Illustrated Bible

The “Illustrated Bible” is a digitized version of a manuscript I began to work on in 1972, at the age of 16, while a high school student in Suceava (Bucovina), Romania. The 150 page-manuscript, completed in 1973, contained original illustrations in ink on glossy paper featuring Moses’ life (fragmentary), many of the Sunday and feast-days Gospels listed in any Eastern Orthodox lectionary, and John’s Revelation (fragmentary). The illustrations were accompanied by their corresponding biblical passages in Romanian rendition.

Reaching back in my memory, I remember quite vividly those days spent in fear under the watchful eye of the communist regime. Religious beliefs were tolerated only within the thick and cold walls of a church or synagogue. Any breath of faith that escaped out of those holy shrines was artfully and immediately stifled. All high-school students were enrolled automatically in UTC’s (Union of Communist Youth) ranks. Thus attending liturgical services by an UTC member even  two or three times a year on important feast-days was punished with a mock-God demonstration. Once a week, the high school’s principal asked the imprudent UTC members, caught in ‘liturgical action,’ to stand up and be ridiculed by their coward  classmates. “Hey, Pentiuc, are you still musing over the soul’s immortality?”—and the jeering principal received the well-deserved class’s acclamation.

Like other young folks of my generation, I considered protesting against such a ruthless political system along with its petty mercenaries a noble task. Tuning in on radio “Free Europe” and its popular political and musical shows, or humming scores by Bob Dylan, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix was an indirect way to oppose a totalitarian system of government so insensitive to man’s basic longing for love, beauty, and truth.

But for me this protest was not enough. I felt a need for something more; something more meaningful and substantive; something capable not only to oppose but also to build; something like a drop of grace poured into our daily, suffocating, bitter emptiness. For some of us, that something came to be the Holy Scripture in its quiet yet meaningful way. But with the 1968’s Bible edition published in only 100,000 copies for a Christian (mostly Orthodox) population of circa 20 million people, the Scripture looked as remote and unattainable as God in his celestial abode.

On a summer humid day, I had pleaded for hours with my uncle to lend me his own Bible. My uncle had been awarded with a newly printed Bible by the pastor for his laborious ecclesiarch’s work. I use the word ‘pleaded,’ because lending a bible to another ‘comrade’ in that communist Romania was considered a capital crime. After countless prayers and assurances, my uncle handed the precious book to me with a stern warning, “But… for a week only,” said he earnestly. So day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, for a whole ‘holy week’ in the summer, I labored with diligence and passion. And I found myself fascinated, puzzled, and awed by God’s word turning into man’s most beautiful stories. Still my reading has been always haunted by anxiety. Anxiety, for the set deadline was approaching as a thief in the dead of the night, eager to take away my newly found friend. In one word, the result of such an exciting, dense time, was beyond my wildest expectations. I managed to read the whole Holy Writ, except for Leviticus and Numbers.

Three years later, the word became a drawing, and another drawing, and so on until all these sketches became a drawing-book, a book filled with colors, forms, and elusive contours, the “Illustrated Bible,” that is. My readings turned into interpretations consisting in colorful drawings where intrepid imagination and genuine emotions were running free. Thus each panel in my “Illustrated bible” is an interpretative angle from where an adolescent saw the Holy Book and its all-engaging stories.

The style of these illustrations is a sort of mixture between graphics and painting. Forms, lines, and brushes of color breaking through the predominantly black background of each panel remind me now, years later, of what John (Jn 1:5) said of Christ, that “The light appears in the darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.” The twofold mention of ‘darkness’ is a strong reality check. It is a serious business. Darkness is everywhere and at all times. Yet, the light that ‘appeared’ unexpectedly in the realm of history two thousand years ago, as does it appear in our personal journeys, no matter how little it might look in contrast with the double portion of darkness, this light is still at work, still shining, because the darkness no matter how strong it looks from our tri-dimensional perspective, it could not overpower the small, sparking light that broke through the tomb.

Why did I decide to post these illustrations? I would say, to show today’s young generation that the loving, beautiful, true light could appear and shine even in the darkest parts of this universe of ours. In a former communist country as Romania or in the most forgotten places on earth, as in the most lonely hearts of forgotten or lost souls, Christ remains always in our midst. And where there is light there is also faith, hope, and love. “And love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8). The “Illustrated Bible” is therefore an invitation to contemplate God’s love in Christ for us.

From time to time, I will add to the past illustrations various reflections so that there will be a bridge over time linking an adolescent’s drawings done more than 30 years ago to current personal ruminations of a student of Old Testament and Semitic languages and civilizations.

The accompanying biblical text used in the digitized version of my work follows the New Revised Standard version of the Holy Scripture.

I would like to acknowledge here Mr. John Smyrni, a Hellenic College student, who dedicated his time to scan and upload the original illustrations.

And now, O passer-by, lingering through etheric spheres, with a purpose or no purpose at all, take some time and lose yourself in this colorful, imaginative, and adolescent retelling of the sacred text.

—Eugen J. Pentiuc