STOKING FIRE: A “New” Testament Offers Girly-Girls and He-Man Jesus in a Teen-Beat Format


It’s called REVOLVE 2010: The Complete New Testament, but it looks like a glossy fashion magazine geared to teenaged girls. The cover showcases three fresh-faced adolescents—two Caucasian and one of color—smiling at potential readers. The promise of what’s inside invites exploratory page turning: Celeb Drama-Trauma; Free Downloads; Guy 411; Are you a Talkaholic? and Other Quizzes.

Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., the world’s largest Christian publisher, REVOLVE 2010 is the sixth incarnation of what has been dubbed a Biblezine.  The first was published in 2003, sold 400,000 copies in its first month, and was designed by Studio Four5One, a Dublin firm whose client list includes Sting and U2. It was clearly meant to mimic publications like Elle, Nylon, and Seventeen.

“God never intended the Bible to be too difficult for His people,” the editors of the 2010 version explain. “Today, many feel that the Bible is too hard to understand or irrelevant.” To remedy this, they continue, REVOLVE uses the New Century Bible, a translation that replaces hoary wording with  “modern terms for places and measurements,” and puts “figures of speech and idiomatic expressions in language that even children understand.”

Indeed, REVOLVE offers readers a clearly written New Testament, Matthew to Revelations. There are no thous or thines, but instead, tips on being a girly-girl are intertwined with stories of Jesus’ prowess.  Marriage is touted, while those who divorce are admonished: “The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if she has sexual relations with another man. And anyone who marries that divorced woman is guilty of adultery,” they’re told.  Neither abortion nor contraception are mentioned but pre-marital “purity” is cavalierly assumed.

REVOLVE 2010 employs numerous hooks to ensnare readers. There are profiles of young Christian celebrities–Corbin Bleu of Broadway’s In The Heights; Cody Linley of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; Emily Osment of Hannah Montana; and 2007’s American Idol, Jordin Sparks, among them. Interviews with attractive and charismatic Christian hip-hop and rock stars Stellar Kart and Group1Crew further lure readers into opening the 281-page book.

Other temptations include Make-Up and Fashion 411.“You’re walking to class, feeling cute in your favorite low-rise jeans, when your chem book slips out of your hands and lands on the floor. You bend over to pick it up and feel a draft…You hope no one saw the crack violation you just committed. Exposing yourself is not a pretty sight…Don’t underestimate the power of a belt to keep you up and covered…” As for make-up, readers are advised to use “pink-toned concealer for sleepy eyes.“ Hmmmm. It seems the writers have forgotten the non-white faces on the Biblezine’s cover…

The Style section offers tips reminiscent of Hints from Heloise—from using old pantyhose to scrub white deodorant streaks from a dark shirt, to accessorizing to freshen a stale wardrobe—and is supplemented by Columns with such names as Dudes Decoded, Dating Don’ts, Heart Training, Chad’s Challenges, and 13 Tips from the Experts—four young men.

That it’s all heterosexual all the time should shock no one, but REVOLVE goes one better. Chad Eastham, a Campus Crusade for Christ leader and prolific self-help author, explains the mysteries of gender. “Guys brains are like waffles—they keep their lives compartmentalized in boxes. Girls’ brains are like spaghetti—everything in your lives is connected to everything else.” Forget Martians and Venusians, it’s waffles and spaghetti! 

To be fair, REVOLVE also urges readers to become active in efforts to repair the world. Consumerism is lambasted and going green and promoting ecological awareness get a good deal of attention. What’s more, numerous groups affiliated with World Vision, a well-respected Christian charity, are described, making it easy for readers to do something about AIDS, poverty, or the environment.

All told, REVOLVE 2010 offers readers an odd mix of material, and would be rather ho-hum—even amusing–were it not for the Biblezine’s alarmingly anti-Semitic content.  For example, throughout the text Jews are presented as attention-seeking and cruel. The Book of Matthew lays it out. “When you give to the poor, don’t be like the hypocrites. They blow trumpets in the synagogues and on the streets so that people will see them and honor them…” it reports. A later segment of the Disciple’s account is even more damning: “Jesus warned his followers not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began telling his followers that he must go to Jerusalem where the Jewish elders, the leading priests and the teachers of the law, would make him suffer many things.”

It’s impossible to know how readers will interpret these statements. At the same time, they are repeatedly cautioned that they, too, will likely suffer for their faith. After all, the authors intone, contemporary non-believers often mock Christians for their piety, modesty, and devotion. “But no matter,” they continue, “God knows who you are, girl. He loves you.”

How reassuring.

Fake text messages–He saves my lyf from d grace & lds me in luv & mercy—are meant to calm, and Facebook-like profiles–PhoebePheebs to you… IM screen name GsusluvsPheebs–are meant to give readers role models for emulation.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if REVOLVE 2010 is ingenious marketing or a devious plot to expose young women to conservative Christianity. Either way, it’s selling briskly, exposing a whole new generation to dangerous anti-Jewish stereotypes and narrow ideas about what it means to be female.

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  • hmprescott

    Thanks for the article — I check this out. re: the quote from Matthew – much depends on whether the quote is placed in the context of the larger lesson being conveyed in the text, i.e., give to the poor but don’t go around patting yourself on the back for it.  The quote from Acts refers to Jewish elders, who saw Jesus as a threat to church hierarcy, not all Jewish persons.

    You’re right, though, how people interpret this is uncertain.

  • amie-newman

    I don’t see much gray area here. In order for young people to “believe”, other people who believe differently must be dehumanized and degraded. Jewish elders are Jewish people, no? And telling people not to be like those who “blow trumpets…in the synagogues” is not exactly subtle. This sort of indoctrination relies on dividing believers from non-believers and the non-believers must be shown to be lesser, scary and to be avoided. That seems clearly anti-Semitic when the inferior, frightening ones are Jews.

    As for the rest of the “Biblezine”, I suppose it’s the farthest from shocking that it relies upon tired gender norms, the invisibility of anyone who is not White, and calls to control young women’s lives by making sure they have no say in their own lives:

    “The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if she has sexual relations with another man. And anyone who marries that divorced woman is guilty of adultery,”

    But the impact of this publication cannot be underestimated if hundreds of thousands are reading it! That said, not sure how ultimately impactful this is if young people are obviously continuing to be sexually active, and acting in other ways this sort of a publication clearly denounces.

    Great piece, Eleanor!

  • crowepps

    Considering that Jesus, his parents, his ancestors, all of the apostles AND the vast majority of his followers were also “all Jewish persons” it does seem kind of pointless to highlight that those opposing him were Jewish.

  • shauna

    This doesn’t make sense.

    “And telling people not to be like those who “blow trumpets…in the synagogues” is not exactly subtle.”

    It’s wrong to tell people not to act like hypocrites???

    “That seems clearly anti-Semitic when the inferior, frightening ones are Jews.”

    The non-inferior, non-frightening ones being addressed are also Jews.

    “In order for young people to “believe”, other people who believe differently must be dehumanized and degraded.”

    Not necessarily.  Their actions or beliefs may simply be deemed wrong.  And rightness and wrongness are necessary to any kind of concept of morality.  Without it, you also can not deem wrong for people to be “dehumanized and degraded,” you know. 

     

     

     

     

  • crowepps

    The difference is, of course, is that it doesn’t SAY “the Jewish Jesus warned his Jewish apostles that when He and His Jewish followers went to Jeruselum the Jewish authorities would” — the only time the ethnic identifier is included is in referring to the Jewish ‘bad guys’.

  • shauna

    The Jewishness of everyone involved is obvious from actually reading the book of Matthew, in whatever form, rather than cherry-picking a few statements.  There is no anti-Semitism in the gospels.

  • crowepps

    I agree – you’re absolutely right that there is no anti-semitism in the Gospels themselves.  Later writers, of course, piled it on, particularly Paul, and certainly it was evident in at some times in Catholicism historically and some segments of Protestantism, where some of the modern sects are heavily vested in it.

     

    Do a little googling and you will discover a bunch of screeds from various anti-semites about Jesus was actually ‘Hebrew’ or ‘Galilean’ and how only his stepfather was actually Jewish, blah, blah, blah.

     

    Certainly persons putting out a Christian magazine for teens, explaining the ‘Christian Culture’ and one would assume putting the most positive spin possible in the hope of recruits, should be aware of that history of anti-semitism and avoid clumsy language that IMPLIES that the only Jews around were the ‘bad guys’.

     

    Of course, it changes the story considerably if the Sanhedrin are described instead as “religious authority figures collaborating with the government who used obscure religious rules based in the philosophy of ‘purity’ to shame, marginalize and punish people who threatened their power by being uppity’.  Some kids might be capable of drawing the obvious parallel.

  • shauna

    Personally, I’ve never understood how one can look at any of the New Testament and see anti-semitism.  Paul was Jewish himself and had been one of the “scary and frightening” group that was discussed above, and he was all about breaking down the divisions between Jew and Gentile rather than perpetuating them.

     

    I suspect that these anti-semitic screed-writers have a good bit of dust on their own Bibles. 

  • crowepps

    Actually, reading the early history of the Church, where various leaders spent the first couple centuries ratting each other out to the authorities for execution and murdering each other over disagreements on obscure theological points leaves one full of awe that any of the message survived at all. 

  • hmprescott

    Just read an interesting article on the Oberammergau Passion Play that has been performed every ten years since the town was spared from the plague in the 17th century.  Unlike previous productions, which were used to justify virulent anti-semitism, the current one emphasizes the Jewishness of Jesus and the disciples by having them wear yarmukles and recite Jewish prayers.  This is another example of stressing the continuity of Jewish and Christian faith traditions.