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The Saint John’s Bible (SJB) is a contemporary illustrated and calligraphic New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Translation in seven large volumes. In addition there is an introduction to the project called Illuminating The Word: The Making of the Saint John's Bible by Christopher Calderhead, designed by Jerry Kelly (Liturgical Press)  serves as a fitting tribute to this fantastic example of devotional art, detailing the manner and identifying the scribes who worked on words and images of this bible. There are two distinctiveaesthetic dimensions addressed by this postmodern illuminated Bible. First,we have one of the most sustained examples of free hand calligraphy so that every word in this beautiful book, every letter is carefully crafted and written.  Throughout the books we are graced with exceptional illuminations that blend text and image, vibrant abstract colors that offers a stunning work of art. It is fitting that the Bible, the fountain source of Judaism and Christianity, and the inspiration for Islam's Qu'ran, should be renewed in every generation as a work of art as well as a source for a worship. The Saint John’s Bible is very likely to become a model for future imitators.  It definitely belongs in any serious religious artists library.

In this companion volume to The Saint John’s Bible, Christopher Calderhead offers to a behind-the-scenes tour of this especially striking project. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews, this book tells the story of the makers of the Bible and the community at Saint John’s Abbey and University. The day-to-day struggles of such a monumental undertaking included challenges such as the selection and preparation of more than 250 calf skins. The formation of a team of calligraphers accustomed to working independently and communicating the concerns of the advisory council in Minnesota with the artists in Wales. Illuminating the Word: The Making of The Saint John’s Bible explores a modern version of an age-old relationship between patron and sponsor, and the artistic director, scribes and artists producing this monumental artwork. It describes lectio divina, the unique method the Benedictine monks use to read the Bible, in which the Holy Scriptures come alive through the power of imagination. It explores the challenge of creating new images for ancient stories. It chronicles the artistic techniques, the tools and materials and workshop practices Donald Jackson used to create his lifetime masterpiece. Illuminating the Word reveals the working process behind one of the greatest undertakings of our time and vividly brings to life its challenges and triumphs.

The Saint John's Bible Using tools and materials employed by scribes for thousands of years, Donald Jackson and an international team of artists and scholars embarked on a monumental seven-year journey: to create the first handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned since the invention of the printing press. Combining the most widely used English translation of the Bible with original artwork that reflects cultures from around the world, The Saint John's Bible is an inspiring interfaith undertaking that speaks to the heart of many religious traditions. This volume is the first of seven that will be issued, including Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Literature, Psalms, Prophets, Gospels and Acts and Letters and Revelation.

The volumes are planed to be in production over the next four years (2005-2009) One may place a standing order for The Saint John's Bible set by simply calling toll-free at 1-800-858-5450.

Seven distinct volumes in the set include

0814690521 Pentateuch (see review below)

081469053X Historical Books (not seen)

0814690548 Prophets (see review below)

0814690556 Wisdom Literature (not seen)

0814690564 Psalms (not seen)

0814690513 Gospels and Acts (see review below)

0814690572 Letters and Revelation (not seen) 

Gospels and Acts: The Saint John's Bible by Donald Jackson (Liturgical Press) The volume is finely printed on high quality paper. The calligraphy is a bit small for the older eye but even and fine script that can be adjusted after a little practice to reading with ease and even sensate pleasure. The illustrations are carefully wrought; moderately abstract symbolic drawings of key scenes in the Gospel stories. As a work of art and as a guide to devotional reading these volumes promise a cogent blend of esthetic with spiritual.

Now, Donald Jackson and Saint John's Abbey and University introduce the first volume, Gospels and Acts, a beautiful book with 136 pages of sacred text and 25 exquisite illuminations that form a visual reflection on scripture. The Bible should be published in seven volumes, plus a special edition on the making of The Saint John's Bible. To learn more about fine art prints, facsimile reproductions and the creation of the Bible, visit www.saintjohnsbible.org.

The Saint John's Bible was commissioned by Saint John's Abbey and University as an expression of the Benedictine monks' daily focus on scripture and commitment to books, art and religious culture.

When Donald Jackson first approached Saint John's Abbey and University about his life-long dream, no one could have foreseen what would follow. The long-time scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office would spend the next seven years collaborating with artist-calligraphers, illuminators, scholars and the monks of Saint John's Abbey to create the first handwritten Bible since the invention of the printing press. Using eggs, feathers, calfskins, and hand-ground inks along with gold, silver and platinum, The Saint John's Bible employs ancient techniques to create a contemporary masterpiece intended to put us in communication with the Infinite.

Saint John's Abbey, a Benedictine monastic com­munity in central Minnesota, and Saint John's University, a liberal arts college. founded by the Abbey in 1857, envisioned a Bible that would ignite the spiritual imagination of people for centuries to come. It would be contemporary, interreligious, multicultural and prophetic. Created in Donald Jackson's scriptorium in Wales, The Saint John's Bible will reside at Saint John's University, which enjoys an international reputation for its work with medieval and early modern manuscripts.

Donald Jackson is one of the world's leading calligraphers and the artistic director and illuminator of The Saint John's Bible. He is a Senior Illuminator to the Queen of England's Crown Office. He is an elected Fellow and past Chairman of the prestigious Society of Scribes and Illuminators. His 30-year retrospective exhibition, Painting with Words, premiered at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota in August, 1988 and traveled to 13 museums and galleries. A new exhibition, Illuminating the Word: The Saint John's Bible, premiers at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in April 2005.

Pentateuch: The Saint John's Bible  (Liturgical Press) The third in a series of full-color, reproductions from The Saint John’s Bible, the Pentateuch is foundational to both Judaism and Christianity. The Pentateuch features text and illuminations of the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) known as the Torah in Judaism. Prominent illuminations include Creation, Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Jacob’s Ladder, Abraham and Sarah, the Ten Commandments and the Death of Moses.

In beautiful handwritten script and elegant design, the Pentateuch contains the cherished stories of faith that are thousands of years old. This book provides an artistic interpretation of humanity’s oldest literature—still recited as living history.

That these stories are significant to Jewish and Christian traditions is not surprising since they reflect the hopes, dreams, fears, and deeds of people living side by side with the earth’s oldest civilizations. Over time, these spiritual descendants of Abraham and Sarah introduced God to all the inhabitants of the Middle East and beyond. Their message was simple. God and his creation are good; evil enters when prideful humans go their own way. Nonetheless, God continues to love unconditionally.

The Saint John’s Bible is not a re-creation of an ‘old’ book; rather it is a new creation of the Bible for the third millennium of Christianity, using the finest and most historically accurate tools and techniques available. The translation used is the New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE). The NRSV is an ecumenical work of Christian scholars from major denominations.  The NRSV uses inclusive language and is accepted in Catholic and Protestant denominations. The Saint John’s Bible does include the Catholic deuterocanonical books.

The themes of this work will include the reality of a saving God, the goodness of creation and the bond of the covenant between God and humanity.  The 1500 year-old tradition of St. Benedict and his Rule are also included.  These include hospitality, transformation and justice for God’s people.  St. Benedict’s value of hospitality means that all guests should be received as if one is receiving Christ.  This hospitality is for the poor, the stranger, the seeker and the wanderer. Transformation speaks to the ongoing conversion of the heart to align one’s life with that of the life of Christ.  The Benedictine’s rule of justice for God’s people reminds us that all people are equally worthy before God.  This project for the third millennium of Christianity is to further remind the world of the glories of Christ’s redemption and the depth of God’s involvement in humanity.

How can one describe the beauty of the written word of The Saint John’s Bible?  The wondrous formation of the letters on the pages of vellum and the shimmering illuminations glimmering on the page! The intricate details of the butterflies, the insects and the natural pictures are depicted as though the creatures are alive and have momentarily alighted to read the words.  The sheer wonder of the number of hours invested in this work and the thought of a team of artists, scribes and graphic designers working on this project, but more than working; these mere mortals are re-creating an amazing book—the Bible! And in the beginning of this 21st century we are witnesses to this historical and inspirational event!

The Saint John’s Bible was born out of a lifelong dream of one man, Donald Jackson, to hand-write the Word of God. In 1998, after many months of collaboration and prayer, St. John’s University and Abbey commissioned Jackson to create this hand-written bible. This Bible, The Saint John’s Bible, is a $4 million dollar, 8-year project for a bible for the 21st century.

St. John’s University is a Benedictine school in Collegeville, Minnesota. The Benedictine abbey, home to about 200 monks, is one of the largest abbeys in the world. The commissioning of this work is a monumental undertaking by the school.  However, this project fits in with the university’s long-standing commitment to Scripture and book arts.  The Hill Monastic Manuscript Library is housed on the campus and has one of the most extensive microfilm collections of rare and ancient books and manuscripts in the world.

The text of the Bible is written in English. It is expected to be over 1,000 pages in seven volumes.  An eighth book, the Book of Honor, will be the names of all the many people around the world who helped sponsor this Bible.  The actual work of the Bible is taking place in a Scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales.  This idyllic setting across the world from the university is a bevy of quiet activity:  a team of calligraphers and illuminators, a natural history illustrator, a graphic designer, as well as a project coordinator, and assistants.  Back at Saint John’s is the CIT, the Committee on Illumination and Text.  This committee is composed of theologians, medievalists, artists, biblical scholars and art historians to comment on each of the Bible’s 160 illuminations.  The CIT interacts with Donald Jackson and the Wales team to provide insight and clarity to the illuminations that will be a part of the Bible.

Saint John's Bible: Prophets by Donald Jackson (Liturgical Press) The fourth volume of the full-color reproduction books of The Saint John's Bible, featuring some of the most beautiful passages in all of Sacred Scripture. Prophets includes artistic depictions from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, Daniel, and Zechariah. Major images are Isaiah's Temple Vision and Suffering Servant, Ezekiel's Call and the Valley of the Dry Bones, Daniel's Son of Man, Amos' Plea for Social Justice, and Zechariah's Messianic Prediction. 9 3⁄4" x 15". 232 pages. Hardcover with dust jacket.

The ancient prophets of Israel suffered and celebrated with the people they both admonished and praised. They provided words of consolation during times of oppression and kept the flame of hope alive during the darkest periods of Israelite and Jewish history. Christians honor the prophets as those who foretold the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as is evidenced by the many references to the prophets in the New Testament. The prophetic message is as relevant today as it was in ancient Israel. The prophets continue to call us to respond to God's love and offer their unvarnished judgment on our behavior. Jackson's images amplify the prophetic word, keeping the flame of hope alive today. Prophets includes artistic depictions from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, Daniel, and Zechariah. Major images are Isaiah's Temple Vision and Suffering Servant, Ezekiel's Call and the Valley of the Dry Bones, Daniel's Son of Man, Amos' Plea for Social Justice, and Zechariah's Messianic Prediction. In addition, famous passages such as Isaiah 2:4 "He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" receive special calligraphic and artistic treatment.


As the home of the Gutenberg Bible – one of world’s three perfect copies on vellum – and the Giant Bible of Mainz, both of which are on permanent display in the Thomas Jefferson Building – the Library of Congress is pleased to be a stop on the tour of The Saint John’s Bible," said Librarian of Congress James. H. Billington. "This contemporary work pays homage to the medieval art form of manuscript illumination, which is richly represented in the Library’s rare book collections."

"The Saint John’s Bible makes a statement about faith, as well as the importance of art and imagination," said Brother Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, president of Saint John’s University. "We are pleased to share our work and introduce new elements of the project to audiences across the country through this extended tour.” 

Commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University, The Saint John’s Bible is a contemporary work created in the tradition of medieval manuscripts and the first handwritten, illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago. Working with a team of theologians and artists from Saint John’s Abbey and University, Bible Artistic Director Donald Jackson has spent the last six years working in Wales, scribing and illustrating the manuscript using quills and paints hand-ground from minerals and stones such as lapis lazuli, malachite, silver, copper and 24-karat gold.

The Library’s exhibition will feature selections from the first three completed volumes of The Saint John’s Bible: Pentateuch, the first five books of Jewish and Christian scripture; Gospels and Acts; Psalms and Prophets. Highlights include folios of the Seven Days of Creation, Genesis, the Garden of Eden, the Ten Commandments, the Birth of Christ, the Crucifixion and the frontispieces for the four Gospels. Original artist tools, sketches and materials from Jackson’s scriptorium will also be on view.

One of the world’s leading calligraphers, Jackson is senior scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Crown Office at the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, a position in which he is responsible for the creation of official state documents. He is an elected fellow and past chairman of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators. His 30-year retrospective exhibition, "Painting with Words," premiered at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in August 1988 and traveled to 13 museums and galleries.

Consisting of 1,150 pages in seven volumes, The Saint John’s Bible will be completed in 2008. It will then be housed permanently at the Hill House Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John’s Abbey and University. For more information on the project, visit www.saintjohnsbible.org.

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