Dubai: In the summer of 2019, when most families in the UAE went to cooler climes to spend the summer holidays, one home was buzzing with activity.
Manoj Varghese, his wife Susan, and children Karun and Krupa were focused on completing a project that was dear to their hearts – writing the entire Bible on A1 sized paper and in the process attempting to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the ‘largest hand-written Bible’.
They completed the task in 153 days, and the Bible that weighs 151 kgs and has more than 1,500 pages (roughly 800,000 words) has been handed over to the Mar Thoma Church in Jebel Ali where it will be kept.
Last Friday, at an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church in Dubai, the hand-written Bible was opened by Most Rev. Dr Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan, the head of the church.
It was measured by a surveyor and certified by a graphologist and their reports as well as the footage captured on video of the family writing the Bible over five months will now be sent to the authorities at the Guinness Book of Records.
The Bible as it stands now measures 85.5cm by 60.7cm in length and width. It has a thickness of 46.3cm.
Why write the Bible?
The motivation to write the Bible had nothing to do with the record books. “All I wanted to do was leave something beautiful for my children. I wanted them to treasure something personal that I gave them,” says Susan, who did much of the writing on the project.
After working at Rashid Hospital as a nurse for 15 years, Susan took a break to look after the children. During this time in 2017, she read the Malayalam Bible and found that it gave her the strength she needed to get through each day.
“I decided to write the Bible in English on regular sized paper so I could gift it to my children. I felt that not only would my children draw inspiration from the Bible, but they would also remember a mother who gave them a personal gift.”
Attempt at a record
That was when Susan’s husband, Manoj Varghese, who runs an interior design company, decided to do some research to find out if anyone else had attempted such a task.
“I got in touch with the authorities at the Guinness Book of World Records who said that we could try to write the largest handwritten Bible. They gave us the dimensions and we decided to give it a try,” says Varghese.
The mission to write out the Bible using the New International Version (NIV) required plenty of planning. “I wanted everyone in the family to contribute and so we distributed the task,” says Susan.
Their home in Samari Residence was fitted with cameras to document the process for the record book. The furniture in the living room was moved around to make space for the 1,500 sheets of A1 sized papers.
The family began the project on May 11, 2019 after receiving approval from the Records officials in March. Susan did the bulk of the work, writing most of the 66 books in the Bible. The remaining books were divided among the others.
“I would spend 12 to 15 hours every day meticulously writing out the Bible. My eyes would twitch and my hands would hurt, but in the process I found the Bible speaking to me, inspiring and guiding me,” says Susan.
“My faith in God came alive in the process and I will describe it as a pilgrimage like no other.”
Varghese says that he found writing the Bible to be an enriching experience. “While undertaking this project, I found solutions to many of the problems I faced.”
The children, Karun and Krupa, would pitch in when they returned from school and spent the bulk of their summer holidays glued to their chairs at home completing the task. “It gave us time to reflect and we were able to commit to memory many of the verses we wrote.”
On October 10, 153 days after beginning the project, and in the process using up 60 soft tip pens, the task was completed. The Mar Thoma Church to which the Varghese family belongs, was celebrating 50 years of its formation in Dubai, and the family felt it would be a fitting tribute to hand over this handwritten Bible to the church.
But first they needed to find someone to bind the 1,500 pages together. Joykutty George, owner of Trueline Book Binding in Ghusais, which specialises in making exclusive gift boxes, says this was the first time his company had accepted a task so challenging.
“Rather than bind the entire tome together, it was done in parts. We had to make sure that the binding was firm and at the same time ensure that it could be opened comfortably to be read.”
The parts were then put together with a leather binding. The words ‘Holy Bible’ have been embossed in 22K gold lettering on the cover.
The Bible will be permanently housed in a custom-made case designed on the lines of the Biblical ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and can be seen at the Mar Thoma Church, Jebel Ali.
A brief history
• The word Bible comes from the Greek word ‘biblia’, which means “books.”
• The Bible consists of 66 books for the Protestant version (the Catholic Bible includes the 73-book "canon"). The books are divided into two broad divisions – the Old Testament and New Testament.
• Each book is further divided into chapters and verses. In total, there are 1,189 chapters and a little more than 31,000 verses in the Bible.
How was the Bible written in the early days?
• The Bible was written over a 1,000-year period and each book has a distinctive history.
• The earliest biblical texts were written on scrolls made from papyrus or parchment (animal skins that had been scraped, burnished, and stitched together).
• Much later, in the second or third century AD, scribes began to write on papyrus or parchment that was folded and stitched into a codex, which more closely resembles our modern print book. At the time when biblical books were written and copied, scribes did the work of composing and preserving important documents. Scribes were special because they could read and write when literacy was not widespread. Scribes were also editors.
• Before the advent of the printing press, the only way to duplicate a document or book was to copy it by hand
• Johann Gutenberg holds the distinction of being the inventor of the movable-type printing press. In 1455, Gutenberg produced what is considered to be the first book ever printed: a Latin language Bible, printed in Mainz, Germany.