A Saint John’s Bible press release about this illumination says “Just as the creation in Genesis brought order from the chaos, the Law, according to Jewish interpretation, brings order from the chaos of lawless society. In this sense, the giving of the Law is a new creation.” In this illumination we find several references to the Creation image, e.g. the multiple panels across the top, the inclusion of birds (look for eyes and wings). The panels represent four stories: the burning bush, the first Passover, the Red Sea crossing, and the twelve pillars erected at the foot of Mount Sinai. The architectural features and religious symbols you see here will appear in other SJB illuminations, such as the faint menorah in the burning bush, the pillars/skyline, and the Cubist elements in the middle panels.
The artist draws our attention to the typography on the page, saying “the most fascinating part for me in the Ten Commandments is their relationship to the history of writing. The Commandments were given in alphabetical form, rather than pictograms. As I see it, the Commandments could only be taken in as a mysterious code by the Hebrews (themselves slaves and not necessarily literate). The Lord, by the second Commandment which forbade the creation of engraved images, reinforced the mystery. His words, in alphabetical form, were the strongest evidence of his existence: I am who I am – no pictures, statues…..Words = God. This is clearly an abstract concept – just as the alphabet, when one really thinks about it, is a completely abstract concept. I am interested in the idea that God presented himself as an abstraction and the abstraction was the Word.”
Susan Sink adds, “the familiar words of the commandments [are] stenciled in Stone Sans typeface as though engraved on tablets.” (The Art of the Saint John’s Bible, vol. 1, p. 27)