Interpreting the Bible Through Art

To convey the meaning of Scripture, we commonly resort to words. That is how we explicate the text—with words. That’s also the case with those nonbiblical books denominated apocrypha, as in the Book of Judith, the subject of this column. But the meaning and interpretation of the text can be conveyed also through art. We have customarily used art in this magazine simply to illustrate the words that convey the meaning. In this instance, however, the art is the primary focus—a portrait of Judith by the great early-20th-century artist Gustav Klimt.

Don’t miss the fascinating by Hershel Shanks, “Art as Bible Interpretation,”  in the January/February 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. It is available on-line here.

Many of us have enjoyed browsing through art works treating biblical characters and themes since we were children. We find the portrayals endlessly diverse and alluring.  Shanks offers an insightful analysis here to the portrayal of the “Judith” story from the “Apocrypha.”

A friend recently gave us a wonderful book by Patrick de Rynck titled How to Read Bible Stories and Myths in Art: Decoding the Old Masters from Giotto to Goya. I have been spending some happy hours flipping through this wonderful book. It is arranged alphabetically by figures or scenes related thereto: Abraham, Achilles, Adam and Eve, Anna and Joachim…Christ/Adoration of the Magi, Crucifixion, et al. That Rynck includes both Bible stories as well as figures from “mythology,” mostly Greek, makes it all the more fascinating as a comparative endeavor. I also like Rynck’s method. He focuses on a single painter/painting and then breaks it down into its components, trying to get at the innovations, intents, presuppositions, and interpretations of the artist, placing each in a wider art-history context. This is the kind of book one can “dip into.” I highly recommend.