​Faiths unite at the Book of Books exhibit in Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum

Rare biblical manuscripts in Jerusalem


By Rivka Borochov
A new exhibition on texts, fragments, books and scrolls of the Bible, the first of its kind for Israel, is featured in Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum until May 24, 2014.
In cooperation with Verbum Domini from the Vatican, Book of Booksincludes 200 of the world’s rarest and most important Biblical texts and manuscripts.
Rare biblical manuscripts in Jerusalem

A leaf from the Gutenberg Latin Bible, printed in 1450.

The material has been displayed before, but never in a Jewish context. Museum staff and a host of Jewish and Christian experts put together Book of Books to highlight the early Judaic aspects of the Bible, and how these materials influenced Christian theology and other monotheistic religions. 
“What we tried to do was to create a balance as much as possible between looking at the origins of the New Testament and the origins of Judaism and the earliest written texts,” says Bible Lands Museum director Amanda Weiss.
The exhibit, she explains, is from the collection of the Green family of Oklahoma, evangelical Christians who own the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores and other enterprises throughout the country. Their son, Steve Green, wanted to share the family passion for the Bible with the public.
“They run their business and everything they do under their religious philosophy,” says Weiss, who worked closely with the family over the last two years on this exhibit.
"It is extremely fitting that this exhibition and these texts will be unveiled for the first time ever in Jerusalem, mere meters from where many of the events contained in the Bible took place," she notes.
“As all of their previous exhibits came from a Christian perspective, the family had the sensitivity to enrich the exhibition for a Jewish audience,” she adds.
The show includes hands-on exploration of the documents using iPads, and showcases an original Gutenberg printing press from the 1400s. Visitors can get a page of the Bible printed from the actual press, which revolutionized the spread of the written word.  
Rare biblical manuscripts in Jerusalem

This 17th century Torah scroll is from North Africa.

After their sojourn in the Holy City, the rare documents will continue traveling around the world. Eventually they will move on to the Vatican and then to a biblical museum being built by the Green family in Washington, DC.
“This exhibit is earth-shattering for many Jews,” says Weiss. “Particularly, the Septuagint [translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek] is one of the most important documents we have. There are two display cases that are phenomenal and which have never been displayed in Israel. This is extremely important material.”
The Book of Books show will feature a high-quality facsimile of a Dead Sea scroll kept in Jordan. It will include original documents from the Cairo Geniza, an ancient document depository that reveals some of the most fascinating correspondence in Jewish history. It will showcase the earliest Christian Scriptures, as well as exquisite illuminated manuscripts and some original pages from the Gutenberg Bible.
Weiss says that the exhibit is appropriate for all ages.
While the documents themselves may not be touched, viewers are able to interact with them in novel ways. One part of the display reveals layers of text impossible to see with the naked eye.
“The documents are written in layers over hundreds of years – and using infrared photography the exhibit shows underlying text. The Green family has gone to great lengths to make this understandable and enjoyable,” Weiss says.
The display is meant to appeal to Jews and Christians, as well as anyone curious about putting history and politics into a biblical context.
“This is the first time an exhibition of the Bible itself has been done in Israel. It is visually a gorgeous show with vibrant colors and dramatic iPads throughout to help us look at different elements of text,” Weiss concludes.
The Bible Lands Museum offers temporary and permanent exhibits that examine the history of the Bible and the people mentioned in it, from the ancient Egyptians to the Canaanites, Philistines, Arameans and Persians. For now, it is the only museum in the world dedicated to the Bible.