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At Creighton University, Academic and Spiritual Perspectives Converge Under the Heritage Edition

No two sets of eyes see the same thing in the “beauty of The Saint John’s Bible”

Posted April 19, 2018 in Education
The Heritage Edition at Creighton University – The Saint John's Bible

Nowhere is the multifaceted nature of The Saint John’s Bible more apparent than in an educational context. Experts in fields that encompass the depth of human knowledge – from theology and biology to sociology, the humanities and more – pore over the art, structure, language and human effort of the unique tome.

The Heritage Edition has already been the subject of such critical perspectives at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. “That’s the beauty of The Saint John’s Bible,” David E. Crawford, University Archivist, said of its utility. “There’s so much to talk about, so many directions in which you can go.”

Where Academic and Spiritual Perspectives Converge

On loan from Creighton Board Chair Michael McCarthy and his wife, Nancy, the Heritage Edition at Creighton University is even the subject of a video series featuring academic commentary from Creighton staff. There’s Dulcinea Boesenberg, PhD, assistant professor of theology, describing the use of Hebrew in The Saint John’s Bible; and Gintaras Duda, PhD, cosmologist, particle physicist and professor and chair of physics, ruminating on the illuminations that incorporate modern science. That’s not to mention the students whose various courses of study might lead them to the Rare Books Room.

The Heritage Edition at Creighton University Rare Books Room – The Saint John's Bible
A Creighton University Theology class visiting the Rare Books Room to see the Heritage Edition by the light of their phones during a campus-wide blackout in Spring 2016. Photo credit: Creighton’s University Archives.

Creighton’s Rare Books Room is home to many “precious materials,” to borrow Crawford’s terminology – and the Heritage Edition has joined their ranks. Crawford was asked to administer the Heritage Edition’s time at Creighton because of his experience with historically significant items and his ability to communicate their importance to audiences.

The Saint John’s Bible is a great anchor,” Crawford said, “right in the middle of the room. As beautiful as this Bible is, it’s sturdy and robust.”

Crawford said that its size and presentation can intimidate some visitors – which is where Alexandra Kafka comes in. Kafka is a second-year graduate intern with The Saint John’s Bible at Creighton University, a position created specifically because of the massive interest in the Bible on campus. Students (or whole classes), professors, visitors – Kafka is their guide through the pages of the Heritage Edition.

“Freshmen tend to keep their distance, while smaller groups might get closer and be more willing to flip through the pages,” Kafka said, but all gravitate toward it as each volume is revealed. When the power went out during one viewing, students used their phones as flashlights for the opportunity to continue the session.

“You can tell when somebody really lights up on a topic,” Crawford said. “The science students get very excited when they see the DNA strands and the genealogy of Matthew. If we see that, we’ll tailor what we’re doing. Some students may come bored or unengaged, but they leave connected and inspired.”

Seeing the Bible in a New Light…

Not everyone who comes to see the Heritage Edition is there for academic purposes. Kafka recalled a physician and faculty member from the Creighton School of Medicine who visited the Rare Books Room after she noticed her patients using their Bibles to cope with illness. Her patients’ reliance on scripture piqued the woman’s interest – as a non-Christian, she “had a lot of questions,” Kafka said, and came back the following week to learn more about the inspiration behind her patients’ spiritual support system.

Crawford said that story lends credence to his personal perspective on The Saint John’s Bible, which is that it serves more than one audience. The first, he said, would be “those of us who are pretty familiar with the Bible, who have been raised in church. With that, you have stories and mindsets already in place – studying the Bible is sort of like a B-roll of tape that runs through your head, those visuals you have.

“One of the things that’s so powerful about this Bible is that it challenges you to look at things in new ways,” he added, citing The Saint John’s Bible’s illumination depicting the resurrection of Lazarus as his own personal example. “Whenever I had thought of that story, it was always an image of some scraggly-looking guy walking out of a hole in the side of a hill. In this Bible, you’re in the tomb with Lazarus, looking out at Christ calling us forth.”

… Or with New Eyes

The Heritage Edition is also used for special occasions at St. John’s Church on the campus of Creighton University, including the monthly Taize prayer service, held during the academic year. Photo credit: Creighton’s University Archives.

If that deepening of focus is revelatory for Crawford, who said he can’t remember a time he wasn’t going to church, then its impact on those who may have never been part of the faith – the second of the Bible’s audiences, according to Crawford’s definition – can only be magnified.

“Some people never saw themselves in the Bible,” Crawford said. Some visitors connect with The Saint John’s Bible’s presentation of Adam and Eve, in which their complexion is based on Ethiopian skin tones. Others connect with its thematic parallels (where, for example, the book of Revelation is interpreted through a lens of nuclear threat; where the Prodigal Son and the Twin Towers attacks are juxtaposed to reiterate the challenge of forgiveness), which multiply the opportunities for viewers to connect with its material and the message. “This isn’t just the Bible for white people from middle America,” Crawford added.

While Creighton University launches its plans for The Saint John’s Bible for the remainder of its loan through 2019 – including new media like video projects and podcasts – the heart of its purpose at Creighton will still be face-to-face encounters. That includes offering the use of illuminations in services by other ministries, as well as illuminations from the Pentateuch for use in Jewish services. “Creighton is a Jesuit university, but it’s open to all denominations and faith traditions,” Crawford said. “The Saint John’s Bible belongs to a broader group, and it reaches people in different ways.”

Learn more about the Heritage Edition at Creighton University by visiting their website, contacting or watching the video series featuring Creighton professors and staff discussing its contents.