"No matter what you believe," atheists included, "this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said William Noah, the exhibit's founder and curator, who traveled from his Nashville-area home for the opening.
Noah, a physician by profession, spent a decade devouring what he could in his free time about the Bible's history. With the contacts he's made, he's spent four years pulling together this exhibition, taking artifacts out on loan, to provide a one-stop education he said he hasn't seen anywhere else. Before coming to Idaho, a place Noah never imagined landing, the exhibit appeared in Tennessee, in Kentucky and at two museums in Florida.
To walk the Museum of Idaho halls and galleries is to travel through 5,000 years of history. And not just history of the Bible, what Noah calls "the most significant artifact of Western culture," but also the history of developments in writing and alphabets, the art of bookmaking, the faces of religious scholars and revolutionaries, the waves of and reasons behind persecutions.
There are pictographic inscriptions in clay, from modern-day Iraq, dating back to 3100 B.C. The seventh-century B.C. Marzeah Papyrus, in a humidity-controlled case, is accepted as the oldest known Hebrew manuscript and contains the first known mention of "Elohim," a name of God used in the Hebrew Bible, or Christian Old Testament. Visitors can see a 14th-century Wycliffe Bible (the first English translation of the New Testament), a 600-year-old Torah scroll, leaves from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible (the first book ever printed), two copies of the first edition of the King James Bible from 1611 and more.
Mixed in are artifacts including ancient ink wells, the kinds of items that might have been tossed to the side.
"When you find a trash dump as an archaeologist, you find gold," Noah said to the 50 guests who followed him on the special tour.
He spoke of the artistry of, for example, the 13th-century Parisian Bible. The hand-copied book, written in Latin, took a scribe one year to complete and required, for parchment purposes, the skins of anywhere from 50 to 70 sheep or goats.
Because only the most elite could afford to own and have the education to read them, he explained that the trend of elaborate artwork in cathedrals was born as a way to "communicate with people" who couldn't access the Good Book.
In an upstairs room, guarded in special light boxes, are four fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest Biblical fragments, which date back to 250 B.C. Never before have pieces from the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in Israel in 1948, been presented in the Intermountain West.
Clergy members from Utah, Wyoming and Idaho gathered for a sneak peek of the exhibition days before it opened to the public. The various displays and terms - such as the Septuagint, Codex Vaticanus and St. Jerome's letters - were not new to most of them. But the significance of having all of these materials in one location left them wide-eyed and hungry to take it all in.
They said it reinforced what they believed and reminded them of what they'd once learned. The exhibit outlined a rich and long history - from the Bible's beginnings to about 1800 - in a way that could speak to the "regular guy," said the Rev. Blake Alling of Springville Baptist Church. The audio tour, available to visitors, makes the journey all the more palpable.
A corner of the exhibit is dedicated to William Tyndale, a 16th-century scholar and religious reformer whom Noah called "the most significant English person who ever lived." Tyndale is credited with translating the Bible from Greek to Early Modern English, and about 83 percent of the King James Bible comes directly from his work. Much of his efforts were done in hiding, as he was condemned for heresy. Eventually, after being strangled, he was burned at the stake.
"Many have died and shed their blood so that we can read [the
Bible] in English," Alling, the pastor from Springville, said.
Speculating on how he'd feel if he was told he could not teach the
Bible, he continued, "Tyndale and [Martin] Luther were willing to die
for it . . . and I am as well."
Some of the pastors spoke of their hope that the exhibition will bring people closer to God. But Noah, who tapped into scholars of all different faiths and left out materials that might have been especially controversial, maintained that irrespective of visitors' religious backgrounds, believers and nonbelievers alike can learn from a visit to "Ink & Blood."
"What I hope will come out of this is tolerance," he said.
Artifacts of antiquity
* "Ink & Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the King James Bible," a special exhibition that runs through May 28, is on display at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls. For more information, including ticket prices, hours and location, visit http://www.museumofidaho.org or call 208-522-1400, ext. 3001. Or go to http://www.inkandblood.com for a general overview.
* The oldest known Hebrew manuscript in the world and the oldest known mention of the name Elohim.
Marzeah Papyrus: More than 500 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Marzeah Papyrus (7th century B.C.) is the oldest known Hebrew manuscript in the world and the oldest known mention of the name "Elohim," a name for God in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible
* William Tyndale published the first English New Testament from the original languages in 1526.
1536 Tyndale New Testament: William Tyndale published the first English New Testament from the original languages in 1526. He revised it in 1534 to include Hebrew idioms inside the Greek text. This revision was so accurate that the 1611 King James New Testament uses more than 80 percent of Tyndale's exact wording.
Dead Sea Scroll
* This fragment from Isaiah is one of the earliest biblical fragments in existence.
Isaiah fragment: This Dead Seas Scroll fragment from Isaiah is one of the earliest Biblical fragments in existence.
* This first translation of the New Testament into English was handwritten in the 14th century.
Lectures on "Ink & Blood"
Each event begins at 7 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 237 N. Water Ave., Idaho Falls, next door to the museum. Tickets are available at the museum at a cost of $5 for adults, $3 for children.