Thursday, April 30, 2009

St. John's Bible

The St. John's Bible is an exciting project that began in 1999 and has continued to this day. The project's goal is to produce a completely new hand-written and illuminated Bible, one of the few since the advent of the printing press.

The project is being led by well-known calligrapher Donald Jackson, who is the official scribe to Queen Elizabeth II. Many of the illuminations, like the one on the left that depicts the genealogy of Jesus, are quite stunning. The main goal of those involved in The Saint John’s Bible project is to ignite the spiritual imagination of all peoples throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium, in a way that is relevant to the 21st century. When completed, the Bible in seven volumes will be large for liturgical and exhibition purposes (15 3/4" wide by 23 1/2” tall when closed).

As the website states: "This is the first time in 500 years that a Benedictine Monastery has commissioned a handwritten, illuminated Bible. Its construction parallels that of its medieval predecessors, written on vellum, using quills, natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments and gold leaf while incorporating modern themes, images and technology of the 21st century."

In our digital age, I think the St. John's Bible is truly a breath of fresh air. I hope to purchase some of the prints at some point in the near future.

One of the interesting decisions that Jackson and the team had to make was on which Bible translation to use as the base text. With the goal of providing a 21st Century work of art, it seems necessary that a more recent translation would be desirable. In my mind, that leaves the options as being only the NAB, NJB, or NRSV. (Keep in mind the RSV-2CE was not published when the project began.)

Ultimately, they decided on the NRSV: "The translation of the Bible known as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was chosen for The Saint John’s Bible for a number of reasons. Its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, had the distinction of being officially authorized for use by all major Christian churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Also, NRSV is a modern English translation with a strong literal tradition. It employs gender-inclusive language for references to men and women, usually done in a non-obtrusive manner."

Also, it is interesting to note that each hand-written page contains the textual notes of the NRSV as well. The whole project is slated to be completed some time this year.


Theophrastus said...

It will not surprise you to know that I have collected all of the large folio facsimile volumes of this Bible to published to date (Gospels and Acts, Pentateuch, Psalms, Wisdom Books, and Prophets.) For collectors of illustrated Bibles, let me say this is an exceptionally interesting one, with vivid colors, representation of Greek and Hebrew, and even soundgrams visualized in the text. The facsimile editions are not expensive by the standards of collectible volumes.

The footnotes are required under the NRSV licensing terms, as I understand it. The footnotes are regarded as an integral part of the translation (which is a strength of the NRSV, in my view).

I do think the claim that the NRSV is officially authorized for use by all major Christian churches: Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox is a bit misleading. [(a) Most consider Anglicans to be Protestants, separating them out seems to elevate their status and importance; (b) Most Protestant denominations do not have a mechanism to "authorize" a translation; (c) while one Eastern Orthodox leader has "blessed" the NRSV and another has "endorsed" it, others have criticized it. Here is a broad discussion; here is a very critical response.]

I think it would be more accurate to say that the NRSV translation team included Protestant (including Anglican), Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish translators; that it has been widely accepted by a broad variety of churches; and that it is the leading translation used by English-speaking academics.

Timothy said...


Thank you for the interesting links. As an outsider to the Orthodox Churches, I find the two view points to be an interesting read.

One point on the Anglican/Protestant distinction. Something that I have noticed in a number of official Catholic documents is that they often refer to the Anglican church as the Anglican Communion. I am not sure if this is a deliberate attempt by the Vatican to make a distinction or not. In addition, while the Orthodox Churches are rightly called Churches, often the Protestant churches are termed "ecclesial communities". This distinction is certainly made in the document Dominus Iesus.

So, perhaps, the St. John's Bible team decided to continue with that distinction. Or perhaps it just has to do with the Anglicans being a large segment of the broadly English speaking Christian community.

Theophrastus said...

They took that wording directly from Bruce Metzger's To The Reader section in the preface to the NRSV; however, he was speaking of the RSV! (I think the NRSV is stronger than the RSV; the NRSV used more materials, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls and included non-Protestants in its translation committee. Nonetheless, the RSV seems to be more widely used by American Eastern Orthodox scholars.)

I am sure you know everything that I am going to say next, and I must beg your forgiveness for repeating it. Still just for the record: the Anglicans claim apostolic succession for their bishopric, but this claim was rejected by the Holy See in the 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae (AC) and reaffirmed in 1998 as "definitive fact" by Cardinal Ratzinger, in his role as the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Catholics are obligated to accept AC under the penalty of no longer being in communion.

* English translation of AC* 1998 reaffirmation of AC* Helpful Wikipedia article on AC.

john said...

Well I guess I am "no longer in Communion" because I reject "Apostolicae Curae" I believe that Anglican Orders are valid and that they do in fact have "Apostolic Succession". I have read the Anglican response to Apostolicae Curae, Saepius Officio (something like that) and it makes sense and I also personally investigated what it said about form and intent. Leo himself appointed a commission to study it, they concluded that Anglican Orders werevalid. Pope Paul VI also appointed a commission to do the same, again the same; Anglican Orders are Valid. Many Catholic Scholars and Theologians say the same.