Every printing of the Bible brings a different visual interpretation of the text, Jonathan Homrighausen ’15 says. The Saint John’s Bible, however, takes it a step further.
Through intricate handcrafted illuminations and modern references, the book makes strong connections and opens the door for new interpretations.
"It creates these conversations that really spark people’s imagination," Homrighausen says. "I think that’s part of what makes it work. It’s not just beautiful. It’s a theological endorsement of the power of the imagination. You see it and you’re stunned."
In his new book, Illuminating Justice: The Ethical Imagination of The Saint John’s Bible, scheduled for publication by Liturgical Press in 2018, Homrighausen explores these conversations—detailing how the modern symbolism of artwork in The Saint John’s Bible makes the messages more tangible to readers today.
Homrighausen, a graduate student in the Jesuit School of Theology (JST), became fascinated by The Saint John’s Bible as a religious studies major and research assistant in Archives & Special Collections at the SCU Library. This department owns one of 299 exact replicas of The Saint John’s Bible, called the Heritage Edition. Sheila Conway, public services coordinator, asked Homrighausen to learn a little more about The Saint John’s Bible so he could offer context to people who came in to view it.
"I think I went a little bit beyond what she wanted," Homrighausen says. Soon he was explaining it to classes that visited from religious studies and the art department—and making his own scholarly observations about the seven-volume manuscript, which features 160 illuminations handcrafted by 14 scribes and artists. "I started to notice all these interesting connections that hadn’t really been written about before. So that’s what gave me the idea of writing a book."
Symbolism in the Bible is very rich, and The Saint John’s Bible includes unexpected symbols that introduce creative ways of viewing the Bible.
In his book, Homrighausen specifically explores many of the modern symbols of evil and strife. He refers to an illumination of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that incorporates oil derricks, nuclear reactor symbols, tanks, and microscopic imagery that Homrighausen believes to be the HIV virus.
"When you think about how we’re destroying our planet and the things that we do to each other through war, this version of the Bible represents all of that," he says.
As he completes his master’s in biblical studies at JST, he remains the resident expert. He says writing the book felt easy—like it almost wrote itself—because it was a topic he is passionate about.
"I wanted people to see this wasn’t just beautiful art, that there’s real theological vision behind it about social justice and uplifting the marginalized,” Homrighausen says. “That was one of the explicitly stated aims of my book project."