Seminary family gets rare glimpse at 2,200-year-old Dead Sea fragment

by Samuel Smith, posted Friday, July 25, 2003 (16 years ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Place the solid black fragment of lamb's skin under an infrared light and the words revealed in 2,200-year-old Hebrew script are astounding. The fragmentary passage from the Book of Isaiah found near the Dead Sea community of Qumran reads in part, "Your dead shall live again; their corpses will arise."

Pretty important stuff for any Christian.

Faculty, staff and students of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary got a rare glimpse of the Dead Sea Scroll fragment and other rare biblical manuscripts during a private exhibition July 17 on the seminary's Fort Worth campus.

The full exhibit, "From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book," will open in early September and run through Nov. 16 at the Dallas Biblical Arts Center. The exhibit aims to help those who have been touched by the Bible in English understand the struggles that made the freedom to own and read God's Word possible.

"The exhibition is about the entire history of Scripture and how we got our Bible in America," said Lee Biondi, a Los Angeles antiquities dealer who put the exhibit together.

That history begins with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The exhibit will feature fragments from the ancient texts of Genesis and Isaiah discovered near Qumran, as well as fragments from Leviticus and Exodus from a third-century copy of the Old Testament in Greek [the Septuagint]. Other highlights will include fragments from the earliest surviving papyrus manuscripts of the Gospel of John and the Apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians, both of which are owned by private collectors.

Biondi said the papyrus and Dead Sea fragments alone are worth the trip to see the exhibit. "You would have to travel to museums all over the world to see as broad a cross-section of the history of Scripture which we will have on display," Biondi said.

Seminary spokesman Gregory Tomlin said the presence of the texts in Dallas would offer seminary faculty members a rare opportunity to engage their classes in "hands-on history."

"To the untrained eye, the fragment from the Book of Isaiah looks like a burnt and crumpled piece of cardboard. It is, however, profoundly important as a witness to our current text of Isaiah. We wanted these pieces to be exhibited on our campus in order to encourage students to attend the exhibit in Dallas," Tomlin said.

Bibles and fragments from the Latin manuscript tradition dated to the fourth century also will be included among the ancient treasures in the Dallas exhibit. Latin became the dominant language in the study of the Bible for more than a millennium because the Catholic Church forbade the translation of Scripture into the language of the common man.

The exhibit includes a Bible in English from 1410 which belonged to British martyr Richard Hunne, who was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake by authorities for believing that the Bible should be accessible in English, along with Erasmus' printed 1522 Greek and Latin text, which became the basis for Bible translations in the language of common people throughout the Reformation.

From Erasmus' text, scholars produced the Geneva Bible in 1560 that became the Bible the Puritans brought to America. The exhibit includes a copy of the Geneva Bible and its ubiquitous successor, a first edition of the King James Version of 1611.

James, of course, owned the copyright to the text. Thus, the printing of the Bible in America during colonial times was illegal. The Bible was then called the "Forbidden Book."

Being the good rebels that they were, however, Congress commissioned the printing of the Bible by Robert Aitken in 1782, even before the United States signed the Treaty of Paris formally ending the Revolutionary War. The Aitken Bible today is rarer than the Gutenberg Bible, and one will be on display with the rest of the collection.

"Our story of how the Christian faith has been transmitted through history is an indispensable component of a seminary education," Tomlin said. "Of course, the way faith was transmitted in the Free Church tradition was through the preaching of God's Word and the printing of it. This glimpse into history, I hope, will remind our seminary community how important the Bible is to our faith. It was important enough for men to give their lives to print it."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRECIOUS PREVIEW and TAKING A LOOK.

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