The Power of Visual Culture and The Fragility of the Text

This paper will summarise three case studies where visual culture and the Bible have been used in juxtaposition and reflect on ways in which this juxtaposition has on each occasion demonstrated the power of visual culture to distort or to mute the biblical text as the target artefact in the project: 1. Lindisfarne Gospels Exhibition, Durham University and Durham Cathedral, 2014. This exhibition and associated cultural festival focussed almost completely on the iconography, illustration and composition of the Lindisfarne Gospels as visual artefact, with only one academic lecture addressing Aeldred’s Anglo-Saxon gloss graffitied onto the text. No aspect of the presentation focused on the meaning of the text or the content of the text. Cuthbert’s Bible, the oldest surviving bound book in the United Kingdom (7th century) was also presented, in Greek, without translation. 2. Retweeting the Bible, OpenBible, 2015. OpenBible and other bible engagement organisations regularly publish lists of popular verses on social media. In this list the top ten retweeted bible verses were listed with the original tweet. A study of the tweets show that the key motive for the retweeting of the original relates much more to visual and celebrity culture and that the actual biblical text is muted or even disregarded. 3. Darren Aronofsky, Noah, 2015. Aronofsky’s cinematic interpretation of Noah’s story offers, in his own words, a midrash of various traditions about Noah and the flood. The film is part of a number of films riding on the back of the financial success of Gibson’s Passion of the Christ but makes maximum use of gaps within and around the Noah traditions to portray a remarkably different narrative to the one found in Genesis. The paper will conclude by asking whether, as Katie Edwards’ Rethinking Biblical Literacy volume argues, the presentation of the bible within visual culture is a positive feature signalling Western society’s continued engagement with it or whether the bible in visual culture is has lost its ability to speak to society in any meaningful way.