BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






This dictionary includes common nouns, place names and people’s names.

In general each entry will give a few explanations (the meaning of names) and indicate the related scenes.




“vapour”, “vanity”, in Hebrew. Abel and Cain are the children of Adam and Eve; Abel, who is the younger son, is killed by his elder brother.





“father of a multitude”, in Hebrew. Abraham is a nomad breeder married to Sarah; he answers the call of God who has promised him a long descendance and a land. The land is to be Canaan (today’s Palestine) where he then meets Melchizedek and then three angels. He becomes the father of Ishmael but the true son of the promise is Isaac he offers to God (Sacrifice of Isaac).

He has a nephew, Loth, whose adventures are sometimes represented; The Destruction of Sodom; Loth seduced by his Daughters.

Abraham’s bosom designates the place of rest of the righteous dead (Poor Lazarus).





“red earth”, in Hebrew. The first man created by God from the dust of the ground and God’s breath (Creation of Adam and Eve). Expelled from the Garden of Eden after the Fall, he has to work by the sweat of his brow.





“angelos”, or “messenger” in Greek. God communicates with man through these messengers who have a human shape in early representations; then they will multiply, become differentiated and form a true “society”. The higher-ranking angels are called archangels and three of them are particularly represented, Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. So as to avoid any representation of God, a few medieval painters depicted Him as an angel. See Abraham and the three Angels; Jacob’s Dream; Jacob wrestling with the Angel.





“revelation”, in Greek. It is a literary genre unveiling future events, in particular the ‘ending’ of History in order to bring solace to believers who are suffering from the hardships of the present. Apocalyptic texts have grown in number during the centuries at the turn of our era. John’s Book of Revelation is the last book of the New Testament. See The Woman of Revelation.





“an official envoy with a mission”. Strictly speaking the apostles are the 12 disciples chosen by Christ, Simon (later renamed Peter), Andrew, James the Major and John (the son of Zebedee), Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew (also known as Levi), Thomas, James (the son of Alpheus), Thaddeus (or Jude), Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot. They are all present at the Last Supper.

Later Matthias will replace Judas after his treason. Paul will proclaim to be the apostle of the gentiles or the apostle of the pagans and the name of apostle will be given to other disciples sent on a mission.





“daughter of opulence”, in Hebrew. She is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, an officer in King David’s army. The king surprises her in her bath and falls in love with her. Learning she is pregnant, he gets rid of her husband. Once a queen she becomes the mother of Solomon.





“I have acquired” or “blacksmith”, in Hebrew. Abel and Cain are the children of Adam and Eve; the elder son Cain kills his younger brother. He runs away but becomes the father of mankind and civilisation. See Cain and Abel.





“the place of skull”, in Latin, is a translation of the Aramaic name “Golgotha”. It is a hill close to Jerusalem where the Crucifixion of Christ took place.





a small town in Galilee where, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus made his first miracle during the so-called Wedding at Cana at the demand of Mary, his mother. The wine, that has run out, is served in plenty.





The ritual excision of a young boy’s prepuce was practised by the Hebrews as a sign of alliance with God. Ishmael and Isaac were the first circumcised boys. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day like any infant Jew.





“God is my judge”, in Hebrew. The hero of a book entitled after his name, he was transported to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.; he became a courtier in the king’s court and performed wonders. See Daniel and the Lions; Chaste Susanna.





“beloved”, in Hebrew. King of Israel from 1010 to 970 BC. Jesse’s son, born in Bethlehem, he is chosen by God to succeed King Saul and he receives Samuel’s unction. After joining the army, he fights against the giant Goliath. At the death of Saul, he becomes king and founds Jerusalem. His passion for Bathsheba makes him commit a murder. His son Solomon succeeds to him. A poet and musician, David is said to have composed 73 psalms out of 150.

He is the king par excellence, the one to whom Jews will refer in the centuries of misfortune. Jesus claims to be the Son of David.





From the Greek diabolos, “the slanderer”. He is the equivalent of Satan in Hebrew. He is the embodiment of evil, the chief of demons. See Christ’s Temptation in the Desert.





“God is promise”, in Hebrew. She is Zachary’s wife (See her representation in Nativity) and the parent of Mary, the mother of Jesus. While she is expecting her son John the Baptist, she receives the visit of Mary (Visitation). She is often present in the images of the Holy Family





A fortress village some twelve kilometres from Jerusalem. The risen Christ is on the way to this place and dines with two disciples, wrongly considered as pilgrims. See the Pilgrims at Emmaus.





“the hidden one”, in Hebrew ; “the star” in Persian. The heroine of a book entitled after her name. A beautiful Jewish woman exiled in Babylon, she becomes King Ahasuerus’ wife and is in a position to thwart a plot by Haman, the king’s minister, who wanted to massacre all the Jews. See Esther.





“alive” in Hebrew. The first woman, created from Adam’s rib (Creation of Adam and Eve). She plays an important part in the Fall. Cain and Abel‘s mother.






“valiant or man of God”, in Hebrew. Gabriel is an angel, a messenger of God. He is the angel of the Annunciation.





See The Garden of Olives.





“skull” in Aramaic. See Calvary.



Gospels (canonical and apocryphal)


The four Gospels written in the first century were recognised by the Church as common to all the communities; they are known as canonical gospels. Those written later for particular communities are called apocryphal or “kept secret” in Greek. A few apocrypha were used because they developed elements belonging to the marvellous which were absent from the canonical Gospels; they concern in particular Mary and the childhood of Christ (Nativity, Holy Family) but also the Crucifixion (Crosses; Holy Face).



High Priest


The Chief Priest who conducts the cult; Aaron, Moses’ brother was the first one; his role grew with the institution of the Temple. The High Priests succeed one another every year but together they form an influent group who are fighting against Jesus; Anne and Caiaphas are mentioned in the Gospels. See Christ’s Trial.





“Let God smile”, in Hebrew. The son of the promise given by God to Abraham and Sarah, he is saved from death at Abraham’s sacrifice. He marries Rebecca and God gives twins to them, Esau and Jacob. The latter cheats his blessing out of him (Jacob’s blessing).





“let God hear”, in Hebrew. The son of Abraham and of his maid-servant Hagar. Conceived with the agreement of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, when she was sterile, he is sent away with his mother Hagar after Isaac’s birth. (See a representation with the Annunciation)





“strong against God” in Hebrew. It is the name given by God to Jacob. It designates the whole people descending from him, the sons of Israel. It is the name given to the kingdom of Samaria between 935 and 721 BC and given to the Jewish state created in 1948.





“who holds the heel” or “Let god Protect” in Hebrew. The son of Isaac and Rebecca, he is the younger twin of Esau whom he cheats out of his birthright (Jacob’s Blessing). God appears to his in a dream (Jacob and the Angels) and fights against him (Jacob wrestles against the Angel). He received the name of Israel which will be by the people whose ancestor he is. In love with Rachel, he has previously been obliged to marry her sister Leah. He is the father of 12 boys whose offspring will form the 12 tribes of Israel.





King David’s father, he is referred to as Christ’s ancestor in the Tree of Jesse, according to a prophecy by Isaiah.






“God saves”, in Hebrew. He was born in the year 4 or 6 before our era and died in 30 AD. The scenes are listed according to chronology.

Childhood: Annunciation, Nativity, Magi, Circumcision and Presentation, Holy Family, Jesus and the Doctors.

Public Life: Temptation in the Desert, Baptism of Christ, Wedding at Cana, Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Stilled Storm, Sinner at Simon’s House, Jesus walks Water, Good Shepherd, Jesus heals, Samaritan Woman, Adulterous Woman, Raising of Lazarus.

Passion and Resurrection: Transfiguration, Entry into Jerusalem, Washing of Feet, Last Supper, Mount of Olives, Arrest, Christ tortured, Crosses, Holy Face, Entombment, Apparition to Mary Magdalene, Pilgrims at Emmaus, Apparition to Thomas, Ascension.





“enemy”, in Hebrew. The hero of a book entitled after his name. God lets this pious and just man be tried by the devil. Job loses all his children, his belongings and his health but endures his torments without losing his faith but proclaiming his innocence. He refuses to see in his misfortune any punishment for his sins. Eventually God lavishes His favours on him



John the  Baptist



“God gives grace”, in Hebrew. The son of Zachary and Elizabeth (Visitation, Nativity, Holy Family). Like a prophet, he preaches conversion in the desert (Shepherds and Lambs) and baptizes in the Jordan those who come to him, including Jesus (Baptism of Christ). He is condemned and decapitated by King Herod Antipas (Death of John the Baptist). He is the saint par excellence, the one who will be on Christ’s side at the Last Judgement.





“dove”, in Hebrew. Jonas is the name of a prophet of the 7th century BC, but who is the hero of a book dated much later which places him at the time of the exile in Babylon. Cast out into the sea and rescued by God after three days spent inside the belly of a fish, Jonas is a sign of the resurrection.



Joseph, the husband of Mary


“God increases”, in Hebrew. Born from the tribe of David Joseph is the husband of Mary when she receives the visit of the angel of the Annunciation. He saves Mary and Jesus by fleeing to Egypt and the apocryphal gospels multiply the family scenes where he is a carpenter. He is present at the disputation between Jesus and the Doctors of the Law.



Joseph, the son of Jacob


“God increases”, in Hebrew. The 11th son of Jacob, he encounters the jealousy of his brothers who sells him as a slave in Egypt. But once there he becomes the man of confidence of Potiphar, a high officer of Pharaoh, until the day when Potiphar’s wife, who wants to go to bed with him, denounces him unfairly. Sent to prison, he is released thanks to the interpretation of a dream of Pharaoh. Having become minister, he brings his father who thought he was dead and makes him bless his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.





His Hebrew nickname is Iscariot translated as “man of Kerioth” or “man of lie”. One of the twelve apostles, he was perhaps the treasurer of the group. He betrays Jesus and sells him to the High Priest. He takes part to the Last Supper but runs away. He kisses Jesus during his arrest to make him be recognized. Stricken with remorse, he hangs himself. He is the traitor par excellence.





“the Jewess”, in Hebrew. She is the heroine of a book that bears her name and that takes many liberties with history. A young beautiful widow, Judith decides to rescue her city of Bethulia besieged by the Assyrian general Holofernes. She goes to the general’s house, lets herself be seduced and cuts off his head. The Assyrians run away.



Lake Tiberias


Lake Tiberias (or Tiberiad) also called the Lake of Genesaret after the name of a city on its bank. It is a true interior sea (it is also given the name of Sea of Galilee) and a place of intense fishing activities but also of strong storms. Peter and Andrew are fishermen of this lake and it is on its banks that Jesus preaches and makes some miracles.





For the Hebrew people, the lamb and the ewe were precious property; it is therefore natural they have become the most perfect gift to God, the victim of the offered sacrifice (see Cain and Abel). But the lamb is also the symbol of the believer guided by the shepherd who is God. The innocent lamb is the spotless victim of the sacrifice; its blood protected from death the Hebrews who had to flee from Egypt; it is the blood of the Jewish Passover.

When John the Baptist greets Jesus as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), he makes him the inheritor of the whole Jewish tradition. Jesus will be the perfect immaculate and spotless victim… but for Christians, Jesus is dead and risen; then the lamb becomes the sign of death and the victory over death. It is this glorious lamb that is worshipped by the crowds in the Book of Revelation. See Shepherds and Lambs.



last cena or last supper


Cena = evening meal in Latin. The Last Supper is the last meal taken by Jesus with his apostles on the eve of his death. He washes the feet of his disciples and offers bread and wine to them as a sign of the new covenant.





“God has saved”, in Hebrew. Two men bear this name.

Poor Lazarus is the hero of a parable told by Jesus.

Lazarus is the name of a friend of Jesus. He lives in Bethany (5 kilometres from Jerusalem) with his sisters Martha and Mary (identified with Mary Magdalene). He dies and his sisters ask for Jesus to come and he raises him back to life.





The Latin form of Myriam “God’s beloved”, in Hebrew. Several women bear this name in the Bible: Moses’ sister, Jesus’ mother, Lazarus’ sister (see Mary Magdalene) in addition to a few other women in the canonical and apocryphal gospels.

According to the Apocrypha Mary, Christ’s mother, is the daughter of Anne and Joachim (representation in Nativity). The birth of Christ is announced to her (Annunciation) by the angel Gabriel before her marriage with Joseph. She meets her parent Elizabeth (Visitation), gives birth in Bethlehem (Christ’s Nativity) then receives the visit of the magi and flees to Egypt with Jesus and Joseph. The emblematic mother of Jesus (Holy Family), she is always attentive (Christ and the Doctors). Present at the Cana Wedding, she then appears only at the foot of the Cross but the tradition has represented her at the entombment, at the Ascension and at the Pentecost. She is recognized as the Woman of the Revelation and she is always present at the Last Judgement.



Mary Magdalene


Magdalene is derived from Magdala, a city on the bank of Lake Tiberias. The tradition has identified three women as one and the same person named Mary Magdalene: Mary Magdalene who is freed from the demons by Jesus, the sinner at Simon’s house and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

Mary Magdalene is presented as a sinner in love with Jesus; she is present at the foot of the Cross and at the entombment. She is above all the one who discovers the empty tomb and to whom the risen Christ appears first.





“who is like God”, in Hebrew. The Angel or Archangel Michael is the victor in the fight against the rebellious angels who rebelled against God. He symbolises God’s victory over evil forces. He holds the scales of the Last Judgement in which the souls of men are weighed.





from the Latin verb “to be astonished, to admire”. In Ancient Times prodigies were numerous. The Bible the miracle is more a sign than a prodigy. It is an act that God’s power accomplishes to address a message, a sign to men. (See Daniel and the Lions).

The miracles of Jesus are often explained by him and put in relation with faith (see Miracles, Wedding at Cana, the stilled Storm, Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Raising of Lazarus.





Moshè is a name of Egyptian origin to which the meaning “drawn from water” is given. Born in Egypt when the Israelites were slaves, he is drawn out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter and educated like an Egyptian prince.

Misunderstood by his people, he escapes to the nomads of Madian, gets married there (see Jethro’s daughters’ well) and when keeping his father’s flocks he receives God’s revelation through the burning bush. Guided by God, he asks Pharaoh to free the Hebrews and in front of his refusal, he organises the Exodus or Flight from Egypt across the Sea of Reeds. He leads his people to the Sinai where God gives him the tables of the Law. Life in the desert lasts a long time with many events (see the Bronze Serpent); Moses dies before entering the Promised Land.





“rest”, in Hebrew. A descendant of Cain, he is a just man who builds the arch to rescue his family and all animal species from the Flood. He is the father of a new mankind. Inventor of wine-making he is also the first man to get drunk. This scene is sometimes represented under the name Ham uncovering his Father’s Nakedness.



Mount of Olives, Garden of Olives


The Mount of Olives stands a little to the East of Jerusalem. According to Mark and Matthew there was a closed garden where Jesus prayed before his arrest. John places it beyond the torrent Cedron separating the town from the Mount of Olives. The other name of the garden is Aramaic Gethsemane “olive press”.





“comparison”, in Greek. It is a narrative aiming at teaching a lesson through a story and its characters. Jesus very often speaks in parables. See The Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, Poor Lazarus.





Born in Tarsus, a Greek city in Asia Minor; he was a Jew, hence his Hebrew name of Saul, but he is a Roman citizen, hence his Roman name Paul. He is known by the Acts of the Apostles of his friend Luke and by the letters or Epistles he sent to the Christian communities. At first a persecutor of the Christians, he is present at Stephen’s martyrdom. But he is overthrown by a vision and becomes a convert on the way to Damascus. Then he keeps only the name of Paul and becomes the one who opens the gates of the early Church to the pagans. He is always associated with Peter.





The Latin translation of Aramaic képha “stone, rock”. It is the nickname given by Jesus to Simon.

Simon and his brother Andrew were fishermen on Lake Tiberias; they were the first men to follow Jesus. It is in his barque that Jesus stills the storm, and it is his catch of fish that is miraculous. Simon soon appears as the first of the apostles, hence the name Peter that Jesus gives to him. It is he who tries to walk on the water like his master; they are his feet that Jesus washes first. Peter tries to defend Jesus during his arrest but he abandons him at his trial. He plays a secondary role at the resurrection but has the leading part at the Pentecost. Peter and Paul are the main actors of the Church.





Roman procurator in Judea from 26 to 36 AD. He had his official residence in Caesare and went up to Jerusalem only on major feasts. He is one of the judges at Christ’s trial; he has him flogged and authorizes his execution by crucifixion.





“ewe”, in Hebrew. A shepherdess loved by Jacob, she has to leave her place to her sister Leah and wait a long time until she is in a position to marry him. The mother of several sons, she dies when giving birth to Benjamin.





“cow”, in Hebrew, which is not at all pejorative. A girl from the area and a relative of Abraham, she is designated by God to be Isaac’s wife during her encounter with Eliezer, Abraham’s servant (See her representation in The Samaritan Woman).

Isaac’s wife, she is the mother of twins, Esau and Jacob; she prefers the latter and favours him. (Jacob’s Blessing)

  « vache » en hébreu. ce qui n'est pas du tout péjoratif.   Jeune fille du pays et de la parenté d’Abraham, elle est désignée par Dieu pour être la  femme d’Isaac lors de sa rencontre avec Eliezer, le serviteur d’Abraham  (voir sa représentation dans La Samaritaine)



The Reformation (Protestant and Catholic)


The Protestant Reformation was led by Protestants such as Luther and Calvin at the beginning of the 16th century. The Protestants refuse all that is not explicitly written in the Bible and generally refuse any representation. In the Protestant Bible, images are therefore less frequent though a certain number of artists such as Cranach or Rembrandt do not hesitate to make some.


The Catholic Reformation is also called Counter-Reformation for it opposes the Protestant Church. It is the result of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). As far as images are concerned, religious art is put to the service of faith: suppression of legends and all that is judged indecorous, but development of religious representations.





The son of David and Bathsheba, he succeeded his father in 970 BC, but at his death in 931, the kingdom was divided. His reign marked the apex of the kingdom; he had the Temple of Jerusalem built, he entertained relations with faraway countries (see the Queen of Sheba). The king has remained famous for his wisdom and he is credited with numerous writings and the famous Judgment.





Inhabitant of Samaria, which the name of the kingdom of the North after Solomon’s death (as opposed to Judea, the kingdom of the South). After the Exile in Babylon, the Samaritans opposed the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judea. The hostility between Samaritans and Judean Jews grew and remained strong at the time of Jesus. To choose a Good Samaritan as an example and to talk to a Samaritan woman are thus scandalous for his Jewish hearers.





“the sun”, in Hebrew. From their settlement in the Promised Land to the period of Kings, the Hebrews were ruled by Judges, who were sorts of warlords. There were 12 Judges and the last one, Samson is famous for his feats, his strength but also Delilah’s treachery.





“his name is El”, in Hebrew. Devoted to God from his infancy, he becomes a prophet. It is he who consecrates Saul as King and then chooses David as his successor.






See Devil





“princess”, in Hebrew. The wife of Abraham, barren, she allows her husband to have a son with Hagar, her servant; he is called Ishmael. But God gives her Isaac in spite of her great age (Abraham and the three angels). She will have Agar and Ishmael expelled.





The Israelites were originally a pastoral people (i.e. shepherds). The image of the good shepherd who tends, protects and saves his flock of sheep is often used. God is the Shepherd par excellence and Jesus took up the comparison for himself. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus was the Lamb of God; that is why he has often been represented with a lamb thou he himself is not a shepherd.





From the Greek Stephanos, “crown”. A Jew from Jerusalem but of Greek culture, converted to Christianity, he was chosen by the Apostles to become a deacon. Accused before the High Priest’s tribunal, he was condemned and lapidated in 34 A.D. Paul (then Saul) attended to his death. He is the first Christian martyr.





“lily”, in Hebrew. The heroine of a passage of the Book of Daniel only known in Greek, therefore absent from the Hebrew Bible. Susanna is a beautiful and pious wife but two old men try to take advantage of her charms while she is bathing. She is eventually saved by Daniel.



Temple of Jerusalem


King Solomon had it built in Jerusalem in about 960 BC on the model of pagan temples but is must remain one of a kind like God and without any divine representation (see the Burning Bush). It was destroyed in 587 by Nabuchodonosor. Rebuilt in a more modest way on the return from exile, it was profaned by the Greek king Antiochus IV in 169. King Herod had it extended and embellished between 20 and 4 BC. It was then a new temple, the sole centre of religious life, which Jesus knew. It was there that Jesus was presented as an infant, that he debated with the Doctors of the Law, that he taught and chased the merchants away... The Temple was destroyed together with the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Roman emperor Titus. It was never rebuilt; only one wall from the terrace remains standing, the Wall of Lamentations.





“testament” means “alliance”. The New Testament is a collection of books including the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the letters or epistles written by the Apostles and the Book of Revelation. For Christians it is an addition and a complement to the Hebrew Bible. Hence the term “New” in relation to the Old Testament, the name given by Christians to the Hebrew Bible.





“twin” in Aramaic. He is one of the twelve apostles. Absent at the apparition of the risen Christ to the other apostles, he doubts and asks for concrete signs of this resurrection.