'Passages' offers unique Bible experience
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is hosting Passages, an exhibit that traces the history of the English Bible. There are more than 300 artifacts in the exhibit, all of which come from the Green Collection. The exhibit opened on May 16 and closes on Oct. 16.
The Green family, founders of the Hobby Lobby craft stores and Mardel bookstores (and benefactors of Oral Roberts University), began collecting Bible artifacts in late 2009. Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby, has been working with Dr. Scott Carroll to find and purchase artifacts that will eventually be displayed in a nonsectarian Bible museum. The collection has grown to more than 40,000 pieces in less than two years and is one of the largest private collections of its kind in the world, said Carroll, who serves as the collection's director.
Renowned for his expertise in ancient languages, ancient history, archaeology, and religion, Carroll is one of the world's foremost scholars on ancient biblical texts. He describes Passages as "a prototype of what it will be like in a 300,000-square-foot museum," explaining that the exhibit uses digital effects, animatronics, and some robotics to tell the Bible's story. "There are some things there that you can't see anywhere else in the world. It's a must-see for people, and it's great for kids.
"There's no indoctrination. It just celebrates and elevates the Bible."
Carroll cited several other good reasons to come to the exhibit.
"The Bible's the most important book ever written," he said. "Set religion aside -- it's the most copied, the most printed, the most sold, the most quoted. Its stories are themes of plays and TV shows and movies and are printed on canvases in museums across the world. More books have been written on the Bible than on any other book. More songs have been written about the Bible than any other book. If someone pretends to be cultured, let alone religious, they should know about the Bible."
And going to the exhibit, Carroll said, can be as valuable an experience for those who question the Bible's importance as for those who hold it in high regard.
"I think it's great for a skeptic to go because they can go be exposed to the data -- it's academic -- and they can deal with it as they choose to. They're not forced to make a decision." For a person of faith, he added, Passages can "broaden their horizons as they understand that the Bible didn't come to Moses on Mount Sinai and somehow end up in a bureau drawer at the local hotel. There's a process and the process included people who perhaps were not Protestants -- in fact, were not at all -- and Passages will help them understand the Jewish origins" of items that led to the creation of the English Bible "and the great care that scribes took to copy the text."
The Oklahoma City exhibit is just the beginning. A portion of the collection will be displayed at the Vatican during Lent and Easter.
"We're in the process of finalizing that now," Carroll said, "and beginning to work on conceptualizing the space, what artifacts will be used and what we will borrow. We envision something that major museums in the world will be part of -- a tour de force of the Bible to celebrate the Bible."
Future exhibits in New York City and Cuba are also being considered.
The academic arm of the collection is known as the Green Scholars Initiative and is directed by Dr. Jerry Pattengale, the assistant provost at Indiana Wesleyan University. Through the Initiative, Bible scholars from around the world have been conducting a speakers' series at the museum. The papers that the speakers are presenting will ultimately be published in a book.
Another facet of the Green Scholars Initiative is the research being conducted on the Green Collection artifacts at a large number of universities and seminaries. Under the guidance of select professors -- who are themselves being mentored by some of the world's leading scholars -- undergraduate and graduate students are making some exciting discoveries.
When the research teams are given an artifact to study, "we don't tell them what they have," Carroll said. He and his colleagues just know it's something special. In one case, they gave an artifact to a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota and "he and his students discovered it's the earliest text of First Corinthians in the world. His students are sophomores and juniors. They'll be involved with us with the publication [of their findings]." This is one of the goals of the Initiative: to offer more undergraduates opportunities to do research and provide them with some advance preparation for graduate school.
Carroll is hoping to get ORU professors and students involved in research projects as well.
The Green Collection, meanwhile, continues to grow as more artifacts become available through auction houses, other private collectors, museums, universities, churches, and schools.
"Some items are bought one at a time and some are bought thousands at a time," Carroll explained. And they come from all over the world: Ethiopia, Turkey, Israel, England, Scandinavia, and the U.S., to name a few nations. The oldest item in the collection is a clay tablet from 3500 B.C. There are also a number of Dead Sea Scrolls, the second largest collection in private hands.
The "most precious" item, as Carroll described it, is a 300-page Bible that was "recycled." Under the top layer of text is text written in Palestinian Aramaic -- Jesus' household language -- and Greek.
Carroll and other colleagues worked with Oxford University to develop a process that makes the top text "see-through" so that the text underneath is easy to read. This Bible, known as Codex Climaci Rescriptus, is one of the earliest Bibles in the world -- a "second-century copy of the Old and New Testament in Jesus' language," Carroll said. "We're studying it at all levels to give us a better understanding of the Bible -- the culture, the impact, the translation of the Bible."
This brings up another good reason to go see Passages.
While the Bible provides, in Carroll's words, "a window to history," its impact is much more personal.
"It helps us understand ourselves better," he said. "There's an oft-quoted saying: 'The Bible analyzes us while it's being analyzed.'
"There's truth to that."