September 22, 2016
Artistic duo cracks Alabaster over Christ’s head and beauty comes out
by Chad Felix
The canonical Christian gospels—Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John—are receiving a makeover in Alabaster, a new project from Brian Chung, age 28, and Bryan Chung, age 22, a pair of artistic-minded Christians who met through the University of Southern California’s campus ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
The project seeks to tap into our visual culture, dominated as it is by wondrous things likes Hulu, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and advertisements, updating the holy experience of Biblical literacy for modern times. The goal, according to the duo, is to create a product for people who are “drawn to beauty and faith in our modern culture.” The result is four issues (one per Gospel) of a magazine-style publication that looks a whole lot like Kinfolk, complete with imagery that recalls that one flower arranger you follow on Instagram, or that ex with the good job who always seems to be on a vacation in fucking Iceland.
This is to say two things: 1) ugh, Kinfolk, but 2) thanks for not making an app-thing that reduces Biblical study and understanding to a mere two minutes of work a day. That’s very good and should not be discounted.
The name Alabaster, the duo explains on their Kickstarter page, is a reference to the Book of Mark, Chapter 14:
We’ve decided to name this project Alabaster based on one of the very rare times Jesus uses the word beautiful. In Mark 14, we see a woman breaking an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume onto Jesus’ head. The act was extreme. Commentators say the perfume was worth an entire years worth of wages. In a completely sacrificial, gratuitous act, the woman anoints Jesus’ head with the only anointing he would receive before the crucifixion.
Many people present scoffed at the woman, saying something that expensive could have been used on the poor. But Jesus defends the woman, saying – “leave her alone, why do you bother her? What she has done is a beautiful thing.” It is this complete act of giving which Jesus calls beautiful.
Cool! Or, I mean, sure, fine. Also, convenient. Call me a cynic (I am a cynic), but it’s kind of like these strapping young lads are saying that by cracking this, their own jar of Alabaster—a Bible that looks like Kinfolk—over Christ’s head, at no small expense (they’ve already raised $41,000), they’re totally absolved from the guilt of not using this money for more charitable ministry, because their Alabaster, too, will be a beautiful thing—so do not scoff at us. And while I’m not necessarily saying they should feel guilty, choosing the name—and frequently citing the Biblical tale from which it is drawn—does lead critics to ponder this particular reading.
In any event, the campaign is going very well! Alabaster exceeded its initial goal of $35,000 dollars in less than two weeks, and still has fourteen days left to go. The beauties are expected to cometh to your mailboxes in April of next year. Until then, let’s enjoy some of the ridiculous ways the heathens of pre-Snapchat times imagined the Bible.
Hieronymous Bosch. Detail of the Devil’s ass from “The Temptation of the Saint Anthony” (1500)
Artist unknown. “Adam working the land” (1180)
Salvador Dalí. “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)” (1954) Very sick.
Bosch again. Hell panel from “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (1490)
Caravaggio. “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (1598-99)
Artemisia Gentileschi. “Jael and Sisera” (1620)
Jan Breugel the Elder. “Jonah Leaving the Whale” (1600)
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.