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NIU student researches discrepancy in ancient Bible

Published: Friday, April 25, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com Jennifer Wegmann-Gabb, a post-baccelaureate student at Northern Illinois University, talks about the 13th century Paris Bible leaf she spent weeks researching. Wegmann-Gabb presented her research during Undergraduate Research and Artistry Day at Northern Illinois University on Tuesday.

As Jennifer Wegmann-Gabb researched a page from a 13th century Paris Bible, she asked “who’s that girl?”

The problem is the “girl” she was inquiring about – a figure in an enlarged “O” at the start of a passage – is identified as a man. Namely the figure in the historiated letter is identified as King Solomon, a figure known for his wisdom, wealth and writings.

However, Wegmann-Gabb concluded, the figure is really Ecclesia, a female form representing the church.

After spending months researching the leaf from the 13th century Bible, Northern Illinois University student Wegmann-Gabb hopes the university will change the way the leaf is described to accurately identify the figure in the “O.”

Wegmann-Gabb, 33, of Woodstock, found the Bible leaf during an art history class she took as part of her bachelor of art history degree program. Her affinity for medieval history lead her to study the Bible.

“When we’re talking medieval universities, it’s religious,” Wegmann-Gabb said. “The primary textbook is the Old and New Testament.”

The Bible leaf came to NIU as part of a collection of leaves the university purchased in 2004. It is part of a special collection at Founders Memorial Library very little is known about. It is reviewed by waves of students studying medieval history, the history of the book and other subjects.

Those familiar with the modern Bible might not recognize the passage that starts on the leaf at NIU. Not only is it written in Latin, it’s from the book of Ecclesiasticus, not contained in the modern Protestant Bible. After Wegmann-Gabb identified the text, she questioned why the accompanying materials would peg King Solomon as the figure in the historiated letter.

“It’s all about wisdom on life, God and the afterlife, the role of the church,” Wegmann-Gabb said. “After learning what the book was about I started to wonder why they would use King Solomon when it’s not about him.”

She compared the leaf to similar artifacts at libraries across the country such as Harvard University, when she found a similar partern that supported her theory the figure was not actually King Solomon, but Ecclesia.

In other leaves she found Eccleasia crowned, sitting on a throne and holding a chalice, as the figure on NIU’s leaf is depicted. The figure in the NIU leaf also has a clean-shaven face.

“I found a few leaves where men are depicted, but they are clearly men,” Wegmann-Gabb said. “As in, they have beards. If it’s a man it’s clearly a man.”

Wegmann-Gabb’s findings are contained in a paper she plans to give to Founders Memorial Library officials in hopes they will incorporate her suggestion in the accompanying materials when the artificat is added the the university’s digital collection.

Lynne Thomas, the curator for rare and special collections at Founders said although it would take a while, the university would consider Wegmann-Gabb’s research on an item very little is known about.

“We would look at the evidence and there’s a chance it could be added to the description on the online finding aid,” Thomas said. “There’s no reason not to consider it.”

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