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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Illuminating 2000

Scribes pen contemporary Bible text

How to pick a topic for this first column of the new millennium? Actually, it wasn't difficult. It focuses on a project that is a perfect symbol for tying the past to the present and future.

St. John's University, Collegeville, Minn., founded by Benedictine monks in 1857, commissioned the first handwritten and illuminated Bible since the advent of the printing press 500 years ago. While using the ancient art form of calligraphy, the New Revised Standard Version-based text will, its sponsors say, "be the first handwritten Bible to interpret and illustrate Scripture from a contemporary perspective." This will include "reflecting a multicultural world and recent strides in science and technology," they say.

St. John's selected one of the world's foremost calligraphers, Donald Jackson, to carry out the project. Jackson holds the position of Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office at the House of Lords. He works — with goose-quill pens on vellum — at his scriptorium in Monmouth, Wales, and at his artist-in-residence studio at St. John's.

Cooperating with him is a large, ecumenical team of scribes, artists and theologians.

The first volume, The Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, will appear at Christmas 2000. It will then tour museums and libraries worldwide. The entire work, to comprise seven volumes, should be completed in 2004. Already being planned are educational programs for children and underserved communities.

During a U.S. stay, Jackson, 61, told The Lutheran that many days he works from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and regards the new Bible as his greatest challenge. "It will take the rest of my working life," he said. But he isn't daunted by the awesome responsibility he has assumed. "At the end of the day," he said, "if God is in this project, I'm doing what I should be doing. I just don't worry."


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