Bits and pieces of early Bible writings
SOME QUESTION EVANGELICAL UNDERTONES
By Sarah Vos
[LEXINGTON] HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
Ink & Blood, an exhibit on the history of the Bible that opens here today, has been heavily promoted on radio and television by a former Miss America and touted by area churches.
In ads, Heather French Henry calls it the "most comprehensive museum exhibition ever on the Bible."
But some scholars say the exhibit has more of an evangelical Christian spin than a historical one, that its advertising of the pieces of Dead Sea Scrolls is misleading and that one of the exhibits, the Marzeah Papyrus, may be a modern forgery.
In case you're not familiar with the somewhat acrimonious origin of the exhibit, this article summarizes it:
Ink & Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible was organized by Dr. William Noah, a Nashville-area pulmonologist, and traces the evolution of the Bible from early writings to the Dead Sea Scrolls to translations into Latin, German, French, and, most importantly from the exhibit's point of view, English.
Noah, 44, pulled the exhibit together from private collections, including his own. He doesn't have any formal training in biblical studies, but he has studied on his own and traveled around the world to see important Bibles and other artifacts. He wrote the panels that explain the objects and had scholars in the field review them, he said.
Ink & Blood isn't Noah's first Bible-related exhibition. In Dallas and Akron, Ohio, Noah and Bruce Ferrini, an Ohio art collector, and Lee Biondi, a California antiquities expert, put together an exhibit under a company called HisStory LLC. That exhibit included Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Ferrini's private collection.
The partnership broke up, and HisStory filed for bankruptcy in February 2004. In a related lawsuit, Noah accused Ferrini of taking close to $400,000 of the Dallas exhibition's profits and not giving Noah some $28,000 from gift-shop sales of videotapes and books created by Noah.
Since the breakup of HisStory, Biondi has put together a competing traveling exhibition called The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America. That exhibit was in Paducah earlier this year.
The first criticism is that the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments are not much to look at:
The pieces in the Lexington exhibit are small. They measure in centimeters, and the letters are no longer visible because time has blackened the animal skins they were written on. Some contain only a few letters from the scroll they were once a part of.
Weston Fields, executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, which helps coordinate Israeli Antiquity Authority-approved exhibitions of the scrolls, calls exhibits like Ink & Blood misleading.
"It's not really being honest with the public to advertise these tiny little things as a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit," Fields said, despite the fact that they are genuine.
I believe this has been called the "burnt cornflake" look.
The second criticism is that the prominently featured "Marzeah Papyrus" may be a fake:
But Christopher Rollston, a paleographer at the Emmanuel School of Religion in Tennessee, said there are hundreds of written documents from the period. The papyrus is significant because it talks about a Marzeah, an ancient ritual gathering that is mentioned twice in the Old Testament and in the literature of other cultures. Scholars don't know exactly what it is.
But, it's the writing, along with the papyrus's mysterious origins, that makes Rollston wonder if it isn't a fake. To him, it looks like a mixture of Aramaic, Hebrew, Moabite and Anamite.
"I think that the forger didn't really do his homework on scripts," Rollston said. "Because we never have this mixture of scripts in any other inscriptions."
In addition, the papyrus wasn't found in an archeological dig, which means scholars don't know where it came from or how it was discovered. It first appeared on the antiquities market sometime during the last 25 years. In that same period, several modern forgeries purported to be religious antiquities have appeared on the market.
Over at Ralph, Ed Cook has also questioned the authenticity of the Marzeah Papyrus and has noted Rollston's reservations about it.