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Posted on Sat, Sep. 13, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Unearthing the Bible
Dallas exhibit traces evolution of the holy book and displays parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Special to the Star-Telegram
This Bible, handwritten in English and dating from 1405, belonged to British martyr Richard Hunne, who was tried for heresy and burned to death for his faith.
This Bible, handwritten in English and dating from 1405, belonged to British martyr Richard Hunne, who was tried for heresy and burned to death for his faith.

This Bible, handwritten in English and dating from 1405, belonged to British martyr Richard Hunne, who was tried for heresy and burned to death for his faith.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY BIBLICAL ILLUSTRATOR
An excerpt from Paul's Letter to the Colossians, written in Coptic in the third century.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY BIBLICAL ILLUSTRATOR
The 1537 edition of the Tyndale "Matthew's" Bible is one of the most important Bibles ever printed. William Tyndale translated most of the Bible into English in the 16th century before he was burned at the stake for doing so.
The "Elohim" Papyrus, written in Hebrew around 700 B.C.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY BIBLICAL ILLUSTRATOR
This Medieval Hebrew Bible manuscript scroll is known as "The Masoretic Text."

The world's most-published book has its own story told in a one-of-a-kind exhibit at the Biblical Arts Center in Dallas. "Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book" follows the Bible through milestones of Western history -- from examples of cuneiform and Scripture passages on fragments of the "Elohim" Papyrus and the Dead Sea Scrolls to a leaf of the Gutenberg Bible from its first printing in 1455.

The Biblical Arts Center has expanded its regular hours and staff to accommodate the exhibit. Proceeds will benefit several Dallas-area charities.

One of the most valuable works in the exhibit dates from the English Reformation, a Wyclif Bible. Handwritten in English about 1405, it belonged to Richard Hunne, who was martyred for promoting Scripture in English, said Dr. William Noah, curator of the exhibit.

"Thomas Downe first owned that Bible," Noah said. "We know because he wrote his name in it. People just didn't do that back then."

The exhibit debuts at an important time in the scholarship of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the centerpiece of several rooms of displays. Discovered 50 years ago in caves along the Dead Sea, the tens of thousands of fragments of scrolls, which date from about 200 B.C., have taken a handful of scholars decades to sort through. The scrolls are the earliest known books of Scripture and contain commentary and possibly even the genealogy of Christ. Bit by bit, the reassembly of the giant puzzle that the scrolls represent continues.

The center has designed one gallery room to look like a cave. The tiny, darkened fragments hang in frames above infrared photographs that reveal their original text. Noted archaeologist and scholar Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Israel studied these fragments of the books of Genesis and Isaiah that are on display.

In one fragment, Eshel believes he may have discovered an ancient commentary on Chapter 22 of Genesis that contradicts the traditional interpretation of God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac. In other words, Eshel said, he now believes that God may not have asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.

"God called Isaac 'My son,' not 'your son,' " Eshel said. "This is the first time we have found this distinction."

Except perhaps for the Vatican and the British Museum, no museum has holdings that span the entire history of the Bible. Noah worked with rare-book consultant Lee Biondi to gather examples of milestones in the Bible's development for the Dallas exhibit. Most are from private collections, including pieces from the personal collection of noted antiquities dealer Bruce Ferrini.

Biondi said that the exhibit includes a number of world-class pieces but that it began with Noah's passion to understand the Bible's origins for himself, and later, to share it with others.

"We really did it from the heart," Biondi said.

Noah, a practicing pulmonary physician in Murfreesboro, Tenn., first organized a small display of antiquities and expert commentary on the history of the Bible for Murfreesboro. However, about 30,000 people visited the display during its three-week run in the small town's art center. The overwhelming response prompted Noah, Biondi and others to organize the exhibit in Dallas, where Noah had grown up and where his brother, Dr. Terry Noah, an emergency-room physician at Baylor University Medical Center, still lives. The group is negotiating to bring the exhibit to three other venues across the nation and has a five-year plan for a nationwide tour, Biondi said.

Noah said exhibitgoers also can learn how the Bible is linked to the evolution of the written word and to the spread of the English language. William Tyndale, who translated most of the Bible into English in the 16th century before he was burned at the stake for doing so, may have had more influence than anyone on the evolution of modern English, he said.

Tyndale did not use the Middle English that was spoken at the time but went back to an older Saxon form of the language instead. More than 80 percent of the popular King James version of the New Testament that followed 80 years later contained Tyndale's translation. Because the Bible was often the only book families owned, people first learned to read and write from the Bible. And the spread of Christianity often brought the English language with it.

"We speak Tyndale's English," Noah said.

"Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book"

Through Nov. 16

Biblical Arts Center

7500 Park Lane

Dallas

9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 1-5:30 p.m. Sundays

$21 for adults, $20 for seniors and students with I.D., $13 ages 6-12, free for younger than 6; group rates available.

(877) 33BIBLE (332-4253) or visit www.DeadSeaExhibit.com.

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