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WOID Bulletin: The Donald Jackson Bible

If he who sups with the Devil needs a long spoon, then whoever claims to
breakfast with God should be required to show a little bit of modesty.

No such compunctions affect the promoters of th "Saint John's Bible," the
first Bible to be handwritten in 500 years (at least according to a
promotional video full of anachronisms and errors). The Bible is to be
written and illuminated by Donald Jackson, Scribe to the Queen of England.

On March 24, what had been programmed as a press briefing at the Astor
Foundation in New York City turned out instead to be an exercise in
religious propaganda. Abbot X came to the podium, and called for a minute
of "silent prayer." He was followed by Brother Y, then Father Z. All of
their speeches centered on Christian Spirituality, with a few scattered
references to women and ecumenicism: it turns out that the Bible will
mention Sarah and Hagar, not just Abraham; that there are pictures of
Buddhist Mandalas and Jewish Menorahs, etc. I think it would be hard to
explain to anyone who isn't Jewish, or a woman, or a Buddhist, how
offensive and patronizing this was. As was inviting the press to a
briefing and then subjecting them to a sermon, without as much as a public
question-and-answer session.

So what about the book? Jackson came to the podium, and was charming as
usual. Then he told an odd story about seeing Pablo Casals possessed by
the music. He, Jackson, felt the same way: he was possessed by...the
orders he received from the people commissioning this book! I wonder if he
gets the same divine afflatus writing out invitations for Camilla.

So what about the book, already? Finally, the real reason for this meeting
was announced: the unveiling of the first finished page of the Bible. No
doubt the individual illustrations are technically impressive, but the
color scheme and page design are borrowed from thirteenth century Parisian
Bibles (two columns of letters, red and blue predominant), which is a
rather static style to begin with. In addition there is almost no flow
from illustration to page, let alone from page to page. It's as if this
weren't a book at all but a series of show-off vignettes.

More than anything else, this book reminded me of John Lafarge. Lafarge
was an American artist of the later nineteenth century who knew more about
European art (and Oriental art as well), than any other American except
perhaps Homer and Whistler. More than any other American he was up on the
latest trends, and corresponded with a number of French art critics - and
that, too, can be a form of technique. He has left us a series of stained
glass windows, paintings and designs, each of which seems to invent a
problem in order to pretend to find a solution: appealing to "modern"
spirituality, for instance. I happen to like Lafarge, though many people
would find him irrelevant. Lafarge imagined himself to be a subtle
cosmopolitan; he now comes across as cliched and vapid. It's not bad work,
really, just bad faith.


Paul Werner, New York City

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