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Smithsonian Bible Exhibit in the News

29th October 2006

The Hamilton Spectator has an interesting article from Washington Post reporter Allan Cooperman on the Bible exhibit underway at the Smithsonian. The article, “A True Testament to Change: How Much was Altered in the Bible’s Evolution?“, highlights some of the manuscripts on display in the exhibition, “In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000.”

This exhibition includes a whole host of fascinating finds, including fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll, Cheaster Beatty papyri, some leaves from Codex Sinaiticus, among other manuscripts. I am looking forward to viewing the exhibit in person when I am at SBL.

In regards to the news article, there are some choice quotes from Bart Ehrman about the implications of the transmission history of the Bible and certain views of the Scripture’s authority. Here’s an excerpt:

These are documents with the proven power to shake faith. That’s what happened to Bart Ehrman, author of the 2005 bestseller, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed The Bible And Why.

Ehrman was a born-again Christian from Kansas when he entered Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute at age 18. After three decades of comparing ancient manuscripts in their original languages to try to determine the earliest, most authentic text of the New Testament, he is now an agnostic.

“I thought God had inspired the words inerrantly. But when I examined the historical texts, I realized the words had not been preserved inerrantly, and it would have been no greater miracle to preserve them than to inspire them in the first place,” said Ehrman, now chairman of religious studies at the University of North Carolina.

I think that Ehrman raises an interesting question about the relationship of the transmission of the biblical text to some particular views of the inspiration of the original text. The article continues:

But if these fading papyrus leaves and purple parchments inscribed with silver ink can shake faith, that does not mean they must [italics added].

Brown, who pulled the exhibition together in association with Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, sits on the governing board of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. “That’s a pretty good tip-off,” she said, that she is a member in good standing of the Church of England.

“There’s nothing here that’s going to shape or challenge people’s beliefs, except on one point,” she said. “It will challenge the belief that the Bible originated in the form we have today, rather than being the result of the very complex process of a lot of people of faith using scriptures to help them live God-focused lives.”

“We didn’t start out with this,” she said, producing a red Gideon’s Bible from her Washington hotel room.

All in all it looks like a great exhibit.

UPDATE: Stephen Carlson has a list of all the manuscripts showing at the exhibit (well, almost all, he neglects to list some of the Hebrew manuscripts — but what can you expect from a NT scholar! :-) ).  His list makes me even more eager for the exhibit!


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