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The Saint John's Bible at Gumberg Library: A Closer Look

Intertextuality and Motifs

Just as the New Testament reinterprets the Hebrew Bible, so The Saint John's Bible visually interprets both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. This process of interpretation can entail drawing connections between passages using recurring visual motifs, emphasizing or de-emphasizing particular biblical passages, or using art to point to different ways of engaging with the text. The Saint John's Bible shows that translation is not the only aspect of a Bible that mediates ancient texts to the modern reader.  Typography and translation, script and size, do so as well.  Even the script of The Saint John's Bible makes a theological statement.

Repeating Motifs in One Biblical Book
The book of Luke offers an excellent example of the use of repeating motifs in the illuminations, particularly the use of dark blue hues and golden vertical shafts of light.  These motifs create a rhythm to this text and point to nuances in the story. 

  • Luke 2:1-14: Frontispiece: Birth of Jesus
  • Luke 1:46-55; 1:68-79; 2:14; 2:29-32: Canticles in Luke
  • Luke 7:36-50: Dinner at the Pharisee’s House
  • Luke 10; 15; 16: Luke Anthology
  • Luke 22:14-20: The Last Supper
  • Luke 23:44-49: The Crucifixion
  • Luke 24: 13-35: The Road to Emmaus

(At right: Frontispiece: Birth of Jesus, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

Drawing Connections Between Different Books in the Bible

The use of repeating illumination motifs within different books, particularly connections using motifs from the creation story in Genesis, highlight the intertexuality between the Old and New Testaments.

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3: Creation frontispiece
  • Genesis 2:4-25: Adam and Eve
  • Genesis 3:1-24: The Fall
  • Wisdom of Solomon 13:1-5: Shekinah
  • Romans 8: Creation Waits with Eager Longing

(At right: Fulfillment of Creation, Thomas Ingmire, Copyright 2011, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

Emphasizing/De-emphasizing Biblical Passages

Why are some of the books more illuminated then others?  Explore the theological decisions made by the Committee on Illuminations and Text (CIT) and the artists in The Saint John's Bible.

  • Song of Solomon illuminations: 4:1-15: Garden of Love; 6:3: I Am My Beloved’s; 8:6-7: Set Me as a Seal
  • Leviticus illuminations: 19:2: You Shall Be Holy; 19:18: You Shall Not Take Vengeance; 19:34: The Alien Who Resides In You
  • Ruth illuminations: 1:1-22: Ruth and Naomi; 2:2-23: Ruth Gleaning Among the Reapers; 4:17-22: Ruth Genealogy
  • Revelation illuminations: 1:12-20; 2:1-5:14: Frontispiece: Revelation Incipit and Letter to the Seven Churches; 6:1-8: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; 12:1-18: Woman and the Dragon; 21:1-22:5: Vision of the New Jerusalem; 22:20-21: The Great Amen
  • Various text treatments in New Testament Epistles

(At right: The Alien Who Resides, Sally Mae Joseph, Copyright 2002 The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

Science & Technology Imagery

One of the unique features of The Saint John's Bible is its use of scientific and technological imagery to illuminate biblical themes.  Classes focusing on science and religion can use The Saint John's Bible to spark discussions about reading the Bible in a scientific age and the place of art in the science/religion conversation.

Creation and Paleontology/Prehistory

The Saint John's Bible's illuminations on creation use fossils and scientific imagery to flesh out the biblical account.  The symbolism of creation still stands, only now we have a better understanding of it through science.  Paleontology and prehistory are integrated into salvation history.

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3: Creation frontispiece
  • Genesis 2:4-25: Adam and Eve
  • Genesis 3:1-24: The Fall
  • Luke 2:1-14: Frontispiece: Birth of Jesus

(At right: Creation, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2003, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

God’s Action and Astronomy

Illuminations of galaxies, stars, and planets expand biblical concepts of divine action into our modern era.  Astronomy opens up new avenues of wonder at “the grandeur of God.”

  • John 1:1-18: Frontispiece: Johannine Prologue
  • Acts 1:8 and 13:47: To the Ends of the Earth
  • Romans 8: Creation Waits with Eager Longing

(At right: To the Ends of the Earth, Donald Jackson with contributions from Andrew Jamieson and Sally Mae Joseph, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

-Continued above-

Science & Technology Imagery Continued

Modern Horrors of Hell through Science

While the astronomical images above provide a scientific perspective on divine action, scientific images of destructive forces illuminate the modern horrors of science and technology unleashed against humanity. 

  • Matthew 16:13-23: Peter’s Confession
  • Revelation 6:1-8: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

(At right: Peter’s Confession, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

Jesus's Family Tree
The family history of Jesus is linked through biblical generations using genetics strains of DNA in one of the most striking of all the illuminations.

  • Matthew 1:1-17, The Genealogy of Jesus

(At right, Genealogy of Jesus, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved)

Natural History Illumination

Through out the seven volumes theological concepts in scripture are linked to the natural world.  The illustrations are reminiscent of Darwin’s notebooks. The theologians and artists of The Saint John's Bible view creation and see the theological patterns in it.

  • 2 Samuel 24: Marginalia: Ants Attacking a Grasshopper
  • Mark 16 carpet page

(At right: Milkweed and Butterfly, Chris Tomlin, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

 

Women In The Bible

Both the artists who illuminated The Saint John's Bible and the committee of theologians and biblical scholars advising them emphasized the role of women in the biblical narrative, correcting centuries of patriarchal reading.  Not only does this Bible emphasize and highlight passages focusing on women, but it also inserts women into the text where they are not present, or where their presence is only implicit or hinted at.

Highlighting Women in the Text

These images illuminate women in the narrative, whether they be major or minor characters.

  • Judges 4-5: Deborah Anthology
  • Ruth illuminations: 1:1-22: Ruth and Naomi; 2:2-23: Ruth Gleaning Among the Reapers; 4:17-22: Ruth Genealogy
  • Esther 5:1-14: Esther
  • Luke 7:36-50: Dinner at the Pharisee’s House
  • Luke 10; 15; 16: Luke Anthology
  • John 7:53-8:11: Woman Caught in Adultery
  • John 20:1-31: Resurrection

(At right: Ruth and Naomi, Suzanne Moore, Copyright 2010, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

A Feminine Presence Added to the Text

These images actually add a feminine presence into the biblical narrative, when women are implied or would been present but not mentioned by the narrator.

  • Song of Solomon illuminations: 4:1-15: Garden of Love; 6:3: I Am My Beloved’s; 8:6-7: Set Me as a Seal
  • Matthew 1:1-17: Genealogy of Jesus
  • John 1:35-51: Call of the Disciples​

(At right: Call of the Disciples, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

Focus on Wisdom Women

These images, taken from the wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible, emphasize Lady Wisdom and the strength and courage of women.

  • Wisdom of Solomon 7:22b-30: Wisdom Woman
  • Proverbs 31:10-31: Woman of Valor

(At right: Wisdom Woman, Donald Jackson, Copyright 2006, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

Conclusion: The Fall?

The narrative of the Garden of Eden and the fall historically justified sexism.  After looking at how The Saint John's Bible depicts women positively, we end with this famous narrative and examine The Saint John's Bible's take on it.

  • Genesis 1:1-2:3: Creation frontispiece
  • Genesis 2:4-25: Adam and Eve
  • Genesis 3:1-24: The Fall

(At right: Adam and Eve, Donald Jackson, Chris Tomlin,Copyright 2006, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota USA. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.)

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