It’s impossible not to be inspired by James Pepper’s dedication to his faith. James spent 18 years recreating the Gospels of the King James Bible, complete with hand-drawn illustrations and each and every letter of every word being inked in by hand. Meet this amazing man who followed his calling to create a living Bible, partially in tribute to friends lost in the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
by Donna Parker
It is certainly something when the Archbishop of York refers to your life's work as "without parallel and a powerful witness to the living God," but that is how he described James Pepper's illuminated manuscript of the Gospels that contains 585 handwritten pages illustrated with hundreds of drawings. James received his bachelor's degree in art history from Trinity in 1985.
"I've always had the call to do this," explains James from his home in downtown Dallas.
"In 1976, my vision started to go and during college, it worsened until eventually I suffered from tunnel vision."
After Trinity, James even started his graduate work, but went home to care for his sick grandmother even though he had heart problems of his own. It was a time that might have frustrated other young men, but James channeled his energy into beginning his Bible. It was during this time that his doctor placed him on blood pressure medication which miraculously restored James' sight.
"This miracle of regaining my sight further inspired me to create this biblical manuscript. Since showing my manuscript publicly, I've witnessed other miracles such as when a friend saw my Bible in south Dallas and broke down in tears. He was a lifelong hedonist and had left the church years before but this restored his faith."
James worked on his Bible for nearly two decades with his ultimate aim to spread the Word of the Gospel. Everything-each word and illustration is hand written and drawn-the way it was done for thousands of years. James used a dip pen to meticulously design his letters, making true focus a critical component.
James' father was a publisher in New York, which led James to become a lifelong admirer of books and an avid reader. As a child, he visited the city's museums, observing closely how the old Bibles had been written. That feeling developed into his own calling.
"This is my life's work and my perspective on life is that each day is a gift. I am much more intense now with my friends, since losing 14 friends on 9-11, three of whom were childhood friends. I used to push Tommy Bowden around on his Big Wheel and now his sister is helping me publish my bible. Even when the towers fell and the Trinity Church was engulfed in dust, it was lit up because the tower wasn't shading it."
"My text in the gospel of Luke, Chapter 23, forms the shape of the World Trade Center. There is a cross where the airplanes struck the buildings and a large cross at the top where four of my friends died," explains James.
Recently, Apple made James' Gospel of Luke available on the iPad via the iBooks application.
James has worked on many other projects, including making the National Voter Registration form accessible to the visually impaired but he still makes time to volunteer in his home church in Dallas. He stays in contact with all of his Trinity friends and cherishes those college years as a great time in his life. Lest you think this biblical scribe doesn't know how to enjoy himself, he says, "We tried to do everything we could at school that was funny. We gatored down to the football games and even established an annual party called the Iguana Fest."
"We had a softball team of 68 people and let the girls play, too. We'd easily lose our games by 30 points or so but our sole purpose was to have a good time!"
James cites professors Bill Bristow and Glenn Patton, both in the department of art and art history, as being two of his influencers while a student.
"Dr. Patton and I could sit around and talk about art for hours on end," he recalls.
When asked if he is doing what he envisioned while a Trinity student, James states, "At Trinity, I thought that I would go blind or die from my Marfan's disease so I'm happy to be doing what comes natural to me."