled "Instructions for Genocide." But then that's Deuteronomy. I think I'm relieved that Rev Smith has not yet gotten around to doing much of Leviticus. He uses a rating system to denote stories with violence, sex, cursing, and nudity--but not with drug use. Noah in the buff gets an N rating but the boozing somehow gets a free pass that the MPAA would not stand for. And while the title "God Makes Promises He Won't Keep" is probably the blessed truth in 1 Chronicles 17, it doesn't make for good Christian reading.
The action is often no less tongue-in-cheek. "The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people" (Acts 5:12) involves a top hat and an oversized white rabbit. Victims of stoning or other judicial and extrajudicial slayings often end up in a puddle of flat, translucent red 1-by-1s. The same little bricks represent the evidence of virginity required in Deuteronomy 13--after the accusation is made on a very believable reproduction of a Jerry Springer set. And how could you not love the visual of Paul circumcising Timothy. While it may make the average uncut male wince, it takes a lot of devotion to detail to pry open a Lego figure's legs. I never managed to do it as a kid. Perhaps I was simply not destructive enough. Mind you, this pales before the illustrations of Genesis 34, replete with bloodstains and a basket full of severed foreskins. There are some bits of the Bible that you don't picture as being particularly graphic until you've seen them played out in flesh-coloured Lego.
Sometimes the content is definitely critical or politically incorrect--and I don't mean (just) the sort of puppet sex that got Team America: World Police into trouble. Matthew 5 is almost in its entirety a commentary on the moral foundation of Christianity in Mosaic Law and the inconsistencies in its contemporary teachings. The text in the speech bubbles is black for bible quotes and grey for other text. In this grey we see David reasoning that Amnon, as firstborn, is entitled to one freebie incestuous rape. On the other hand, Smith is remarkably measured in his treatment of Job (his most recent work at the time of writing), which for many infidels is the smoking gun that proves that YHVH is an ASHL and to the more faithful suggests that YHVH can do no WRNG, not even in LEGO.
The Brick Testament's 300+ story universe would not be complete without the books that first came out in 2003, two years after the start of the project. Smith has illustrated the stories of the Ten Commandments, Christmas, and Genesis in book form. Their reception was, surprisingly, not as cool as one might expect. Many Christian readers seem to think that the books are kid-friendly and appropriate. I bet the kids think that they're way better than Sunday school. Other parents are less amused and would just as soon burn the books along with Shakespeare and Voltaire. The Reverend also sells similarly themed custom Lego kits (not approved by the Lego Group) on the web site.
Many people play with Lego and post the results on the web. Some are even funny. Nothing in my opinion comes close to the Brick Testament. The Reverend is a prince among the men (you know they're almost all men) who create their own Lego universes. Remember... that "the Brick Testament shall not be held responsible for the release of deadly plagues upon humanity." On the other hand, it may be responsible for mirth, inspiration, or any combination thereof. I'm not saying that you'll find Jesus by reading the Brick Testament, but you'll probably spend more time with your nose in a Bible story than you ever thought you would.
* It's not known what the official LEGO company thinks of the Brick Testament. A similar Playmobil effort in German was approved by the Vatican but was cease-and-desisted by the manufacturer's lawyers in April 2009 because of the physical torture the figures were subjected to (try crucifying a Playmobil figure and see if you can do it without some serious heat application). So far the Brick Testament has neither received Danish nastygrams nor has it been pillaged by Viking attorneys.