"'Divine Truths Photographed Upon the Soul': The Holy Land through the Stereoscope (1900)" by Jeff Richmond-Moll

    ““Divine Truths Photographed Upon the Soul”: The Holy Land through the Stereoscope (1900)”
    Jeff Richmond-Moll

    In 1900, America’s leading stereograph firm, Underwood & Underwood, called upon Jesse Lyman Hurlbut of the Methodist Sunday School Union to create Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope, a “travel guide” that would carry the viewer-turned-pilgrim across the biblical landscape using Bert  Underwood’s 1897 stereoviews. Previous studies identify the nationalist and gendered worldview of this Palestine set; however, this paper examines less what the views capture and more how they operate technologically and conceptually. For, despite the often fraught relationship in scholarship between vision and Protestant faith – and despite a frequent emphasis on stereography’s “haptic” (sculptural) qualities, which seem antithetical to the noncorporeal nature of Protestantism – the optical mechanisms of the stereograph were instrumental to Hurlbut’s efforts to promote biblical truth.

    Hurlbut’s background in Methodism, which often stressed visual experience as a means to the divine, may explain his insistence on the stereograph’s ability to lead viewers from sight to belief. Perhaps inspired by the repeated progression of “come”-“see”-“believe” throughout the New Testament, Hurlbut invited his viewers to “come” with him to Palestine, “see” the earth on which the Bible unfolded, and “believe” in Christianity’s veracity. Moreover, Hurlbut thematized the concept of vision throughout his text, whether describing the views as if one sees “through the eyes of” biblical characters themselves (the view of Jerusalem that Jesus wept over [Fig. 1]) or frequently identifying holy sites in relation to stories of vision (Christ’s miraculous [dis]apparition at Emmaus [Fig. 2]). Joining contemporary scientists and even Methodist theologians, Hurlbut envisioned the stereographic eye as a transparent, camera-like aperture, capable of “photographing” divine truths directly upon a viewer’s soul. Ultimately, however, Hurlbut – and his audience –struggled to distinguish between staring upon and seeing through these tactile, stereoscopic images. Like Jesus with his earliest disciples, Hurlbut called the viewer to “come and see”; but, like Doubting Thomases, viewers instead reached out into the stereographic plane as if to touch Christ’s wound and thereby connect with and confirm the veracity of their vision.

    Image is by Underwood and Underwood, The Village of Amwas (Emmaus), Palestine (St. Luke xxiv: 13-31)
, 1900
, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

    • Debating Visual Knowledge