This idea is free to a good home because, well, I had it 5 days ago, and I’m only just getting round to writing about it now. Clearly it needs more love and attention than I can give it. (Also, I’m not an anthropologist or an art historian by trade).
The thesis question for your hypothetical research (not so hypothetical, should you chose to accept it) is as follows: “What do the images of in children’s bibles do to their understanding of God and Christianity?” (Also Judaism, if you’d like to expand, or write a footnote explaining why you’ll be dealing with that in a later monograph).
This thought brought to you by m’good friend @kloklo’s spiral into research into children’s bibles, and my preoccupation with the representation of bible characters post-Exodus: God’s and Kings casting.
Seriously – think about how we portray Moses to our kids: “I’ve got 1 white bearded, 1 white and vaguely tanned, 1 legit dark skinned depiction but only as child.” That has got to do something to the way they think about the people God chooses and loves – the people who can know God, right?
I mean, in aside to your research into knowledge formation in kids and questions of representation, you’d need to do a proper analysis – who is writing / illustrating / publishing these bibles, and what are the guidelines for illustrators? What markets are they for, and are there different editions for non Anglo-Saxon / WASP audiences?
The only kids bible I own, actually, was written by Desmond Tutu, with illustrations by a wide range of different artists, and published by a company called Lux Verbi, which describes itself as ‘South Africa’s oldest Christian publishers’ – which if nothing else means that it has baggage (I know nothing else about it at all, and have no desire to cast aspertions, but whatever steps it has taken to move forward post-apartheid, it is safe to say that there will be cultural baggage). These are the various Moseses:
That’s a mixture of illustration styles – but not particularly of representation, I think: either of what Moses might have looked like or of a possible broad audience.
The Davids are more interesting – on the left, being anointed, and on the right, killing Goliath (he took the sheep with him, ok, and Goliath’s on the other page – he’s also white, but has a dodgy moustache):
Regardless of what David might have looked like, the two illustrations at least gives kids of more than one race to identify with one of the big bible characters.
And in fairness to this particular bible, it’s representation of Xerxes in the Esther section is far less objectionable than that of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s not just the explicitly Christian publishers who are involved in this. Also – This is the Last Supper. I can get on board with this. The image of the new heaven is similarly positive. In general, I feel good things about giving this bible to kids – which is especially nice, given the potential baggage.
Basically, I guess, my question is this: do the publishers of Children’s bibles generally make the main characters we’re supposed to identify with and learn positive lessons from look like us, and the ‘baddies’ (Pharaoh, Xerxes, Ahab and Jezebel, Judas) look unlike us? Or even predominantly. And does that encourage kids to grow up thinking that ‘real’ Christians are people who look like them, and that people who don’t look like them are not only different, but a threat to their faith?
I’d like to be wrong about my sneaking suspicion on this: but honestly, even if I am, can we have less white children’s bibles, in Anglo-American publishing. I’ll lend out my copy of this edition for now.