‘Book of Books’ traces history of the Bible

An exhibit about Judaism and Christianity’s connection premieres at the Bible Lands Museum.

Dead Sea Scrolls 370 (photo credit: david vinkur)
Dead Sea Scrolls 370
(photo credit: david vinkur)
The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem is opening an exclusive exhibit showcasing the connections between Judaism and Christianity.
The exhibit, “Book of Books,” juxtaposes Jewish and Christian biblical texts from thousands of years ago, beginning with fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, through to 19th century relics.
“We’ve never had an exhibition that shows the powerful link between Judaism and Christianity on this level,” said director of the Bible Lands Museum Amanda Weiss.
She expects the exhibit will be a popular attraction for Christians from all over the world, but says it is also important for the Jewish and Israeli public.
“We see a very powerful narrative that is not often told [in Israel,]” she says. “Most people are very sensitive to showing anything Christian in Jerusalem.”
However, Filip Vukosovavic, the museum’s curator, emphasizes that Christianity and Judaism are “so interconnected, they cannot be separated.” They share a theological source and “come from the same geographical point, which is the land of Israel.”
Vukosovavic says the “juxtaposition” in this exhibition of the two religions is “very deliberate,” because it “looks at Judaism as the roots for Christianity, and how they coexisted at different points.”
You begin “Book of Books” with the first archaeological evidence of the Bible, fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are from the Second Temple period, well over 2,000 years ago, and are the earliest known existing manuscripts of material later included in the Bible.
On the wallpaper in front of you is the Dead Sea from the point of view of the cave in Qumran where this artifact was discovered.
Following this are two copies of the Septuagint from Egypt. The Septuagint is one of the earliest translations of the Bible from Hebrew.
According to legend, explains Vukosovavic, King Ptolemy II in the third century BCE ordered approximately 70 Jewish scholars to translate the Bible from Hebrew to Greek.
After 70 days, each scholar independently produced the same translation. It was a “miracle,” says Vukosovavic.
The Septuagint was translated for the Hellenized Jewish population in Egypt that didn’t know Hebrew. It later became the official bible of the early Christian Church.
As you continue further along, the showcases split, Judaism on one side, Christianity on the other.
“Another powerful piece,” says Vukosovavic, is the Codex Climaci Rescriptus. It includes parts of the Old and New Testament in Aramaic and Greek. Its oldest portion was written in Jerusalem in the sixth century. Another section was written in a Catholic monastery in the eighth century.
Later, in the ninth century, two additional theological treatises were to be added to the codex. But there wasn’t enough parchment.
The authors’ solution was to erase some text and rewrite over it. You can actually see this process.
Next to the display case is an accompanying iPad with pictures of the current codex in Greek. By pressing your finger to the iPad, you bring up an infrared image that shows the original, erased version in Aramaic.
Vukosavovic stresses how significant this is for the scholarly world. Because it also includes the underlying text, this codex shows how an original Aramaic text was deciphered and then interpreted into a later Greek version.
Across from the Codex Climaci Rescriptus is just as important a collection: the Cairo Geniza. This is a compilation of biblical, Talmudic and later rabbinic texts and secular documents that outline Jewish Middle Eastern and North African history over a 1,000-year period.
Continuing along, you walk on to Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, Armenia, Greece and Italy.
You reach a vitrine that Vukosovavic says is “metaphorical,” representing the entire exhibition. In it is a codex, which traces assorted popes and kings’ ancestry from Adam to Jesus, and the first illuminated Megillah, with illustrations of midrashim above the text.
Both manuscripts are from medieval Italy.
Because they are too long to be displayed in their entirety (the codex alone is five meters long), you can scroll through them on iPads alongside the vitrine. You can even zoom in to see an Ottoman Haman.
Vukosovavic stresses how this vitrine is representative of “Book of Books.” He explains how interaction between Jewish and Christian artists in the Middle Ages was “extremely important” to the progression of these two religions. While Christianity and Judaism are distinct religions, he says, they are connected in so many ways.
Amanda Weiss stressed this theme at the grand opening of the exhibition on the night of October 23. She told approximately 300 guests that Steve Green, the leading patron of “Book of Books,” is uniting “us [Jews and Christians] under a book we all love [the Bible].”
Green, a devout Baptist, is president of Hobby Lobby, the national craft-store chain his father founded. Hobby Lobby was recently under fire after a blogger, Ken Berwitz, accused a Hobby Lobby employee of anti-Semitism.
Green has also assembled the Green collection, a compilation of over 40,000 biblical antiquities a curatorial team from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, oversees. This curatorial team collaborated with the Bible Lands Museum to put together “Book of Books.”
“Book of Books” will eventually be permanently part of a Bible museum Green is establishing in Washington, DC, that will be committed to the historicity of the Bible.
“Book of Books” will be at the Bible Lands Museum until May 24. Afterwards it will be on display at the Vatican as “Verbum Domini.”
Weiss admitted it was a challenge to come up with a narrative that was a balance between Jewish history and early Christianity.
But “this is an exhibit for everyone,” she says. “Everybody should come and see it. All walks of life. No matter what their religious perspective or belief may be.”