Gift ideas -- choicest new books for the holidays; Jesus' life as portrayed in art; An Illustrated Life of Jesus from the National Gallery of Art Collection, by Richard I. Abrams and Warner A. Hutchinson. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon. 159 pp.

The pairing of biblical themes with masterful artworks is a recurring theme for the gift-book season. In this latest edition it is a happy marriage. The life of Jesus from birth to ascension is retold in short vignettes of modern prose, accompanied by one or more illustrations. Each work of art, in turn, is amplified in a boxed critique giving biographical and stylistic notes.

It's an interesting commentary on human perceptions, and is characteristic of biblical art in general, that not a single illustration even purports to visualize Jesus' life wholly in terms of his own geography and times. The artist's conception has been conditioned and colored by his or her own life, so that intentionally or otherwise it speaks mainly to his own contemporaries.

The narratives, too, have been embellished occasionally with speculative assumptions reflecting modern ways not even hinted at in the Gospel originals. Such literary license would seriously mar a scholarly treatise. Yet it seems a fitting parallelism to the artistic license of the pictorial representations, and in this context detracts not at all from the overall value of the book.

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