Something Old, Something New: The KJV Transetto Bible from Cambridge

The decidedly tiny Transetto atop the decidedly massive ESV Study Bible

When I opened up the package containing this new, sui generis pocket KJV Bible from Cambridge, I found myself spontaneously expostulating an erudite evaluation in this precise articulation (please pardon the abstruse academic jargon): “THIS IS SO COOL!” This little Bible is nothing, if not unique. And, as I am currently fascinated by the techniques that publishers use to cram the massive amount of literature in the Bible into small, printed volumes, this little Bible certainly adds some unique tricks to the process. This is a brand new format from Cambridge, in connection with Jongbloed, issued in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the original KJV Bible.

This is the transetto with the front cover opened up. Note how the cover is only attached in the back, enabling the spine to move freely.

Let’s take a look at the obvious differences between this Bible and the standard book: First, the layout has been turned on its side, and then the binding is altered so that only the back (or, in this case, bottom) cover is connected to the text block. So, the text block can open completely flat anywhere, minimizing the need for extra space in the gutter, and maximizing the amount of text that can be crammed onto the page.  As a result, the font size is around 7 points, a smallish size, to be sure, but relative to this tiny Bible that’s actually massive.  For more pics of how it works, check out Mark Bertrand’s great overview.

In addition to some of these obvious design tweaks, this Bible employs some other less obvious but tremendously important “cramming” techniques. Most significantly, the text is continuous, with one verse following after the next with no verse, paragraph, or poetic line breaks. At all.

And here is the Transetto completely opened.

Chapters begin on a new line, but, with the exception of the Psalms, each chapter follows immediately after the preceding chapter, with no extra spacing, section headings, etc. intervening.

So, does it work? Well, the real difficulty in evaluating this Bible is that, since it is so different from anything that we’re familiar with, it’s hard to know where to begin. The materials and font choice certainly reflect typical Cambridge quality. The paper (27 GSM Indolux paper, for those keeping score) allows very little bleed-through, especially considering how thin and light it is. The binding is sewn, of course, bends back on itself easily, and seems sturdy enough to be able to stay intact for years. For how small it is, the font is crisp, clear, readable, and large; and the minimized bleed-through contributes tremendously to the fonts readability. All in all, from the standpoint of your standard design and binding evaluation questions, this little Bible serves the purpose of an ideal pocket Bible quite well on many levels.

For Size Comparison: The HCSB Minister's Bible, the KJV Pocket Concord, and the KJV Transetto

But what of the non-standard formatting?  I can handle the idiosyncratic layout; it even feels cool to read from such a unique format.  One happy consequence of the sideways layout is that the words per line ratio is higher than that of your standard two-column layout. The conundrum faced in choosing between a single and double column Bible setting is that single column Bibles have columns that are too wide and double column Bibles have columns that are too narrow. The Transetto layout helps to somewhat split the difference.

Here I've perched the Transetto atop my Hebrew and Greek Bible (BHS/NA 27).

I’ve also found a great use for this Bible. When you open this Bible, the footprint is somewhat smaller than a single page in one of the UBS Greek or Hebrew Bibles (somewhat smaller than a DVD, Pitt Minion, or PSR). So, this makes for the best translation-checker I’ve found so far. I can just put the Transetto Bible on top of the page I’m not using and there I have an English translation handy that I can follow along with as I read from the Hebrew. You don’t have to read Hebrew, Greek, or any other language to appreciate this versatility. You can set the Transetto on top of your modern English translation of choice and follow along with the Transetto to find alternate renderings.

Transetto perched atop the ESV study Bible. Note that the ESV's single column layout with poetic line breaks is much more attractive and "spacious," but the Transetto's continually running layout is extremely compact, fitting a tremendous amount of text into a small space.

As for the lack of breaks in the text, this can make navigating the text a bit difficult–and I find that quick navigation can be key for a pocket Bible. Pocket Bibles are great, for example, for hospital visits.  So let’s say you’re visiting someone and you want to read a few verses of a certain psalm, or some encouraging verses from Romans 8.  You don’t want to spend several minutes disruptively flipping pages in frustration as your loved one or friend looks on in awkward silence.

So, I have a tentative suggestion for future editions of the Transetto layout: Make the margins slightly wider and put verse numbers in the outer margin, flanking each column. If the verse numbers were also removed from within the text itself, this may also create enough space in the text to enable some paragraph breaks.  The Bible would have to be ever so slightly wider to accommodate wider margins, but I can’t see that making much difference.

On the whole, the Transetto’s unique design opens up so many questions. Will this catch on? Why didn’t someone do this before? We’ve been using the printing press for over 400 hundred years, and we’ve had bound books since the days of the ancient Greek codex. If this format is an improvement, why hasn’t it been used already?

All in all, though, I like this little Bible. The fact that I can set it so nicely on top of my Hebrew Bible makes it very helpful for me. If the Transetto becomes available in the ESV (or even another modern translation such as the NRSV or NKJV) I think I’ll end up carrying it with me in my pocket as I carry the Greek and Hebrew in my hand.

So, what say you? Or, perhaps better, What sayest thou? Are you going to rush out and buy one of these? Is it a gimmick? Or is it the best thing since sliced bread? Let me know what you think!

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About hjimkeener

Education: B.A.: Moody Bible Institute GCTS: Knox Theological Seminary M.Div.: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Ph.D.: Baylor University Ministry Experience: I have served as a Youth Minister, Associate Pastor of English Ministry, and a pulpit supply preacher. Teaching Experience: In addition to teaching in various volunteer and professional ministry settings, I have taught as a University Professor (Teaching Fellow; Baylor University) and as a Seminary Professor (El Seminario de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Bolivia). I have also given lectures and sermons in Spanish.
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6 Responses to Something Old, Something New: The KJV Transetto Bible from Cambridge

  1. Ryan says:

    handled one of these in store today. man that thing is compact! a bit thick for my taste, but wow, that’s a small footprint.

  2. Ryan S says:

    I was very intrigued by the idea …in fact I bought one just as soon as they came out. I’ve played with it a little bit, but can’t really get past the lack of formatting of the text. It just seems very crammed together. It makes reading this thing for any length of time difficult, as well as finding a quick reference quite frustrating. Still though, it’s a good effort for generation 1 of this type of binding. I agree verses along the side and a paragraph break here and there would make this much more useable.

  3. H. Jim says:

    Ryan: Yeah, it is quite thick for how small the “footprint” (i.e., length by width) is. Depending on what pocket you’re using to carry it in and how big your pockets are, if you’re looking for a true *pocket* Bible, thickness can be a problem. Still, it’s certainly small enough overall to go into my hip pocket comfortably enough that I can forget that it’s there.

  4. H. Jim says:

    Ryan S.–I think you and I are more or less on the same page. I don’t know that the formatting is as much of an obstacle for me (yet), but it’s definitely not ideal. As you suggest, I’m willing to cut Cambridge and Jongbloed some slack because this is their first run.

    As I’ve been thinking about it, this format could maybe be best carried forward in connection with massive classic texts, like, say, Moby Dick, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, or the Complete Chronicles of Narnia. Books like these are massive and cumbersome, but significantly smaller than the Bible, so you wouldn’t have to do things like run paragraphs together to get the whole book to fit into a compact volume. With shorter books, you could even use a larger font and convert to single paragraph format. I’d imagine there’d be a niche market of collectors who would be interested, and that audience might mushroom into a larger audience. I could see volumes like that being attractive to the airport travelling crowd, for example.

    My thoughts, for what it’s worth. We’ll see what’s done with this format in the future.

  5. jkomalley says:

    I bought this simply for the “cool” factor. Of course you won’t use it. Nothing about it lends to normal use. But again, what a cool edition to a Bible collection!

  6. hjimkeener says:

    JK: Thanks for your input! I’m glad that you agree with my initial assessment–this *is* cool.

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