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 Florida Today - 9 April 2005

Brick by brick, Legos become Bible stories


Brendan Powell Smith created a must-be-seen-to-be- believed Web site, www.thebricktestament.com, and translated the book of Genesis and the Christmas story into Legos. Now he's back with "The Brick Testament: The Ten Commandments." You'll never look at the parting of the Red Sea the same way again.

We caught up with the 31-year-old philosophy and religion graduate of Boston University at his home in the San Francisco Bay area, where we quizzed him on what inspired him to build a career re-enacting Bible scenes with plastic toys.

QUESTION: Why the Bible?

ANSWER: I've been fascinated with Bible stories since I first read the Bible all the way through while in college. It occurred to me even then that most people haven't actually read the Bible. They have some familiarity with some of the more famous Bible stories, but even then it's often not from reading the Bible itself but from other popularization of the stories.

I had often thought it would be a worthwhile project to reacquaint people with the stories from the Bible in a way that is fun and accessible while staying scrupulously true to the original text.

Q: Before the books, you started sharing your creations on a Web site. When did you create thebricktestament.com?

A: The Web site was launched in October 2001 with six illustrated stories from the book of Genesis.

Q: What kind of reaction did it get?

A: I had only sent out e-mails announcing the site to a handful of friends, family and fellow Lego enthusiasts, but within two weeks the site had been visited more than 20,000 times. Soon the site was getting 200,000 visits a month.

Q: Do you have rules you follow, like everything in the picture has to be an actual Lego accessory, or do you adapt things you find around the house?

A: Everything you see in "The Brick Testament" except the background sky is made out of Lego elements.

Lego never has made any official Bible sets, or even any sets from ancient times, so one of my biggest challenges has been to create a convincing biblical world by combining parts from all the non-Bible sets that Lego has made through the years. Moses has the long gray hair and beard from the Dumbledore figure from a "Harry Potter" Lego set, plus the stern eyebrowed face of a jackhammer operator from a Rock Raiders set. His brown cape is from a Jedi in a "Star Wars" set, and his staff is a lance from a 1980s castle set.

Only very seldom have I needed to physically modify a Lego part. I had to carve God's hair out of a white Lego space helmet, because Lego has never made a white hairpiece -- and it didn't seem right to have God be bald.

Q: What about the golden calf and Ark of the Covenant? No way those can be real Legos.

A: Oh, but they are. The golden calf is a little tricky because I basically built it upside down. This allowed the two little divots that normally appear only on the bottom of slope pieces to show as the calf's eyes.

I was very happy with how the Ark of the Covenant turned out. The lattice work on the side is just some yellow Lego fencing from a 1980s house set pressed into some sideways bricks, and the little winged creatures on top are fancy helmet decorations from castle sets of the mid-1990s.

Q: The new book includes a Lego re-enactment of the sins named in the Ten Commandments. Is that a blasphemous reaction? I don't think the Ten Commandments are supposed to be fun.

A: I'm not sure they are supposed to be fun, either. Most people treat the Bible very seriously, but telling serious stories with these little plastic people is inherently silly. And yet I try to maintain a serious devotion to retelling these stories as seriously as they were written, which in the end, only makes the whole thing even sillier.

Q: So do you think you're blasphemous?

A: Nope, just irreverent.

Brick by brick, Legos become Bible stories
This is the text of an article that appeared in the 9 April 2005 edition of the Florida Today. The article was originally published in the Des Moines Register, but was later picked up by this paper, the Chillicothe Gazette, and other Garnett newspapers. An online version of this article can be found here.

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