The Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts, or CSART, will host a lecture with Dr. Wendell Willis on Feb. 7 to feature his interpretation of early Christian art depicting Jonah.
The assumption of a public lecture is that someone who doesn’t have any formal education in religion can still follow the lecture, Dr. Willis said. His lecture is going to be on Jonah as Jonah is interpreted by Jesus in Matthew 11 and also how it’s interpreted in the earliest Christian art in the Catacombs.
“The interesting phenomenon is Jonah is the most represented person in early Christian art, except for the good shepherd. Jesus as the good shepherd, with the sheep on his shoulder, is the most common,” Dr. Willis said. “Almost all of the Jonah artwork is in two, or more commonly three panels, so it’s like reading a cartoon as opposed to the good shepherd which is a single image. It’s narrative art.”
Dr. Willis is an expert on scripture and early Christianity and has studied early Christian art for years, said Jeff Childers, director of CSART and professor in the graduate school of theology. He also said the lecture will be a fascinating look at a relatively unknown part of early Christian devotion, which was their use of art to connect with the Bible and the story of salvation.
Dr. Willis also recently edited the book Euchrist and Ecclesiology, which was published on Jan. 6. The book was the outgrowth of a conference he arranged in 2013 to honor Dr. Everett Ferguson.
“Dr. Ferguson had been my teacher when I was a student here,” Dr. Willis said. “He actually is certainly one of, if not the best known academic out of ACU. I thought it would be embarrassing if his 80th birthday went by and we didn’t notice it, so I started arranging [the conference] to pull it off.”
The book is about communion, because communion is an important part of Christian tradition – from the Roman Catholic to Orthodox to Protestant traditions, Willis said. It took over a year to edit the entire book before it was published, and he thinks the book will be influential because it focuses on a current topic in ecumenical discussions, he said.
The lecture with Dr. Willis will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in Chapel on the Hill.
“The lecture is intended for a general audience,” Childers said. “Anyone interested in the faith of the early Christians, the story of the early church, Christian art, or how Christians used art to picture stories from scripture. We are getting strong responses to the topic from average Christians in the community, but also from college students, Bible class teachers, ministers, and church leaders and ministers.”
CSART will also host another lecture on April 4 at 7 p.m. on the Old Testament and ancient manuscripts with Dr. Glenn Pemberton as the speaker.