Ancient Exegesis in Pictures

Repost from my prior blog installation. Originally posted on July 7, 2011, when I was in France on my sabbatical.


Today I visited the cathedral in Chartres, France, with some friends from the United States. The stained glass here is renowned for its quality and intricacy. There are dozens of windows throughout the church, each consisting of many individual panels which tell a biblical story. We took a close look at #44, pictured here, and I learned a lesson about ancient exegesis. This particular window dates from 1205 - 1215 and has 24 different panels. The first three depict shoe cobblers, the guild which donated the funds to create the window. The rest of the panel then depicts different biblical stories: the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:29-37 and then the creation of man, the fall of Adam and Eve, and the slaying of Abel by Cain from Genesis 1-4. The genius of the window is in the juxtaposition of the stories. The following is a translation of the relevant paragraph from the guide to the window in French:

Cain attacked and killed his brother Abel. In the temptation of Adam and Eve sin against God was evoked. Now it is sin against man. When God asked Cain what he had done to his brother, Cain had this terrible response: "Am I my brother's guardian?" The parable of Jesus gives a very clear response to this question.

By juxtaposing the two biblical passages, the creator of this window uses one to explain the other. Each condemns disregard towards others, rooted in sin, which leads to neglect in some instances and to murder in others. The teaching of Jesus stands with authority over both: Constrained by God's love in Christ, we are called to guard others, to be a neighbor to others, to care for others. Sin will drive us to harm others, but the love of Christ will drive us to serve others.

The interesting exegetical twist is that nothing in the parable of the Good Samaritan directly evokes the story of Cain and Abel. One could argue that there are in fact many things different between them exegetically. But the connection is in the contrast: In Genesis Cain hates Abel and kills him; in Luke the Good Samaritan loves the wounded man and cares for him. The different responses of the characters involved show on the one hand the power of sin to destroy human relationships, but on the other hand the power of Christ to restore them.

Pretty solid exegesis from a magnificent window.