The Brick Testament
Internet offers medium
for playful look at Bible
Mary Beth Lehman
When Brendan Powell Smith, nicknamed The Reverend, first read the
Bible - while attending college at Boston University - he thought
to himself, "Has anyone actually read this book?"
Smith estimated the stories people are familiar with comprise about
5 percent of the book and decided he should educate people on the
other 95 percent.
"It wasn't until a few years later when I happened to get
back into building with LEGO bricks as an adult that I realized
this could be a perfect way to take a fresh new look at the Bible's
most famous stories and to shine a light on all its forgotten ones,"
So, in 2001, Smith launched The Brick Testament Web site, which
at the time housed six stories from Genesis acted out by LEGO people
on LEGO scenery. The site uses the actual words from the Bible,
and when the dialogue Smith presents deviates from actual language
used in the Bible, he makes a point of letting his audience know
Smith said he figured the site would be visited primarily by friends
and family, but the site received 20,000 visits in the first two
weeks of going public.
From that point, the media coverage began, he said, and the site
took off, eventually leading to the publishing of three books showcasing
the story of Christmas, the Ten Commandments and Genesis.
Smith said the site now has two types of fans.
"One group is comprised mainly of a younger audience who grew
up playing with LEGOs and often has a skeptical view toward religion,"
he said. "The other group is mainly parents who are interested
in using The Brick Testament as a fun way for their kids to learn
about the Bible."
This distinction becomes an issue when bookstores have to decide
where to place the books on their shelves.
"Barnes & Noble has chosen to stock the books in their
Juvenile Religion section, but the books have also been sold at
places like Urban Outfitters next to books with titles like 'How
Animals Have Sex' and 'The Cannabis Companion."
Smith said the success of the books and Web site is due to word-of-mouth
marketing about the Internet site.
Despite the number of fans the Web site has drawn through its viral
marketing, it is not without its critics. Although Smith said the
vast majority of e-mails he receives are praising the site, about
1 percent has something negative to say. Some people, Smith said,
do not appreciate certain scenes being depicted through LEGOs.
"The most common complaint I've received is about my depicting
the sex in the Bible," Smith said,
No complaints have been made about the depictions of stonings,
stabbings, flailings, hangings, massacres, beheadings, immolation,
dismemberment, animal sacrifice or crucifixions, Smith said.
Smith includes content ratings on each story, so visitors can see
before they view a story whether it includes nudity, sexual content,
violence or cursing.
Smith said the Internet has been the perfect medium to display
his work because of the freedom of operating a one-man show.
"It's worth noting that by publishing on the Internet, The
Brick Testament can remain a one-man operation, not beholden to
any particular company or organization," Smith said, "So
it's pure creative freedom
The Internet is an independent
artist's dream come true."
Despite The Brick Testament's religious theme, Smith does not consider
himself to be religious.
"I was raised in the Episcopalian church but stopped believing
in God around the age 13," Smith said, "I am not religious
but have a fascination with the origins of Christianity and the
Judaism of that time, strictly from a scholarly perspective."
Smith said religion is not always a factor in appreciating The
Brick Testament; the site, he said, should have meaning for everyone.
"It's meant to be funny but also to increase people's knowledge
of the Bible," he said. "Whether you're religious or not,
I think you're much better off knowing what's really in the Bible."