As Lennie Bennett, a St. Petersburg Times art critic, correctly surmised, “In the beginning was the Word. And nothing was ever simple again.” The current exhibition at the Florida International Museum (FIM) traces, as she notes, “the evolution of the modern Bible, a document stained with martyrs’ blood and scholars’ pens through centuries of strife and struggle to control its content.”
According to the January 11 media release, Ink ‘ Blood: Sacred Treasures of the Bible, is the “world’s largest, most comprehensive exhibition on the history of the Bible. The exhibit [displays] authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments, ancient Biblical manuscripts and 5,000-year-old pictographic clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia. The unprecedented exhibit includes more than 100 Hebrew, Greek and Latin manuscripts and related artifacts.”
Interestingly, Dr. William H. Noah, curator of the exhibit, is a physician who specializes in pulmonary and critical care and sleep disorders in the Nashville, Tenn., area.
This exhibit is a passion of his that he maintains in his spare time. “These priceless, ancient texts continue to inspire us today, and they came to us at a tremendous cost,” said Noah. “Many died in order that we might be able to read their words today, but few know their names.”
The exhibit contains artifacts that have significance to students of English literature as well as American and European history, art and archaeology. Some of the other artifacts, which the January 11 media release notes, “include a 15th century Wycliffe New Testament – the first translation of the Bible into English, first editions of the King James Bible and 500-year-old pages from Guten-berg’s Bible, the most famous and valuable book ever printed.
The exhibition also features a working replica of Gutenberg’s printing press, which brought books – and specifically the Bible – to the masses in the 15th century with a profound impact on society.”
“The story of the Bible is intriguing, educational, and moving, no matter what one’s age or religious beliefs,” Noah said. “Regardless of whether you believe one word in it, the Bible, in its various forms, is the most significant object in the history of Western culture. You cannot accurately teach history without telling its history.”
Noah’s favorite piece among artifacts and manuscripts is the Gospel of John fragment from the third century. In scholarly circles, this “Oxyrinchus Papyrus,” also known as P39, is one of the earliest witnesses in existence to any portion of the New Testament and is the oldest document with a page number.
I visited the exhibit on Saturday, April 1, 2006, and spent over three hours immersed in all the artifacts. For reference, the exhibit is divided into five areas: Oldest Writings, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English. During the visit, I picked up several interesting facts.
For example, since Latin was considered as the language of the literate, the initial attempts to translate the Bible into English, which was considered a vile language, were vehemently opposed.
Also, the transformation of the word “protest” went from meaning “to stand for something” in 1526 to mean “to oppose” today.
In addition, the exhibit discusses the different revolutions in writing such as the writing surface, the move from pictographs to an alphabet and the creation of a codex (or bounded book) and their implications. Also, the exhibit proves that the transmission of the Bible over the centuries has been completely reliable, which no other ancient text can match, and those who still have skepticism due so only out of academic pride.
The exhibit also notes that the Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to be completely translated from the original languages which William Tyndale played a significant role in. Our current form of English came about due to Tyndale’s effort to create an English Bible. He transformed the Middle English of the day into our current day tongue. In addition, 83 percent of the New King James version of the Bible is Tyndale’s wording.
And when you consider the level of persecution Christians received from people like the Roman Emperor Diocletian, the Muslims in Armenia and Queen Mary I of England, the Bible’s survival indicates that it is the Word and work of God, in my opinion. John Rogers’, the publisher of the Matthew’s Bible, final words before burning at the stake sum up the exhibit well: “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.”
The exhibit will be hosted at FIM until May 14, so time is short. If you plan on visiting the exhibit, the hours for the exhibit are Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from Noon to 6 p.m. with the last admission at 5 p.m. The admission fee for the exhibit is only $16 for adults and $9 for students. Audio tours are also available for an extra fee. For additional information about the exhibit, call 1-877-332-4253 or go online to http://www.InkAndBlood.com.
Once the exhibit comes to an end in the Tampa Bay area, it will continue its Florida tour across the I-4 Corridor with a limited engagement at The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach.