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EIKON, Yale Divinity Digital Image and Text Library

Yale Divinity School Library

Reviewed by:
John Bert Lott
Vassar College
December 2004

This site offers digital resources (primarily images) for teaching the history of Christianity. It is divided into two main collections, EIKON, images related to Biblical Studies, and AD HOC, images and digital texts related to the history of Christianity.

While the search functions allow searching across both collections, it is clear that each was designed to stand on its own as a resource for a particular class or topic. This review will focus on EIKON, since very few of the images collected in AD HOC relate to the earliest history of Christianity in Classical Antiquity. However, readers should keep AD HOC in mind, both as a partner with EIKON for teaching Biblical and Christian history together, and as a resource for teaching later periods of the history of Christianity.

The EIKON collection contains several thousand images of landscapes, architecture, and objects of interest to biblical scholars. Some of these are restricted to the Yale community for copyright reasons. Chronologically, they range from early periods of West Asian cultures (Ur, Babylon) to the first century CE. They range geographically from the Tigris Euphrates valley to the Iberian Peninsula in what is now southern Spain. The focus, however, is on images directly related to Biblical studies: places mentioned in the Bible, examples of architecture and objects mentioned in the Bible or related to Biblical places or events. Some comparative material from Greco-Roman religions is included as well.

There are two ways to access the images in EIKON. A search function allows users to search the images by title, date, location, creator, commentary, source, and/or keyword. There is also a browse function that allows users to view images by category. Two of the categories, “location” and “type of object,” are standard ways to present historical images. So one might find images of Patmos (where St. John wrote Revelations) by browsing through the Aegean Islands. More unique and interesting is the browse by biblical book function. This allows users to browse images related to a particular book of the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Apocrypha (early Christian writings eventually excluded from the canonical bible, e.g., the gnostic Gospel of Thomas) and Pseudepigrapha.

The ability to associate images with a particular part of the text is incredibly useful for those teaching from a single book or a small set of books. For example, I have students read the law codes in Exodus alongside the law code of Hammurabi. Therefore, the ability to find images (in this case, later representations) related to the reception and foundation of Mosaic law is particularly useful to me.

Each image comes with a limited set of metadata including a historical commentary. However, the usefulness and comprehensiveness of the information varies greatly from image to image. Thus the commentary on the single image from Ur, of the tomb of Ur Nammu, focuses as much on the history of the city of Ur in general as on the king Ur Nammu or his tomb.

In some instances there is basically no commentary associated with images of great significance. For example, a general shot of the Ein Gedi oasis on the Black Sea offers no commentary at all despite the fact that there is an important early Bronze Age temple at the site, that the site is mentioned by name at 1 Samuel 24.1, that the village there became a royal estate associated with the Herodian dynasty, that the Essene sect perhaps responsible for the dead sea scrolls lived there, and that an important late antique synagogue has been excavated there.

Indeed, the ability to look across time at the continued importance of particular places to Bronze Age, Jewish, Hellenistic, Roman, and Christian cultures is another possible classroom use for EIKON. One might, for example, look at images of an important city like Rome or Athens alongside both Christian (Acts, Romans) and Classical texts (Juvenal, Ovid) related to them and then ask students to discuss how their own interpretations of architecture, art, or town planning changed depending on the viewpoints of the authors they were reading.

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