St. John’s Bible: Modern Day Illumination

The final room in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit had something that was exciting to me. Several full pages of illuminated texts from the prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures were on display. The first was a two-page illuminated text from Ezekiel, the “dry bones” passage. The text of the passage was written in neat columns in a beautiful calligraphic hand.

At the bottom of the page was a pile of bones, collapsed girders, and junked cars, beneath which appeared the words, “I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT WITHIN YOU AND YOU SHALL LIVE” (Ezekiel 37:5). And representing this Spirit of Life, the top of the page was resplendant in vibrant color, cascading across the page in a lively antithesis of the dead grey below.

Later in the museum’s gift shop, I discovered that the pages on display were just a small part of a new work called The Saint John’s Bible. An artist and calligrapher named Donald Jackson had a dream since 1970 to design, letter, and illuminate the entire biblical text, in the spirit and tradition of the medieval illuminators.
I was touched by the beauty of the illumination, and how well it evoked the contrast between the death that humankind creates, and the abundant life that God promises us.

In 1995, his dream started to come true, as he approached Saint John’s Abbey and University about working with them on this enormous project. In 1998, Saint John’s officially commissioned the project, and work began apace, beginning with the appropriate words from John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
But as we English speakers feast on the sumptuous illustrations and beautiful words of God’s love in our own heart language, we can’t forget that around the world others are starving for the life giving food of God’s Word and God’s Son. So we should not just give thanks for our feast, but also keep working to bring God’s beautiful Word to those who are still waiting for their first taste!
In my opinion, the Word of God deserves to be celebrated and illuminated in this beautiful way. Like God’s sacred Temple was adorned in beauty by the skill God granted to the craftsmen, so God’s sacred written Word deserves the best art people can achieve!

Or as this page from The Saint John’s Bible illustrates, “You will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

You may be able to purchase a full size reproduction of The Saint John’s Bible, if you have a spare $115,000 laying around somewhere.

Otherwise, the full Bible is being made available in 7 beautiful volumes, each 62% of the original size. That still makes for impressively large tomes, measuring 10.1″ x 15.1″!They’re available for about $65-$70 per volume from The Saint John’s Bible product website, or for about $40-$45 from Amazon (see the links below). Note that the volumes containing the Historical Books and Letters & Revelation are still forthcoming.

Pentateuch
Psalms
Wisdom Books
Prophets
Gospels & Acts

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