Rare Book Makes a Connection to the Past

By Hailey Austin

The Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible is currently on display in the Creighton University Rare Books Room. The Saint John’s Bible (based on the Revised Standard Version) is the first handwritten, hand-illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in over 500 years. It was completed in 2011 by calligrapher Donald Jackson and a team of scribes, artists, theologians, and scholars.  

The Heritage Edition is a unique, full-sized reproduction of The Saint John’s Bible, which was commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, in 1998. One of only 299 sets created, the Heritage Edition is on loan from Michael J. McCarthy and his wife Nancy. McCarthy is the chairman of Creighton’s Board of Trustees. 

“It is the hope of my wife, Nancy, and I that this Bible serves as a source of inspiration, spiritual reflection, artistic value and academic inquiry for Creighton University students, faculty, and alumni, along with the wider community,” McCarthy told Creighton Magazine. “I believe that displaying this Bible at Creighton is a wonderful fit with the University’s academic and Jesuit, Catholic mission.”

The 1,150 pages feature 160 illuminations embossed with gold and silver foil. In addition to traditional illustrations, the artists also incorporated modern-day themes in an effort to create a more modern, relevant Bible. Examples include the double helix, images of space from the Hubble telescope, New York’s Twin Towers, Adam and Eve as African in origin and appearance, and the Earth as seen from space.   

According to the Creighton News Center, McCarthy is a founding partner and chairman of McCarthy Group, an investment holding company headquartered in Omaha since its founding in 1986. McCarthy serves as a director of public, private, and not-for-profit entities including Cabela’s, Union Pacific Corporation, Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., Election Systems & Software, Heritage Services, and Creighton University. 

“Creighton plays a unique role in our community as a place of formation for students who will be educated in the Jesuit tradition of a liberal arts education, and prepared to serve others with impact and expertise in a wide variety of professions,” McCarthy said. 

And the Heritage Edition does just that. Its display in the Creighton Rare Books Room in the Reinert Alumni Memorial Library not only allows students access to the work of art, but also the ability to utilize it in research. 

Leonard Greenspoon, Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton, believes this Bible connects us to the past.

“It’s a reflection of the fact that the preservation of the biblical text — which is so uniquely authoritative for so many people — ultimately resided in the labor-intensive efforts of scribes, who copied this material from century to century,” Greenspoon says. “Everything in the West up until 1453, when Gutenberg invented movable type, was written by hand. It’s easy to forget that now.”

Creighton Archivist David Crawford is excited most about the personal, human stories involved with the display of the Heritage Edition. 

He related a story told to him of a young African-American boy viewing the Bible with his class and seeing the illustration of Adam and Eve, who are depicted as black. “Tears are coming down his cheeks,” Crawford told Creighton Magazine. “The teachers went over and asked him what was wrong, and he said, ‘This is the first time I have seen myself in the Scriptures.’”

Hailey Austin is a senior at Creighton University majoring in English and Spanish with a minor in history. Creighton University is home to the Beta of Nebraska Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.