- Press -
 Ball State Daily News - 4 April 2006

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," Smith said.

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 the difference.

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."


The Brick Testament
This article ran in the 4 April 2006 issue of the Ball State Daily News.
An online version of it can be found here.

newspressabout | shop