Danger and Desire: The Bible and Visual Culture


Over the centuries, biblical characters, themes and stories have been represented time and again in the visual arts, including fine art, advertising, media, music videos and film. From the earliest mosaics of biblical themes unearthed in Jerusalem and Rome to contemporary film, advertising and music videos, there is an endless fascination among artists to engage with biblical traditions in visual form.

This course explores these visual depictions of biblical texts, created over the centuries and up to the present day. In particular, it will focus on the themes of sexuality, gender, sin and desire – themes that appear throughout the Bible, and which have been a popular focus for artists working with the biblical traditions.

Students will learn the methods and theories required to study the biblical texts and their visual afterlives, tracing the ways that artistic engagements with the Bible can shine a new and captivating light on these ancient traditions. In addition, we will consider how artists’ own cultural contexts shape and inspire their visual interpretations of the Bible, and how these interpretations can influence cultural discourses of gender and sexuality. 

Topics covered in this course will include artistic depictions of biblical femmes fatales such as Eve, Delilah and Salome, visualising the virgin-whore binary in portrayals of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, queering biblical masculinities in depictions of Jacob and David, Jesus in art and advertising, and biblical themes in contemporary street art.

 Learning outcomes of course

At the end of the course, students will:

  • Be aware of the value of visual exegesis as a method in biblical interpretation
  • Learn the tools of visual exegesis and be able to apply these to interpreting specific biblical passages and visual texts
  • Feel confident discussing biblical themes, stories and characters in the visual arts, both in class and within their assignments
  • Be aware of the ways that gender and sexuality are evoked in both biblical texts and their presentations within visual culture
  • Become familiar with some basic theories of gender and sexuality (including queer theory, feminism, and postfeminism) and learn to apply these critically to the study of biblical and visual texts
  • Become familiar with some of the secondary scholarly literature written about the Bible in the visual arts
  • Be able to talk critically about this literature in class discussions and assignments and form opinions about the various arguments and points of view expressed therein
  • Have been shown some of the skills required in academic writing and guided through the process of composing an engaging, well-written and well-argued assignment


Coursework only

For full course information see the Digital Course Outline for THEOREL 215.

Digital Course Outlines are refreshed in November for the following year. Digital Course Outlines for courses to be offered for the first time may be published slightly later.

Availability 2023

Not taught in 2023




THEOREL 215: 15 points


30 points at Stage I from the BA Schedule


THEOREL 212, 312, 315