Getting Our Hands on the Bible
April 8 – Sept 15, 2017
The current exhibit traces the textual history of the Bible to help us understand how the Bible came into our hands. It features replicas of our earliest ancient texts of the Old and New Testament, medieval illuminated manuscripts from the reaches of Christendom, and Reformation translations printed on Gutenberg’s printing press.
The Bible has a long and rich textual story. Today, with accessibility to the Bible like never before – whether with Bible apps on smart phones, translations into the majority of the world’s languages, or the fact that many households have numerous hard copies of various versions – we can take the Bible for granted. Through most of Christian history, however, the vast majority of Christians did not have access to the Bible.
During ancient times, particularly because of the huge costs to produce books and limited technologies in book-making, a single, bound copy of the whole Bible was unfathomable.
Rather, churches (and synagogues) possessed copies of sections of the Bible, like an Isaiah scroll or a codex (book-form) of the letters of Paul. Our very earliest extant Scriptural texts are the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating as early as 250 BC. For the New Testament, we have assortments of early papyri – the earliest of which is P52, a small fragment from the Gospel of John, dating to c. 90-120 AD. Otherwise, our New Testament is largely based on 4th-century codices including the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Alexandrinus. Thanks to a generous loan by Dr. Kent Clarke, professor at Trinity Western University, we are able to display rare, high-quality facsimiles of these codices and additional texts for this feature exhibit.
During the Middle Ages, illiteracy proved the greatest obstacle to accessibility to the Bible. Through these times it was largely monks who held the libraries, read the Bible for themselves, and copied the texts. The tradition of illuminated manuscripts developed where pictures and images were placed alongside the written text, and often intertwined with the letters themselves. Thanks to a generous donation from the Thiessen Foundation, the Metzger Collection is now also in possession of the Thiessen Manuscripts Collection, and is able to display beautiful and ornate texts from the far reaches of medieval Christendom. You can see the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels from the far corner of the known world in Celtic Ireland and then compare it with the Ethiopian Gospels from the complete opposite corner of Christendom.
These texts are open and accessible for you to page through yourself and witness both the continuity and diversity of artistic expression and scripts themselves as these various cultures received and engaged with the Gospel.
Finally, the exhibit ends in the context of the Reformation, when thanks to the Gutenberg printing press and the technology to mass produce books, many of the earlier challenges of accessibility to the Bible were removed. With literacy on the rise and the increasing affordability of books, in addition to the Gutenberg Bible, Reformers also sought to translate the Bible into vernacular languages that people could understand (rather than Latin), whether the Luther Bible in German or the Geneva Bible in English. The Bible could finally get into peoples’ hands like never before and they could read and interpret it for themselves.
Today, we live into the heritage of the rich textual history of the Bible. Enjoy the feature exhibit as you experience it for yourself, and make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to get your hands on the Bible.