Introductory Essay
by William Warner
UCSB English Department
Transliteracies Project, History of Reading Group

From the beginning, Christianity has been implicated in communication. Although Christians consider God to be omnipresent and all powerful, God is also invisible and beyond human comprehension. Therefore, God must be known indirectly, through the various kinds of communication: the reading of scripture, prayer, the singing of hymns, and the ritual of communion by which a community is forged into “communicants” with God. Adopting the Jewish understanding of history, and the scriptural system of the Hebrew Bible upon which that teleological understanding of history depends, early Christians understood history as a series of events through which God communicates to His people. The production of the physical Bible, in monasteries and print shops in the centuries since the time of Christ, was understood to be another way by which God and Christians could communicate. The production of the Bible, in Hebrew and Greek, Latin and English, involved the transmitters of the Bible in many inventive transformations of the page. In this Flash animation we understand the page as an interface between the reader and the text, an interface that underwent manifold changes over the centuries through the addition of many features: spacing, paragraph marks, punctuation marks, capitals, glosses and cross references, and so on. Although scholars have speculated on the motives for these changes (typological reading; translation notes; improving access for the lay reader), the creative work with the Bible page as interface was driven by one central theological idea: that through the scriptural text God sends the Word to the people. In order to highlight that idea, our team selected John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word…”) as the scriptural text that will undergo a series of morphs in our Flash animation. A brief reading of that text will suggest how four forms of communication become implicated with one another: creation, incarnation, the communication of the good news of the Gospel (“Godspel”), and Bible making.
John 1: 1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

The word for “word” here is “logos”, the Greek word for the indwelling logic, or rational order of things. But it also refers to and translated the figure of “Wisdom” from the Hebrew scriptures. The first 14 lines of John 1 thread together three distinct ways of understanding the productive power of God’s “Word”: creation, incarnation, and the communication of the “good news” of the Gospel.

Creation: the Word at the beginning of John 1 is linked by this passage to the first words spoken by God at the beginning, when he says “‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). Here the sending of light is a metonymy for creation; this metaphor associates God’s word/light with purity, truth, and power as speed: there is no interval between the word and its realization; the light arrives in an instant. But there is a temporal paradox at the center of this account: although creation is narrated as a punctual event, which is then followed by the arrival of a man sent from God, John the Baptist, who foretells the arrival of the Son, yet, this text insists, the Son was there at the creation from the beginning.

Incarnation:  the appearance of God as Jesus is the second “sending” or emission of God after the creation. John 1 teases out the implications of the tension between the unity of God and the Son and a discrete, time-bound sending of the Son; between the Son being already present (as God and Light), but his being newly sent.  This idea requires the paradoxical idea of the trinity, by which God is one (and always present) but also three: Father, Son, and Spirit, here figured as a Light, that can appear in time. The arrival of God in the form of a man induces the central dramatic irony of the Christian narrative: the creator of the world has appeared before men, but “the world knew him not.” He has appeared among his own people (to the Jews, the people of God), but they “received him not.” Neither recognized nor accepted as God, the martyrdom of Jesus is anticipated from the beginning of this Gospel.

Communication: God’s generative creation and the incarnation of the Son are articulated by John 1 with the sending of a message. The gap between men and Jesus can be overcome through the sending and receiving of a message. John the Baptist is introduced as a messenger and fore-runner of the Son, who bears witness to the Light, who relays the message of faith, but who himself “was not that Light.” (6-8) Here the emphasis shifts to the challenge and question posed by God, Christ, the Word to men: do you believe this message/Christ/God? If men accept this Word, and thus see Christ as the “Word made flesh”, and behold his luminous “glory”, “full of grace and truth”, then He to these believers in the message “gave” “the power to become the sons of God.” (12) But the message can always go astray, so the message must be resent, new transmission protocols must be devised, and new media interfaces for the Word be devised. In this Flash animation, we seek to use the software technology of the early 21st century to bring to life the various techniques of writing used to render the first 14 lines of the Gospel of John.
Go to the Animation