Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An evangelical take on the St. John's Bible

A long and decent article in Christianity Today on the St. John's Bible.
The entire process flies in the face of modernity's worship of speed and efficiency. This is no longer the Middle Ages. We have the printing press. We have computers. What does the handwritten word have that the mass-printed word doesn't? The Saint John's team hopes more Americans will ask that question.

Jackson explains that calligraphy honors the words and the person receiving those words: "Every tiny mark contains the beat of the heart of the person who made it." The "Illuminating the Word" exhibit notes that the other two "peoples of the Book"—Jews and Muslims—honor scribes as those who handle the very words of God. The Torah read in a synagogue must be handwritten on a parchment scroll. In Islam, calligraphy is considered the highest art form. Eastern religions also esteem it.
And, of course, some questions on the nature of the inter-faith approach taken in the production of the Bible. (My own experience of viewing the St. John's Bible in DC are recorded in a blog post from last October.)
Yet the Saint John's Bible also reflects a deliberate openness to those from other traditions, even other faiths. The complex imagery and often-abstract style invite viewers to consider many interpretations. Saint John's public statements make it clear that this Bible is meant to "welcome," not convert.

This desire to find common ground comes across most explicitly in the Psalms. Running horizontally across the pages are voiceprints of Saint John's monks chanting the Psalms in their daily worship, while God's presence (represented by gold "batons") accompanies and directs. Running vertically across the same pages are voiceprints of Jewish, Muslim, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Native American worshipers. But many viewers will rightly wonder what message this is sending about the relationship between Christianity and other religions, and between Scripture and other sacred texts.

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