Hands-down, the most entertaining and informative article I've read recently was "The Good Book Business" by Daniel Radosh, which appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The New Yorker. The piece described why book publishers continue to love the Bible -- a surefire winner with readers -- and how the drive by evangelicals to get the Scriptures into the hands of as many people as possible has given rise to some ingenious marketing techniques and any number of different Bibles targeted for niche audiences, like the extremely popular skateboarders' Bible. (Jewish Bibles were, of course, outside the parameters of this article.)
According to Radosh, the modern era of Bible publishing had its "spiritual roots" in the 1960s. In the first half of the 20th century, the Bible was identified with "the establishment." There had been two major American translations -- in 1901 and 1946 -- which were scholarly in tone, and the King James Version continued to predominate in the marketplace.
"Into this world came Good News for Modern Man. Published by the American Bible Society in 1966, Good News for Modern Man was a Bible for the young and disaffected. It resembled a mass-market illustrated paperback novel. A year later, five million copies were in print. Other publishers were quick to follow this lead, according to Paul Gutjahr, a professor of religious studies and English at Indiana University. Tyndale House published the Living Bible, a free-wheeling paraphrase. The spirit of the era is best captured by an edition of the Living Bible put out under the title The Way, which features psychedelic lettering and photographs of shaggy-haired young people and describes Jesus as 'the greatest spiritual Activist who ever lived.' The success of these accessible, culturally relevant Bibles alerted publishers to a new world of possibility. They introduced women's Bibles in pastel colors, recruited celebrity pastors to write exegeses, and made room for breezy spiritual pep talks alongside, or instead of, the scholarly commentary."
Good News for Modern Man was the progenitor of all of these new niche Bibles because, said Radosh, it was not just revolutionary in its packaging, but also in its text. "Until then, major Bible translations in English had taken an approach now known as 'formal equivalence,' striving to maintain the sentence structure, phrasing and idioms of the original Hebrew and Greek. The Good News Translation, as it's usually known, followed the precepts of 'functional equivalence' -- translating not word for word but thought for thought, with the goal of capturing the meaning of the original text, even if that required massaging the words or reordering sentences. Walter Harrelson, a Bible scholar who served on the committee that produced the relatively formal New Revised Standard Version, in 1989, likes to say that formal equivalence carries the reader back to the world of the Bible, while functional equivalence transports the Bible into the world of the reader."