Saturday, April 23, 2011

Plates From An Old Bible- The Easter Story

When we moved into our house fifteen years ago, we found a small trunk full of books out in the barn. OK- it was more of a shed but for some reason we called it the barn. Wishful thinking maybe. Anyway, the books dated from the mid 1800's and most were in pretty bad shape: tattered, mouse eaten, rain soaked. It really broke my heart as that's the kind of thing I love to stumble upon. We salvaged a book of poetic essays, a copy of "Women of the Bible", several booklets from the Forest Service and the National Parks Service, a precious personal diary, and two Bibles. These Bibles are the great big ol' family Bibles and yes they have Marriages, Births, and Deaths recorded in those beautiful record pages in the center of the Bible. These Bibles date from 1864 and 1845. The last family record entered in either Bible is the death of one Laura Jane Piatt Robinson in 1943. There are a couple mementos tucked inside and gorgeous old plates made from engravings. The covers are made from board and are covered with embossed leather.One of the Bibles has a wonderful metal clasp. Make no mistake, they are in pretty rough shape but I just couldn't get rid of them.

So I thought I would share the plates from the Easter story with you. I photographed the plates instead of trying to get them spread out on the scanner. It seemed too risky to try to prop the books open and keep them from falling apart. They're half way there already and they fall apart a bit more every time they are touched. When a page crumbles into pieces or stitching on the spine snaps I feel like I've just broken a bone of a precious child. I love old books. Anyway, that's why the photos are a bit askew.

The photo above is a close up of the plate at the top of  this post. Peter denying Christ. We know from Scripture that Peter truly loved Jesus and sometimes I try to image what that night was like. He had already lopped off some poor Roman guard's ear and then he was being pointed out as "one of them". Poor Peter- sweet, impulsive, bombastic Peter-  he must have been frightened out of his mind.

This print is of Jesus carrying his cross and depicts the traditional view of how a condemned prisoner carried his cross. In fact it was probably only the crossbeam that was carried. A complete cross is estimated to weigh around 300 pounds. The crossbeam was no insignificant piece of scrap lumber, however, as it was used to hoist the prisoner up to the scaffolding using ropes once his hands had been fixed to the beam. The crossbeam probably weighed anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds. Once lifted to the scaffolding the prisoners were possibly "secured" to a foot beam which the prisoner could use to lift his weight off of his wrists in order to breath. Crucifixion is basically slow suffocation by the weight of the body and is a historically documented fact found through out history. Shockingly, there are incidents of crucifixion reported even today.

Scripture records Jesus stumbling several times as he carried the crossbeam to Golgotha, where he was executed. He had already been beaten several times and had a crown of thorns crushed onto his head.

Image via Moellard's Blog

Finally, Jesus had been scourged, which is the mother of all whippings. Scourging involved being beaten with a multi-thonged whip with metal balls and shards of sheep bone tied to the ends. Scourging generally preceded a crucifixion because it severely weakened the condemned through shock and blood loss. A healthy young man could conceivably endure days of crucifixion if he were not first weakened. Scourging is horrific and bloody, often fatal.

So Jesus was in much worse shape than depicted in this plate. Perhaps the engraver felt that Jesus, because of His holy nature, was above physical suffering, that maybe scourging doesn't really hurt so much when you're divine. Though Jesus was fully holy, He was also fully human and He did suffer. Oh, how He suffered for us. It has been suggested that the Roman soldiers who administered the flogging to Jesus were particularly brutal with Him. They were probably outraged by this Jew who claimed to be a king. Their king.


Ya gotta hand it to an engraver- it's tedious work. If you look at the lines of a print made from an engraving, it's hard to imagine drawing in such detail (at least for me), much less engraving in such detail on a metal plate. Depth of field? Muscles and arm veins? Roman soldiers in the shadows? I see how it's done but it still boggles my mind.

Then there's the whole printing process- apply enough ink, don't wipe too much off, enough pressure but not too much, don't smudge the print while it's wet....   incredible. These plates are gorgeous and grand.

I was hoping there was a plate of something like the women at the tomb discovering Christ's resurrection but this plate is just as wonderful. It depicts Jesus ascension to heaven 40 days after He had risen from the tomb. He was with eleven of His disciples, Judas having hung himself when he realized what he had done.

"My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:2-6.

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