The first meeting of the Bible and Visual Culture seminar at the EABS.
Biblical scholars are accustomed to engaging with the written word of scripture that it becomes so easy for them to forget that for most of – at least – Christian history, with the great mass of the population illiterate, the majority of Christians’ primary experience of their faith will have been first and foremost visual. Drama such as mystery plays, the visual impact of churches, public buildings, frescoes, sculpture and paintings would have been what inspired and directed their understanding and engagement with the Bible.
Throughout every part of Europe, in large cities and in provincial villages, museums and art galleries are crammed with artworks that offer rich and subtle visual expressions of the biblical text; these visual artefacts are not simply straightforward representations of the parallel biblical narrative but are mediated to us through the artist’s reading and reception of the text and through the specific and distinctive tradition within which he or she worked.
Biblical scholars neglect so many of the opportunities that these art works offer: they can help scholars to see the biblical narrative in new and unexpected ways, they question traditional interpretations and most of all they engage the viewer in the bible’s subject matter in immediate and startling ways. The word-image dichotomy is in many ways a false one: rather we should regard the literary artist and the visual artist as working towards the same goal of bringing to light what lies hidden, helping us to imagine, to see in our mind’s eye, things that are new to us and that challenge us.
Dr Martin O’Kane (University of Wales, Lampeter, UK)