The Bible is often referred to as the word of God. In reality, it's significantly longer: around 775,000 words spread across 66 different books, when all is said and done. How do you distill the word of God down into a single cover, then? If you're Joseph Novak, you don't: you create a minimalist cover interpreting each and every one of the Bible's many books.
A Presbyterian pastor who moonlights as a graphic designer, Novak describes his Minimum Bible as a "visual diving board" into the text of the Old and New Testament. Composed of 66 minimalist posters, the project is Novak's attempt to distill each book of the Bible into a single symbolic design.
For each book, Novak's designs take one of two different tacks. Many of his posters broadly represent plot: the Book of Lamentations, for example, shows the destruction of Jerusalem reflecting in the pupil of an eye. Likewise, Jonah's design shows the silhouette of a subaqueous leviathan with a man in his belly.
Others are harder to figure out, since they are obviously symbolic interpretations of the Bible. The Book of Haggai's poster appears almost like a fractal, which could represent the Babylonian prophet's urgent message to rebuild the Jewish temple, or the author's own fractured writing style.
This isn't by accident. Novak wants his posters to encourage people to think more deeply about the Bible. Consequently, his designs tend to encourage multiple interpretations.
Novak's design for Genesis, for example, features seven nesting circles, seemingly representing the Biblical account of creation: the seventh circle is colored red, marking the day man entered the world. But Novak's concept was actually more complicated, and the design is meant to represent the ripples mankind created in the clear pool of a sinless world.
"It’s the ﬁrst book of the Bible, it’s an origin story—it’s the backstory of the group of people living and writing in Babylon who are landless, kingless, and temple-less. How did they get here, what happened?" Novak says on his website "At its heart, the story is really this brief image in a reﬂecting pool of Utopia but by the third chapter, a stone has been tossed into the pond and the ripples of that stone spread throughout the rest of the book.”
In addition to encouraging people to think more deeply about the Bible, Novak hopes that the Minimum Bible might inspire some increased design awareness among Christians. "I’d love for a publisher to recruit some designers and make a version of the Bible that offered some modern design—sculpture, print, and mixed media—to symbolize and interpret the biblical text," Novak says.
That's not a bad idea. If Penguin in the 1960s had split up the Bible into 66 different paperbacks, its covers probably would've ended up looking a lot like Novak's designs; I'd love to see them make that fantasy a reality.
In the meantime, Novak's posters can be purchased individually starting at $25 a print on the Minimum Bible website.