Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit emphasizes Bible history

Friday, June 04, 2004 - Updated: 12:01 am
Patricia Bartos, Senior Staff Writer
Early colonial printers in Philadelphia played a key role in Bible history in this country when they produced the first Bible in English in America in 1782, followed eight years later by the first Catholic Bible. The city s printers also produced the first Hebrew Bible.

The Pennsylvania connection is one small link in a centuries-long history of the Bible that dates back to ancient times.

That story is told through an exhibit on Bible history, Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America, featuring copies of these early volumes, plus more than 100 ancient artifacts, manuscripts and early Bibles on view through June 20 at the Pittsburgh ExpoMart in Monroeville. Pittsburgh marks the fifth stop on the exhibit s current tour.

We want to tell the entire story of the Bible from the very beginning, said Lee Biondi, one of two curators for the collection.

Most items come from the personal collection of Dr. Craig Lampe, owner of the Bible Museum in Goodyear, Ariz. Lampe s son, Joel, who has joined in archaeological expeditions in Israel and Italy, is co-curator of the show with Biondi.

Biondi is regarded as a leading private dealer and consultant in rare books and manuscripts, specializing in ancient and medieval biblical manuscripts and early printed Bibles.

He contacted private collectors to gather artifacts for the exhibit, which he calls museum-like in its vast scope. Unlike a museum, however, visitors can get close-up views of the ancient items and documents.

The exhibit lets you tiptoe through history, with a look at 5,000 years of artifacts from Noah to the present, he said. It s a wonderful journey, celebrating God s word. It s the story of the preservation and accuracy of God s word through history.

You can t talk about the whole history of the Bible and just start with the Latin or Greek versions " you must go further back, Biondi said.

And the exhibit does.

The most ancient items are pictographic clay tablets, the earliest form of human writing, from ancient Mesopotamia.

Tiny pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest biblical fragments, dating to a century before Christ, are also included " the greatest discovery in the field of biblical textual studies, Biondi calls them.

The earliest Hebrew Bible dates to 1005, some 1,000 years after Christ.

In later centuries, the question arose as to how reliable it was, Biondi said.

That question was answered when in 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy searching for a stray goat pitched a stone into a cave above the Dead Sea and discovered the ancient documents.

They validated the Hebrew Bible, Biondi said. The great Isaiah scroll found in the first of 11 caves, matched the Hebrew Bible accurately.

The exhibit also includes Paul s Letter to the Colossians (3:21-4:7), dating to 275 A.D. and written in Coptic on papyrus. It shows the spread of the Bible into other languages, he said.

Also on view will be Exodus fragments in Greek from the fourth century, hand-illuminated pages from early Bibles in Latin dating to the 13th century, the first Bible in English printed in America and the first Bible printed in Spanish.

A Gutenberg Bible dating to 1455, the Reformation German Bible of 1536 and a first-edition King James Bible from 1611 are also included.

The exhibit opens with a 20-minute video on ancient Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the development of the Bible in English from the 14th to 17th centuries.

We want to remind people not to take religious freedom for granted, Biondi said. The freedom and tolerance in this country are the great experiment, but it s far from the norm. In this exhibit we see how many people suffered so we can read the Scriptures.

Biondi and Lampe are on hand at the exhibit, which is non-denominational and ecumenical in nature, to answer questions and talk with visitors.

It is an unalloyed blessing, he said, to watch as people from different faith traditions meet and talk together while viewing the artifacts.

What we have in common is so overwhelming, he said. We want to celebrate that.

Biondi will also be available to speak at the exhibit for groups, or at parishes during June. He can be reached at 323-363-0999.

The show is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. Cost is $15 on weekends; $12 on weekdays; $10 for groups of 20 or more; $8 for seniors and students; free for age 7 and younger. Tickets are available at the box office, open daily until 6:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. on Sundays) or online at www.deadseascrollstoamerica.com. Call 412-824-3930 for group reservations.

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