New Exhibit in Springfield Explores God’s Word and How it Came to be with Must-See Artifacts and Some of the World’s Oldest Bibles
By Dwight Widaman |
Throughout history, the Bible has been the most banned, most burned and, still, most-read book of all time. Those facts seem incongruous — even too fantastical — to believe, so how can that be?
An exhibition in Springfield, Mo., answers these questions and more with simple clarity and heart-rending history. “Passages, Treasures of the Bible” is making a stop in Springfield, until the end of the year, after sell-out crowds toured the exhibit in Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Atlanta and Colorado Springs.
Passages is a traveling exhibit of 400 pieces highlighting the 40,000-piece collection owned by Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby. It’s the largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts in the entire world and is so renowned that the world’s major cities are vying to host it. Moscow, Seoul, Rome and Jerusalem all want it. But for now, they’ll have to travel to the Missouri Ozarks to see it.
Begun just five years ago, individuals from around the world, including Holocaust survivors living in Israel, learned of his efforts and offered their collections. Some donated items, while Green purchased others.
The Passages brochure describes the exhibit as a “treasure trove”, and it is. The innovative 30,000-square-foot, family-friendly exhibition provides a captivating experience that tells the dramatic story of the Word of God, from its beginning as scribbling on stone and papyri to the invention of the printing press and smart phones. The exhibit is interactive, using state-of-the-art audio guides to assist visitors in a non-sectarian and scholarly approach.
“The museum is about the Book,” Green said in an interview. “It is not about a specific faith tradition. The Book goes through the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant traditions, so we’re telling the story of the Book.”
The Book. If we were visitors from another planet, we may not believe that so many millions of people have died; entire cities leveled to the ground; whole generations wiped out in multiple Holocausts for no other reason thanâ€¦the Book â€” the Bible.
Those 700,000 words of scripture are precious. The first books of the Bible were memorized and preserved by Hebrews living in diaspora in Babylon and Persia. First-century Christians died in amphitheaters of the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, ordinary priests and pastors were burned at the stake because they had the audacity to print Bibles in Latin or English so ordinary men and women could read God’s word.
Today, how many of us take it for granted? We may keep a copy in our cars, kitchens and at work. We have copies on our computers, our Kindles and our smart phones. We don’t realize the sacrifice of countless individuals that have come before us that made this accessibility possible.
Passages will leave you in awe and, just maybe, in tears, as you realize the tremendous debt we owe others for just being able to read God’s Word.
The exhibit will lead you, using multi-media displays and life-like Disneyesque talking mannequins, through different rooms and time periods that tell the story of the challenges facing the survival of the Word of God and the triumphs of the men and women who ensured it would be passed down to future generations. That story is accessible to people of all ages. These stories will amaze. The exhibit crosses the centuries, providing interesting insight.
For example, in the 7th Century, after the Arab invasion of Egypt outlawed the Coptic language, Coptic Christians learned the language of their invaders and translated the Bible into Arabic for the first time. Centuries later, Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, read Tyndale’s banned English translation. Boleyn carried her Tyndale Bible to her beheading.
You’ll see the evidence of centuries-old attempts to destroy and erase God’s Word and the Jewish people, including rare artifacts that survived the Nazi and Communist onslaught and 18th Century pogroms. These pieces â€” burned and water stained â€” are what survived while their owners did not.
Here are some highlights:
- The earliest-known, virtually complete translation of the Psalms to English.
- Rare illuminated manuscripts of biblical texts and commentaries.
- The second-largest private collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
- The world’s largest collection of Jewish scrolls in private hands. They span more than 700 years and survived the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi obliteration (with some having been discovered stashed away in concentration camp walls and floors) and rare ancient Chinese Torahs. You’ll even walk through the recreated streets of a German city in which burned and broken shop windows display damaged Torah scrolls.
- Surviving texts from the era and area of lost Library of Alexandria.
- One of the very first copies of Wycliffe’s New Testament
- Gutenberg’s Print Shop room with a large portion of the Gutenberg Bible and the world’s only complete Block Bible in private hands. Here you can print your own pages on a rare Gutenberg press replica.
- Early tracts and Bibles of Martin Luther, including a little-known signed letter written the night before his excommunication
These artifacts are displayed in different rooms in a space half the size of a football field. The rooms include a Christian Scribe chamber, a Jewish Synagogue, and a cave where Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, Reformation Theater, which features a life-size HD video debate between scholars and a replica of the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey where the translation of the King James Version was finished.
The richness of the treasure of God’s word, and just how precious it is, cannot be missed. That was one of the goals of this traveling exhibit.
Scott Bryant pastors in Springfield and received degrees in history and theology from Missouri State University. He chose to take a year and work at Passages, guiding visitors in their knowledge as he portrays the inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg.
“I didn’t’ realize it took so much care and precision to preserve the Word as it has.” Says Bryant. “I preach every Sunday and, until now, never gave a second thought to how the Bible was passed down to me.”
A Green Collection spokesman said the Greens have amassed this collection “not to lock it away for safekeeping or tuck into a think tank, but to share it with the world. They don’t consider themselves collectors. Their goal is to make the history, scholarship and impact of the Bible accessible to everyone.”
Now it is.
For more information visit explorepassages.com