Candler faculty, Swanson’s art create new window on Holy Week

Faculty from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology provide commentary and works by Los Angeles artist John August Swanson provide colorful and intricate portrayals of scenes from Holy Week and Easter in “What Wondrous Love: Holy Week in Word and Art,” a new DVD and study guide for the Christian Lenten season.

The DVD features six chapters from major events of Holy Week, with commentaries by Candler faculty plus a Swanson work of art focused on a familiar scripture passage. The accompanying discussion guide depicts the Swanson artwork from the DVD along with thought-provoking questions aimed at sparking new insights on the Bible story.

Some examples:

  • At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples are doing something unusual and unconventional in celebrating the Passover not with their biological families, but with their “new spiritual family,” according to Walter Wilson, professor of New Testament.
  • In the early chapters of the Gospel of Mark, the story of Jesus moves at a rapid clip. But in the story of the crucifixion, events slow down. Mark begins to name the slow passing of time and as the hours crawl by—9 o’clock, noon, 3 o’clock—bringing the reader into the story, according to Carl Holladay, Candler Professor of New Testament Studies.

Other Candler commentators in the series include:

  • Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching (who authored the discussion guide);
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins;
  • Carol Newsom, Candler Professor of Old Testament;
  • Steven Kraftchick, associate professor of New Testament interpretation;
  • Jan Love, dean of Candler and professor of Christianity and world politics;
  • Joel LeMon, assistant professor of Old Testament; and
  • Andrea White, assistant professor of theology and culture.

Swanson, recognized worldwide for his finely detailed, brilliantly colored paintings and original prints, also provides audio commentary on the meaning behind several of his works pictured on the DVD.

Of his serigraph titled “Take Away the Stone,” depicting Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, Swanson says, “I think all of us are Lazarus, and Christ keeps telling us to wake up, to come out and be alive.”

While painting “Entry into the City,” depicting Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Swanson says he thought of the civil rights movement and put Roman soldiers and vicious dogs into the composition. The streets of Jerusalem he depicts in the painting look more like a modern day urban scene than a Middle Eastern city two millennia ago.

The son of a Mexican mother and a Swedish father, Swanson is influenced by the folk art traditions of those two countries. His works are displayed in some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, The Art Institute of Chicago, London’s Tate Gallery, the Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Candler’s holdings of Swanson’s work—some 50 pieces—comprise the largest single collection of his art in the world.

“What Wondrous Love: Holy Week in Word and Art” follows the format of 2009’s “A Thrill of Hope: The Christmas Story in Word and Art,” which was the first production to feature Candler faculty and Swanson art. Both are published by Morehouse Education Resources and are available for purchase through Cokesbury online.

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