Vanitas motif

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This statue of Saint Jerome (Hieronymus in Latin) stands on a pedestal near the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine. In life (AD 347-420) Jerome spent many years here, dwelling in the cave where Jesus was born. In that cave he prayed, mentored others, wrote letters, and translated Scripture.

Jerome is often pictured with a human skull nearby. Is this because translation work will kill you? No. It is a vanitas motif: an artistic element suggesting that the things of this world are temporary at best. Death is a inevitable reality that the living must take to heart. It is a common motif in classical presentations of Jerome.

Behind his statue is the façade of the Church of Saint Catherine. This building serves the Catholic parish in Bethlehem.

This photograph was taken by Bible Land Explorer YongLan Ye.


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.