My short bio: I am the creator of The Brick Testament website, an ongoing project to illustrate the entire Bible in LEGO bricks. Working with a publisher in recent years, I've authored and illustrated The Brick Bible series of books: an Old Testament and New Testament collection intended for older children, teens, and adults, and a series of picture books for younger readers called The Brick Bible for Kids. In all of these Bible-related projects, I've endeavored to let the Bible speak for itself. All the stories are retold using direct quotes from scripture with chapter and verse cited. I'm very pleased that this approach has won fans among the full spectrum of belief from the devoutly religious to ardent atheists.

Latest project: My latest LEGO-illustrated book is a departure from the Bible and covers a niche of American history. It's called Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents. Here's a timely excerpt from my new Assassination! book: http://assassinationbook.com/jfk/

My Proof: Announcement of IAmA on The Brick Testament news page

Hello? Is this thing on?: The main IAmA action was on 11/23/13, but I'll check in here every so often and answer any interesting questions that haven't already been answered for as long as people feel like asking them. So ask away.

Comments: 284 • Responses: 47  • Date: 

JeffreyToots82 karma

I teach Religious Studies at a secondary school in Yorkshire. I am not religious myself but see the necessity of teaching RS in an attempt to educate future generations in the hope of a more tolerant and informed society. I would not be able to do my job as successfully if it wasn't for The Brick Testament which captivates the most grumpy of teenagers - massive thank you!

brendanpowellsmith98 karma

Great to hear it! May I use your quote to promote my books?

"Captivates the most grumpy of teenagers" -Jeffery Toots, Religious Studies educator

:)

OffByNone52 karma

What is your reaction to the plethora of parents who have recently been accusing you of misrepresenting the Bible? To take a quote from the Amazon.com reviews:

I quickly flipped through, but realized something was amiss when my 9 year old came to me and said, "This doesn't seem right... I don't remember this in the Bible." .. The God figure in the Old Testament appears angry and vengeful. I agree with another reviewer: if I didn't already know God, I would not want to follow the God depicted in this Lego Bible.

brendanpowellsmith161 karma

It's unfortunate that these criticisms of my books come in the form of 1-star reviews on Amazon, serving to scare people away from my books that might otherwise really appreciate them. At the same time, it's kind of understandable given people's lack of knowledge about the content of the Bible (and often their complete obliviousness to that ignorance).

Before I read the Bible for myself, I surely did not have a preconceived notion of Yahweh always being upset or acting vengeful. I approached the Bible with an open mind and very few preconceived notions. But the more of the Bible I read, the more it seemed impossible that anyone would depict Yahweh with anything other than an angry and vengeful disposition. I say that without making any judgment of Yahweh's character, I am strictly making an impartial observation. One could well believe that it is holy and right for Yahweh to be upset and vengeful, or one could believe it's despicable and wrong. But I don't see how someone could actually read the Old Testament and come away with a different impression of Yahweh. In the New Testament Yahweh himself only makes a few cameo appearances, and one might be tempted to think that his character has fundamentally changed (which seems like an odd thing to happen to God, but anyhow), but if you continue all the way through to the book of Revelation, the ol' fire-and-brimstone Yahweh makes a triumphant return and a continuity of character is reestablished.

All this can be quite jarring and can cause serious cognitive dissonance for religious believers who have not actually read the Bible and have formed their idea of a loving and caring God from other sources. But it hardly seems right to blame the messenger for showing an accurate portrayal of the Bible's content. Finding out that I am not religious seems to be an out for a lot of such critics. Rather than confront the stark contrast between their notions of God and how the Bible portrays God, they jump on the fact that I am an atheist, and therefore must be up to nefarious trickery (or that I'm in league with the devil).

wbendick26 karma

How did you come to start your brick stories project?

brendanpowellsmith46 karma

I had played with LEGO as a kid, and always enjoyed not just that you could build anything through a recombination of parts, but that it was also a way to do storytelling. I wasn't a prodigy builder as a kid or anything, and my LEGO got put away with my other childhood toys when I was about 13.

That's also about the age when I went I started to become a bit introspective and began to be something of a skeptic. As I entered adulthood I consciously wanted to let go of superstitions and "magic thinking" as its called (though I wouldn't have known it then). That process ended up causing me to become an atheist, and at the time, I was the only atheist I knew. This had the effect of making me fascinated by religion, especially Christianity, as everyone else I knew kept right on believing. I went on to study Ancient Christianity and Judaism at Boston University. That's where I first read through the Bible cover to cover, and as I did, I kept thinking to myself "I don't think people actually read this book!" There was so much in there--the vast bulk of it, really--that was stuff it seemed never got talked about in church and never made it into Sunday Schools or storybooks. So from that point on, I had the idea that it would be a good and worthwhile thing for people to have a better knowledge of what makes up The Bible, whether they are themselves religious or not.

I happened to get back into building with LEGO as an adult a couple years out of college. After a cutting my teeth on a few large-scale building projects, the idea occurred to me to combine my two main interests, and to try to recreate a few famous scenes from the Bible. Once I had created a Garden of Eden and little LEGO characters for Adam, Eve, God, and the snake, and was snapping some digital photos to share online, it further dawned on me that LEGO could be exactly the right medium for retelling the content of the Bible in a new and engaging way.

blava9 karma

Thank you for doing this. I still have yet to read the bible. I was on my way to being an atheist when I stumbled across your Brick Bible (probably around 4 years ago). Wow, you've done a lot since then. I find it more entertaining to read your Brick Bible. I looooooooove your attention to detail. I wonder why more people haven't fully read the bible (if they say that they follow it). My parents are Catholic, so growing up I was forced to go to church for all holy days of obligation... Never realized that the stories from the bible I was taught were a select few! I thought I had heard the whole thing.

Keep up the good work. I'll keep an eye out for future projects. I think your current work of Assassinations! sounds great. I love history being told the way it is. Especially with Legos!

TheWingnutSquid2 karma

I am a Christian and I do agree, I should read the Bible more but I know a few deep Christians who have read it cover to cover and aren't hindered. I honestly don't have much time, though with school and extracurricular but I do agree more Christians should read it more, including myself

brendanpowellsmith14 karma

Yes, I don't assume that everyone who reads the Bible cover to cover will come to the same conclusions about it that I have. I know life doesn't work like that, nor do I expect it to. People may read the Bible or read The Brick Bible and become less religious or more religious. Either way, they are in a position of greater knowledge and can make more informed choices, and that seems like a good and worthwhile thing.

scrumbly22 karma

What's the most extreme reaction (positive or negative, though I'm guessing negative) you've ever gotten from someone who saw your work?

brendanpowellsmith60 karma

I've gotten a fair amount of fanboy or fangirl type praise, which is always quite flattering. There is even one woman who got a tattoo on her ankle of my LEGO Moses holding the ten commandments: http://thebricktestament.com/moses_tattoo_02.jpg

Some of the more extreme negative reactions to my work have come in the form of 1-star reviews for my books on Amazon, like this one:

Totally Psycho Version of the Bible

This Bible was written by an atheist with his own agenda at heart. It's basically a "Family Guy" version of the Bible with the volume turned up. Many of the scenes he depicts are so violent or sexual in nature that it's sick to think that this is marketed towards children.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2UYC75294WTVA/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1626361770&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=

foodlovesme2 karma

Aren't the books not marketed towards young kids?

brendanpowellsmith1 karma

My only books that are actively marketed toward young kids are the Brick Bible for Kids picture books (http://thebrickbibleforkids.com). The full Old Testament and New Testament books are marked as Religion/Art on the back, serving as the publisher's suggestion to retailers about what section of their store is most appropriate. On the front page of my website (http://thebrickbible.com) I try to guide people to the most age/maturity level appropriate Bible illustrations.

christhelpme20 karma

I recently saw a post of the "reviews" of your book on Amazon, Laughed my ass off and instantly bought a copy. Good times bro, good times.

brendanpowellsmith35 karma

That was quite the response from the Redditors yesterday. I think my Old Testament book was the recipient of about 150 5-star reviews in one day.

People were very focused on that one book, though. My other books (The New Testament, and the new Complete Set) went right on getting 1-star reviews. :)

Great_Zarquon11 karma

Do you have any future plans for other LEGO-illustrated books? Also, how big is your LEGO collection, and from where do/did you get them?

brendanpowellsmith23 karma

Having released the Old Testament book in 2011 and the New Testament in 2012 (both re-released this year in a two-book hardcover box set), my publisher asked if I would create another larger LEGO-illustrated book geared toward older children, teens, and adults. So I spent this past year creating Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents, which has just been released: http://www.thebrickchronicle.com/shop/assassination

I am currently working on writing a follow-up book that will continue The Brick Chronicle series of LEGO-illustrated history books. I won't give away any details about that one yet, but I think it will be quite revolutionary. I'm also continuing the series of Bible story picture books for young readers, and just finished work on the Jonah and the Whale story for release in April 2014. After that who knows? I have several more ideas that I think would make great books. Let's hope people buy enough of my books that I get to make more!

My LEGO collection is very large. I weighed it the other day, and it came out to one metric heckton of LEGO. It's not the largest collection I've seen among adult LEGO builders, though. What some people don't realize it that I am constantly deconstructing what I've built (once I have a great photo of it) so that I always have the raw materials to move on to building the next scene.

brendanpowellsmith10 karma

I missed answering the last part of your question.

My LEGO collection began with my childhood collection. To that I bought up other people's old collections that were selling for cheap on eBay when eBay was first getting started. Then there was a period of buying new sets as they came out, always looking for buy-one-get-one 50% off sales and such (LEGO is expensive!). Nowadays I have so much of the basic LEGO parts that my needs are very specific. Fortunately there's a site called Bricklink.com that caters to adult builders like me. It's a collection of people reselling new or used LEGO that has been parted out. So when I was going to illustrate the Plague of Frogs, I could see who was selling a high quantity of frogs at the best price. :)

lina7010 karma

I know your main thing is the Bible - but what inspired you to do a book about assassination attempts on US Presidents??

brendanpowellsmith19 karma

History has always been another favorite subject of mine, and it seems like another area where people can only benefit from knowing more about it, and also another area where (like with the Bible) I knew there were some incredible stories that most people just didn't know.

The idea for Assassination! came to me when I was kind of half-remembering a story I had once heard about Theodore Roosevelt, and how he had once been shot in the chest. Rather than seek medical attention, he demanded that his driver take him to deliver the campaign speech he had planned to give that evening to a crowd of 10,000. "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot," he told his audience "but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose."

The more I looked into the various assassination attempt stories, the more the drama and bizarre details of them convinced me that this would make an amazing LEGO-illustrated book.

And a year and a half later, voila: http://assassinationbook.com

Muggi9 karma

Do you plan to release a more risqué hardback version? I understand toning it down a bit to appeal to a wider audience, but many of us want the awesomeness of the website as a coffee table book!

brendanpowellsmith13 karma

It's unlikely. Both US publishers that I've worked with to date have felt the need to tone down the parts of the Old Testament and New Testament books that deal with sex to have the book appeal to a wider audience. It's not even like there's a lot of sex in the Bible. What the Bible contains in spades is extreme amounts of violence from start to finish. But nobody seems to worry much about including that in the books. But people freak out about sex. It's never made any sense to me. Violence is nearly always a very bad thing. Sex is almost always a very good thing.

You can always write to my publisher (http://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/contacts) to let them know your thoughts on this. In the meantime, you'll have to just put your iPad on your coffee table with it displaying The Brick Testament website. :)

ILikeASMR9 karma

First, thanks for your work. It has been very entertaining.

Second, can you specify a few of your illustrations that you are the most proud of?

brendanpowellsmith16 karma

Here's some of my better work. I like how this Civil War battle scene from the new Assassination! book turned out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brendanpowellsmith/10676154156/

On my third attempt at The Last Supper in LEGO, I think I nailed it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brendanpowellsmith/5085036362/

I like my tribute to the victims of The Flood in this image: http://www.thebricktestament.com/genesis/god_drowns_everyone/19_gn07_21.html

I was pleased with how my Temple of Solomon turned out, and like this shot of it being plundered by the Egyptians: http://www.bricktestament.com/king_solomon/god_has_egypt_plunder_jerusalem/2ch12_09a.html

Many of my favorite illustrations are from Revelation. Here's one of war breaking out in heaven: http://www.bricktestament.com/revelation/satan_thrown_to_earth/rv12_07b.html

And then, unrelated to any of my other projects, here's my LEGO version of the pain assessment chart from the doctor's office: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brendanpowellsmith/4823645612/

Rakonas8 karma

I know you're considering doing the Book of Mormon next, but what about the Quran?

brendanpowellsmith19 karma

I have no current plans to illustrate the Qu'ran, though I wouldn't entirely rule it out for the future. I may leave it for someone else to do if there's someone who is much more familiar with that book. I've only read a few sections of it so far, so I'm not feeling very qualified at the moment.

Apart from that, there is of course the certainty that someone who illustrated Mohammed as a LEGO character would become the target of violent lunatics who would kill another human for committing such "blasphemy". So anyone setting out on such a project would need to be ready to deal with that in their lives.

rosulek8 karma

What projects do you have coming up in the future? Smaller scale things like the latest book, or another huge Bible-scale work?

brendanpowellsmith11 karma

My latest book, Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents is really only "smaller scale" in comparison to attempting to illustrate the entire Bible. :)

The new book is the same size as the Old Testament or New Testament book at 272 pages. It has 400 brand new LEGO illustrations that tell the fascinating stories of 15 attempts on the lives of 12 US presidents. http://assassinationbook.com

My publisher and I are continuing with The Brick Bible for Kids series (http://www.thebrickbibleforkids.com), and I just finished work on a Jonah and the Whale book as a fourth entry in that series. It will be out in April 2014. I am now busy writing a follow-up book to Assassination! that will continue The Brick Chronicle series of history portrayed in LEGO.

SorenTrigg8 karma

Hey, didn't you make Brad the Game? What was the story behind you making that? And does, or did anyone ever really talk about that?

brendanpowellsmith6 karma

I am indeed the author of BRAD: the game, an early internet cult favorite; a sprawling and decidedly perverted choose-your-own-adventure game loosely based on my family (http://www.bradthegame.com).

I dabbled in any number of creative projects before becoming a minor internet celebrity with the success of The Brick Bible project, and this was one. I had just moved out to California from the Boston area where I grew up. I created BRAD: the game because I missed my family, because I'm a weirdo, and because this new "world wide web" what with its hyperlinks and all seemed to call out for a choose-your-own-adventure format game.

Does anybody ever really talk about that? I occasionally still get fans who tell me what a formative experience that was when their whole college dorm got obsessed with BRAD: the game back in 1998. Maybe someday I'll find a publisher to create a book version. :)

rattleandhum8 karma

Always loved your work, thank for keeping it free and available despite publishing your works in printed editions. That's cool (even if you use comic sans).

I just went through and read your take on Revelation - wow, that John... what a guy.

I'm curious to know if you use the term "atheist" (as you denote in the title of this AMA) as a non-believer in an anthropomorphic diety within the Judeo-Christian context (ie: not a a believer of the "God of the Bible", and as such most likely not a believer in the god of the Koran, Zoroastrianism and the Torah) or to denote a lack of belief in anything. In other words, what are your own spiritual beliefs? Atheist (always tricky to define exactly, but shall we say someone who "knows" there is no god), Agnostic, Pantheist or (least likely) a worshiper of Glycon?

Keep it up, your project is awesome.

EDIT: As crazy as the bible can be, do you think your thorough reading of it and subsequent construction of so many set pieces and characters has influenced your own set of ethics (for better or worse) and belief system? What lessons would you say are worthy take-aways from the bible, and what huge misconceptions would you like to put to rest?

brendanpowellsmith10 karma

Thanks! Like many skeptics, I tend to be cautious about claiming to know things with certainty. I cannot know for certain that no gods exist, but I would not say that makes me an agnostic toward the existence of gods any more so than I am an agnostic when it comes to the possible existence of the tooth fairy, leprechauns, or floating teapots orbiting Mars. I don't believe in any of those, nor do I believe in any gods. They might exist, but I don't have any good reasons to believe they do, so I don't. I tend to refer to myself as an atheist or as non-religious. Hope that answers your question.

rattleandhum3 karma

Thanks for your reply Brendan!

I another question which led off from one you answered earlier:

As crazy as the bible can be, do you think your thorough reading of it and subsequent construction of so many set pieces and characters has influenced your own set of ethics (for better or worse) and belief system? What lessons would you say are worthy take-aways from the bible, and what huge misconceptions would you like to put to rest?

Also, how long have you been at this now?

Have you counted how many images in total you have made?

brendanpowellsmith4 karma

I began The Brick Testament website in Octobrer of 2001, so twelve years total, about ten of them dedicated solely to illustrating the Bible in LEGO. The Brick Bible website contains 4,588 illustrations. You could add to that another 200 I created for the New Testament book which have not yet appeared online, plus another 100 or so images from The Brick Bible for Kids books. That brings it to about 4,900. If you include the 400 new illustrations from Assassination!, that's 5,300 LEGO illustrations to date.

Since my goal is to illustrate the Bible's content in a straightforward and true-to-the-text way, and not couple it with a heavy-handed message pushing people to come to one or another conclusion about it, I'm going to leave direct critique of the morality of the Bible to others. My job, as I see it, is to just get people thinking about it.

brendanpowellsmith11 karma

I should mention that I don't mind talking about my own morality. And people are welcome to judge for themselves how well or not they think it jibes with the morality of the Bible. Here's a few of the precepts I try my best to abide by:

-Don't murder people (even if you think a god told you to).

-Don't commit genocide (even if you think a god told you to).

-Don't enslave anyone (even if a god seems to be ok with that).

-Don't go around telling people they will be eternally tortured after they die.

-Be nice to people and polite (unless you have a very strong reason not to be).

-Try to make more happiness and less suffering in the world.

I seem to get by OK with those principles.

zestyorangez7 karma

i read these years ago, and at the time i was a christian. what intrigues me is that i never had any issue with the stories in it, it was like i was one of the people who watched the Colbert report and never new it was parody.

anyways, what i want to know is, why did you bother to do revelation when most Christians take it as metaphor and wouldn't benefit from a literal translation?

brendanpowellsmith17 karma

It's true that a lot of Christians completely write-off or ignore Revelation, and yet there it remains as the capstone of their holy book. I think my main motivation in illustrating it was to just try to make some sense out of it. And to that end I'm quite proud of how it turned out. My presentation actually manages a narrative flow that is very hard difficult to grasp when just reading the text.

Revelation was also my greatest building challenge, but one that I looked forward to for years. I knew I'd need my LEGO building and photography skills to be at their best to do any justice to the wild imagery of that book, what with its seven-headed dragons, lion-headed beasts, and scenes of mass destruction of the world.

Sample image for those who have not read Revelation: http://www.thebricktestament.com/revelation/alternative_to_god_proves_very_popular/rv13_02a.html

goatbeast6 karma

how is illustrating historical events different from illustrating the bible?

brendanpowellsmith15 karma

In some ways, illustrating the Bible has been simpler, because there's only a single source, and my modus operandi has been to treat it as 100% factual. The Bible says it, I illustrate it. I didn't bother adding a Bibliography section to my Brick Bible books because it would just say: The Bible.

Writing history requires many sources to cover an event from as many angles as you can. So it was much more of a research project, mining old newspaper article and magazines and books galore to pull out all the most interesting and relevant facts.

But once I have the scripts for a Bible or a history story, the illustration process is quite similar. I design characters by choosing and recombining parts from hundreds and hundreds of LEGO sets that have come out any time between the 1960s and today. I build the scenery, buildings, and any other props, spend an inordinate amount of time positioning everything just right for the camera, accidentally knock a bunch of stuff over, rebuild it, and finally get a good shot of two with the camera.

Then deconstruct and start again for the next scene. The Assassination! book also gave me a chance to illustrate modern times much more than I did with the Bible. It's fun to flip through the Assassination! book and see the LEGO people fashions and hairstyles change with the times. :)

ILikeASMR2 karma

That process sounds intense. Have you considered recording a time-lapsed behind the scenes video of you doing an illustration? It could be interesting.

brendanpowellsmith7 karma

I don't know if people would want to watch that.

Sometimes when I'm illustrating with the LEGO I don't wear any pants.

thepolyatheist5 karma

Great idea. I don't understand how so many Christians have offered negative reviews on Amazon. It says it right in their book! They have a problem, take it up with the Bible.

Are you familiar with Robert Crumb? His books/comics are more graphic in nature because they are drawn rather than made if Legos, but it is a similar effect.

brendanpowellsmith10 karma

I did enjoy Crumb's version of Genesis, and it was very interesting to compare the similarity and differences of another atheist artist approaching the Bible in a very straightforward manner with no qualms about portraying the violence or sex contained in the stories.

byrd35 karma

What types of things did you enjoy building with LEGO bricks before you got started on the Brick Testament?

brendanpowellsmith14 karma

When I got back into building with LEGO as an adult at age 26, the first thing I wanted to do was to build something that just wouldn't have been possible with my limited childhood LEGO collection, so I built an 8-foot tall skyscraper: http://www.thereverend.com/lego/tower.html

Next I wanted to challenge by building skills a bit more by creating something very round out of square bricks, so I built a colosseum. Even here you can see I was into not just the building, but working in a bit of silly storytelling: http://www.thereverend.com/lego/colosseum.html

One other thing that captured my attention was how you could take multiple instances of this one particular lego piece called a "headlight brick", and combine them over and over again to create all sorts of patterns, so I experimented with that a lot and ended up using that technique to create intricate floors and whatnot in The Brick Testament: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brendanpowellsmith/sets/72157624122077446

wbendick5 karma

What's your biggest regret?

brendanpowellsmith11 karma

Inevitably once I finish illustrating a big project, LEGO will come out with some awesome new parts that would have been perfect for the thing I just finished working on. For instance, just as the new Assassination! book, which features a couple of cameos by George Washington, was sent off to the printers, LEGO came out with an official minifigure that has the exact Revolutionary era powdered-wig-with-side-curls hairpiece that would have been perfect! So it goes.

Part selection always gets better over time, as do my building and photography skills, so sometimes this leaves me cringing at my earliest work from 10 years ago. In some cases, I've just gone back an re-illustrated material I was no longer satisfied with.

MoSauce5 karma

How many times have you stepped on a Lego barefoot?

brendanpowellsmith21 karma

Not since childhood! I am no fool. I wear nice comfy slippers whenever working around dangerous Danish plastic blocks.

I like my job.

rhymeswithboolean5 karma

What's your LEGO studio look like? What kind of organizing/sorting do you do? Favorite pieces/techniques?

brendanpowellsmith4 karma

The first many years of work on The Brick Bible were done at home, and my many, many bins of sorted LEGO would take over our living room. More recently, we've kicked me out of the house and into an actual art studio, and that's been a good thing. I don't immediately have a photo handy, but it looks something like this other person on flickr's studio: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tot-lug/4112371312/in/[email protected]/ except a little less basementy.

I sort by size, color, or type of brick, or some combination thereof. It probably only makes sense to me. Which is fine. But it means I can't hire an intern to do my sorting, which would be a huge help. As far as repetitive tasks go, sorting is not so bad, it just takes bunches of time away from, you know, actually getting stuff done.

My favorite pieces tend to be the minifigures or their accessories. I've loved the Collectable Minifigure Series LEGO has been doing over the past couple years. It's a bonanza of new parts that work great for minifigure-based storytelling like I do. A favorite new one is this "grandma" figure. Befor her, there was really only one elder female LEGO head and hair, it was growing tiresome to use that some one woman over and over again: http://www.bricklink.com/catalogItem.asp?M=col176

For techniques, I've come up with a few clever ones myself over the years, but I also get lots of inspiration from the cleverness of other adult builders. Here's one of my favorite builders, Michael Jasper of Germany: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mijasper/

Mohaan4 karma

2 questions if you don't mind

  • Has Lego ever contacted you about your work (either to praise or to issue a take down notice!)

  • As an atheist and a person that's read the bible myself, I found that there were some very tedious and long sections, especially the geneology parts. At any point did you just feel like saying 'stuff it'

brendanpowellsmith14 karma

Yes, reading the Bible can become tedious at times. After several dramatic or even lurid stories, there can suddenly be pages upon pages of dry genealogy. I did not illustrate all the genealogies, but wanted to at least give the viewer a taste of it, so the very first one in Genesis got illustrated: http://www.bricktestament.com/genesis/the_descendants_of_seth_and_cain/06_gn04_17c.html

On a professional level, there has always been a polite distance between my work and the LEGO company. I avoid using the LEGO trademark on my work, and use a disclaimer to let people know that my products are not official LEGO products, and they are not sponsored, authorized, or endorsed by the LEGO company. So far I have not been woken up in the middle of the night by a crack team of LEGO lawyers busting into my home.

There have been people who work for LEGO who, on a very unofficial basis, have told me they are big fans of my work, so I've taken that as high (but completely unofficial) praise.

While working more closely with the LEGO Company might have sweet benefits like free LEGO and a wider audience, it would almost certainly also mean handing over creative control, and I can't imagine LEGO wants to put their seal of approval on anything as overtly religious in nature, or with themes as mature as true stories of presidential assassination attempts.

indeeds3 karma

Why even do this if you're an atheist? I'm confused...

brendanpowellsmith31 karma

The main motivation is: I think people are better off with an increased knowledge of the content of the Bible. It's not my mission to make people less or more religious. How people evaluate and respond to the content of the Bible is up to them. But it's too important a book in our society to have your opinions about it be formed in ignorance of its content. If we lived in a world where everybody actually read the Bible and knew its contents very well, I probably would be doing something else with my life. :)

I mean, it would still be very cute to see these stories everybody knows acted out by LEGO people in a LEGO universe, but that in itself would probably not be enough motivation for me.

Mixedbymuke3 karma

last question. do you alter any of the lego pieces or use them as they would come out of the package? face expressions?

brendanpowellsmith3 karma

I generally use LEGO minifigure faces exactly as they come out of the package. In the past few years especially, LEGO has produced a remarkable number of different faces expressing a wide variety of emotions, and that's been a huge help to a storyteller like me. If I do alter a stock LEGO face, it's usually to remove part of it. Especially early on in the project when there was not such a variety of different faces to choose from, I might use a hobby knife to scrape of some sideburns or a mustache to create a new variation on a stock face.

Very occasionally I need a face to look like something that LEGO just has not produced, so for instance, if God sends a plague and I need a LEGO face to be covered in boils, I may resort to a bit of photoshoppery for that. And for my latest book Assassination!, I wanted to make sure that the presidential faces were very recognizable, so I had a talented artist design some custom presidential face decals for me. But some of the presidents (like Andrew Jackson and the JFK seen of the cover of the book) are actually just stock LEGO faces.

Patchoolible3 karma

What was your favourite scene to illustrate?

brendanpowellsmith8 karma

It's a simple one, but I always liked this one of God sending snakes among his chosen people: http://www.bricktestament.com/the_wilderness/god_sends_snakes/nm21_06a.html

More recently, I really enjoyed illustrating this scene of would-be Gerald Ford assassin Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme throwing an apple off the head of the district attorney during her sentencing. http://www.flickr.com/photos/brendanpowellsmith/10676150956/

shwarma_heaven2 karma

What kind of reception have you gotten for your project from religious conservatives?

brendanpowellsmith8 karma

It hasn't been a uniform reception in the least. Some religious conservatives are big fans of my work. Since I take a very literal approach to my Bible illustrations, that meshes well with those who take the word of the Bible very literally. On the other hand, there are religious conservatives who don't seem to know the Bible very well at all, and imagine me to be putting some crazy spin on the scriptures because the actions of the God of the Bible doesn't jibe so well with the conception of God they've formed from other sources.

jml1911a12 karma

Thanks for the AMA; I admire your creativity!

Two questions, if I may:

1) What version of the Bible did you use for the captions for your illustrations?

2) Why do you refer to "Yahweh" instead of "God"? I'm familiar with the name "Yahweh", but it just seems a bit...odd?...and I thought maybe there was a reason for it.

Thanks!

brendanpowellsmith3 karma

Hi. Thanks, and good questions!

Because I am aiming for high accessibility, when I first started The Brick Bible website, I used a modern, readable English translation of the Bible. It was the one I had been assigned to read at Boston University: the New Jerusalem Bible. But once I began working with publishers I realized that almost all modern English translations of the Bible are protected by copyright. So to avoid legal issues, The Brick Testament website and The Brick Bible books now use my own wording of Bible passages, based on a number of different public domain Bible translations and occasionally a translation from the original Hebrew or Greek suggested by colleagues.

"Yahweh" is an English rendition of the Hebrew יהוה (YHWH) which is used throughout the Old Testament as God's name. Later, post-biblical tradition made people squeamish about saying God's name, and that squeamishness carried over into early English translations of the Bible where YHWH is rendered as "The LORD" which confusingly is more of a title than a name, and occasionally translators would have to deal with situations where the Hebrew used the actual word for "lord" next to YHWH, so instead of translating that as "lord The Lord", they had to come up with something else even further removed from a literal translation.

Since I had no reason to perpetuate the post-biblical tradition of not using Yahweh's name, I went ahead and used Yahweh (following in the footsteps of certain other modern English translations including the New Jerusalem Bible). If you've ever heard people use "Jehovah", that's basically the same thing. "Jehovah" was an early attempt to render YHWH into pronounceable English, but my understanding is that it was based on a lesser knowledge vowel pronunciation in ancient Hebrew.

STRING_CRASH2 karma

Hi. Love your work. Have you considered doing Greek or Hindu mythology as well? My kids would love those.

brendanpowellsmith4 karma

I have certainly considered doing stories from Greek mythology, and the Ramayana also seems like it would be a great candidate for LEGO illustration. Right now I'm enjoying illustrating some fascinating stories from American history with my new book Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents (http://assassinationbook.com), and I hope to do more work in that vein in the near term. But there's a whole lot of things I think would make great LEGO-illustrated books.

martusfine1 karma

You have talent and took a book and lego-fied it. Cool. But, do you feel this made you special in lego-fying a sacred text?

What you do is cool, but your "athiest" title means nothing to me, in so far as your art.

My question is this: why mention your personal belief system?

brendanpowellsmith0 karma

I generally do not advertise that I am an atheist (nor do I go out of my way to make it a secret), so titling my IAmA this way was unusual for me. The main reason I chose to do this title is that there happened to be a lot of attention given to my work in r/atheism (http://redd.it/1r7oks) the day before this IAmA started, so I thought this title would help people realize it was me, the author of the books they had just been talking about.

I'm happy to hear your attitude, and I generally prefer people to approach my art without advance knowledge of my beliefs on religious matters, so that the art is judged on its own merits.

I grew up in church-going household that listened to a lot of Christmas albums on vinyl during the holiday season, and including ones by Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand. I had no idea until later in life that those two performers are Jewish. But if a Jew can make a beloved Christmas album, why not an atheist a beloved LEGO-illustrated Bible?

dimarr1 karma

[deleted]

brendanpowellsmith4 karma

The main page of The Brick Bible website attempts to guide people toward the most appropriate Bible illustrations for their maturity level. The Brick Bible for Kids series of picture books is geared toward the youngest crowd. The Brick Bible Old Testament and New Testament published books are appropriate for older children, teens, and adults. The Brick Testament website, which has always aimed to illustrate the entire Bible is appropriate for those with the maturity level for reading the Bible on their own.

snakeoil-huckster1 karma

Will you be selling the kits for Christmas? I would love to get my hands on a Lego jesus.

brendanpowellsmith4 karma

Who wouldn't want a LEGO savior they can stash in their pocket? Unfortunately I've had to stop selling custom kits like The Holy Trinity. They were great, but the parts I made them with, LEGO hasn't been producing for about ten years now, so it got way too hard to track down the necessary pieces in bulk. So it's books, posters, and greeting cards at The Brick Bible shop these days: http://www.thebrickbible.com/shop

Baconface2341 karma

I love your work! Its magnificent. Why did you create the Bible out of Lego? (Considering you're an Atheist). And how many hours did you work each day when creating your two books?

brendanpowellsmith10 karma

Thanks! Glad you're enjoying it. I gave a pretty thorough explanation to the "why" question in a previous response (which has moved up to the top of the page or thereabouts).

My work habits tend to be like this: when I'm illustrating, I go nuts and build, build, build, working 12 or 14 hour days in my LEGO studio. It can be kind of amazing how much I can get done in these bursts of action. When I finish a LEGO illustration project, I tend to take a couple of weeks off and do something completely different, like, say, make a compilation every instance of someone saying the title character's name on the 1973-74 TV show Banacek: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0JFQDmlVME

AllezCannes1 karma

Have you thought about doing similar work with other fictional works, like Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones? Beowulf, Greek Mythology, etc?

brendanpowellsmith10 karma

I've definitely given a lot of thought to such things. I'm a bit of a completist, so I plan to continue illustrating Bible stories. Despite having pretty comprehensively covered the Old and New Testaments, there's a fair bit of narrative I just haven't gotten around to yet: the stories of Elijah and Elisha, the Destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and the Exile, etc. And I might even try my hand at illustrating mostly non-narrative elements like the Psalms, Wisdom, or the Prophets.

I had told myself that if Mitt Romney were elected, I was going to drop everything else and start illustrating the Book of Mormon. And that one's still pretty high up there on my list of things to get to. Right now I'm in a very nice position where I have a publisher enthusiastic for me to publish LEGO-illustrated books on subjects of my choosing, so that's how I came to illustrate my new book Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents. And I hope this book is successful enough to warrant follow-up history-themed book.

I'm more drawn to history or things with historical importance, so I could see doing things like Greek Mythology more than putting pop-culture fiction into LEGO form, which is often cute, but also often lacks the poignance or "point" that I prefer my work to have.

duckweedmafia1 karma

I know you must get tons of questions on "would you be interested in covering X topic" and unfortunately I am going to add to that list. Have you ever considered a brick retelling of Dante's Inferno?

I plan on buying both books if my girlfriend doesn't take the extremely obvious hints I have placed around the house that I want nothing more than a Brick Bible for Christmas.

I'm agnostic but it's thrilling to see the Bible presented in a neutral, illustrated platform. The nostalgia of playing with these same LEGO pieces as a kid helps too. It's also fascinating to read the polarized responses from religious and non-religious folks.

brendanpowellsmith4 karma

I've considered Dante's Inferno, but similar and more appealing to me would be to illustrate some of the earliest Christian writings that did not make it into the New Testament, but which many of the earliest Christians considered holy scripture. That would include things like the Apocalypse of Peter which seems to be an ancestor to Dante's Inferno in that Peter is guided on a tour through Hell, and the various torments of the people in Hell are described. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse_of_Peter

Terrible_Lover1 karma

Have you skipped Leviticus to save the best for last? Or don't want to render all those animals you're not supposed to eat in LEGO?

brendanpowellsmith3 karma

The Brick Testament website covers the laws of Leviticus (plus some from Exodus and Numbers) in The Law section of the site where Biblical laws are portrayed being followed (or not followed) in modern times: http://www.thebricktestament.com/the_law

What Not to Eat is here: http://www.thebricktestament.com/the_law/what_not_to_eat/lv11_03.html

Enjoy. :)

SaltyMeth1 karma

You ever use Vader or Yoda?

brendanpowellsmith2 karma

I don't think I ever worked in LEGO Vader or Yoda, but you may recognize my LEGO Jesus as having Qui-Gon Jinn's head and Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi robes: http://www.bricktestament.com/the_life_of_jesus/peter_andrew_james_and_john/mt04_12-13p17.html

I've also found uses for Jar Jar heads: http://www.thebricktestament.com/exodus/too_many_hebrews/ex01_10.html

And I couldn't help throwing in an Easter Egg for a scene set in the ancient Israelite town of Endor: http://www.thebricktestament.com/david_vs_saul/saul_and_the_necromancer/1s28_09.html

TupacChakra1 karma

If you're an atheist why did you decide to do the Bible in Lego's instead of something that would be counter norm like the Koran or something, Evolution with Legos, or Lego WWII? Forgive me if I have asked a question you've answered already, but more the focus here is, Why endorse Christianity and push what you don't believe as fundamentally and encourage a system of beliefs you yourself don't believe in?

brendanpowellsmith12 karma

Choosing the Bible over the Qu'ran or the holy books of other religions came from me happening to have been raised in a Christian family in a Christian-dominated society. Whether one is religious or not in modern Western culture, especially in the United States, the Bible has a major influence. By illustrating the Bible, it is not my goal to endorse it or refute it. What motivates me most is the state of affairs where millions of people look to the Bible as a moral guide, and yet they have not actually read it, and are unfamiliar with the bulk of its content.

As I've noted in several other responses, illustrating the Bible in LEGO is not my only interest. You mentionedLEGO WWII, and that sort of thing would fit in with the new line of historical books I'm kicking of with the brand new Assassination! The Brick Chronicle of Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents. http://www.thebrickchronicle.com/

zestyorangez0 karma

why was this removed ?

brendanpowellsmith8 karma

No idea. For now, I've pasted what I wrote as a comment.

FractalPrism-2 karma

With your "assassination!" book, will you be making it apparent why they were murdered in relation to their efforts to reign in our Illegal Central Banking cartel?

brendanpowellsmith11 karma

You think I want to get myself assassinated? I am toeing the mainstream historical line, thank you very much.

0hLaVache-3 karma

Hey I find your work amusing, so thanks..

That said, as you

[studied] Ancient Christianity and Judaism at Boston University.

you have enough background in the subject that when you use "Old Testament" it is a choice, not a lack of information. Do you identify as a Christian Athiest?

brendanpowellsmith9 karma

A Christian atheist? Like how some folks refer to themselves as Jewish atheists, in that they retain elements of Jewish customs and culture, but do not hold to Jewish religious beliefs? I suppose an argument could be made for that in my case. I still enjoy celebrating Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter, though not for any religious reasons.

But I tend to refer to it as the "Old Testament" rather than the Hebrew Bible because I recognize that by far the largest audience for my work is Christian or has come to The Brick Bible to learn more about the Bible as it is used by Christians. Nonetheless, I realize it is a sticky situation for the Jews to have their holy book co-opted, relabeled, and told it means something completely different than what they think it means.

[deleted]-11 karma

[deleted]

brendanpowellsmith11 karma

I can tell you that one thing that's not in my immediate future is to stick my penis through a cardboard cut out and swing it around like a helicopter and make an animated gif out of it.

BeachCop-18 karma

How do you know someone is an atheist? Wait 5 minutes, they'll tell you.

brendanpowellsmith24 karma

I assume the suggestion here is that atheists can't wait to tell you that they are atheists? That has not been my experience with other atheists, and certainly not how I go about life. I generally do not advertise my atheism, but neither do I go out of my way to keep it a secret. I'd prefer that people come to my illustrated Bible without foreknowledge of my own beliefs so that the work gets judged on its own merits.

Today's IAmA is unusual for me in that I billed myself as an atheist who illustrated the Bible. I did this because it seemed like the best way to garner interest in this IAmA among Redditors who have never heard of The Brick Bible, and because yesterday in r/atheism there had been a lot of discussion of my work: http://redd.it/1r7oks