Exhibition Reviews and News

Ink and Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible

Any admirer of William Tyndale will appreciate this travelling exhibition that recounts the story of the English Bible from the advent of writing 5000 years ago in ancient Sumer to the earliest Bibles printed in America. William Tyndale, understandably, is in the center of the story; the linkage between the history of the Bible and the story of the English Bible. He is, however, part of a much longer story of the Bible that has indeed been preserved and propagated by ink and by blood.

When housed at the Knoxville (Tennessee) Convention Centre from 5 February until 17 April 2005, the show drew 50,000 visitors and is scheduled to reopen at the Lexington Center in the Rupp Arena Complex in Lexington, Kentucky, on 24 June. It offers a remarkable collection of artifacts that demonstrate the earliest forms of writing by showing pictographs on clay tablets dating from 3000 BC and Babylonian land deeds. It displays the seventh century BC Marzeah Papyrus that is considered to be the oldest known Hebrew writing (other than an inscription) as well as the earliest known use of “Elohim” as a name for God. A variety of Dead Sea Scroll fragments are shown and the accompanying text explains their significance in re-establishing confidence in the ancient Hebrew text. The exhibit displays a variety of papyri with Biblical and non-Biblical content. It explains the transition from the manuscript to the codex and shows facsimiles of the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. It explains the importance of Jerome’s Vulgate and its millennium of dominance in western Christendom. Wycliffe, who wanted to get the message out of Latin and who did so much to advocate the Bible in English, lacked the technology of printing and a means of mass distribution. These limitations were removed with the advent of printing.

Erasmus and Luther both employed the new technology and Tyndale knew that it was the key to releasing his translation to the people who desired it so deeply. At the exhibit, Tyndale is represented by Sir Francis Fry’s 1862 facsimile of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament, his revised New Testament of 1536 and a 1528 first edition of The Obedience of a Christian Man. Additionally, at this point of the exhibit there is a video that describes the life and significance of the first man to translate and print a New Testament in English. (The DVD, which is available for purchase, features our Society’s own David Daniell and Guido Latré.)

There is a 1535 Coverdale Bible, a 1537 Matthew Bible and, of course, a 1539 Great Bible. These Bibles lead to the 1560 Geneva Bible which is accompanied by another video to explain its background, its significance and its ties to both ink and blood. It should be noted however that visitors sensitive to the ecumenical spirit of our times will not be offended. The history is told without anti-Roman Catholic denunciations and the story of the Douai-Rheims translation is told fairly and given its rightful place in the progression of the Bible in English. The exhibition ends with Robert Aitken’s 1782 publication in Philadelphia of the first Bible printed in English on American soil. As the text explains this Bible was not the first published in the New World. That honor belongs to missionary John Eliot who published the Bible in 1663 for the Native American people known as the Algonquin.

In the centre of the exhibit space is a working reproduction of a Gutenberg era press, manned by a volunteer who demonstrates the setting of the letters, the inking of the plates and the pressing of the ink on the paper. The presenter also recounts a story recorded in Ben Franklin’s autobiography of how his ancestors strapped an open Bible to the underside of a stool. When the family felt it was safe, the stool would be turned over on someone’s lap and the text read to the rest of the family, but at the slightest indication of danger the stool would be reset on its four legs and the intruder would never uncovered the dangerous activity of Bible reading that had occupied that family. Such an exhibit, including the demonstrations, awakens a new appreciation for the history of the English Bible and the significant role played by that obscure priest from Gloucestershire who fled to the Continent to provide his people with God’s book in their language. And, as we know, he did it with such skill that his words and phrases continue to echo in our speech of the 21st century.

The exhibit, claiming to be “the word’s largest, most comprehensive exhibit on the history of the Bible,” is really a multimedia journey through time. It should be of interest to those who love the Bible as well as those who want to learn more about the history of writing, printing and cultural change.

The show embodies the vision of the founder and chief Curator, William H. Noah, a physician from the Nashville (Tennessee) area. Over a long period of time and at great personal sacrifice, he sought out the items, created the exhibit signage, partnered with experts, secured the funding and organized lectures by academics to supplement this recital of the amazing series of events that has brought us the Bible in English. It is indeed the story of Ink and Blood.

This exhibition opens at the Lexington Centre in the Rupp Arena Complex in Lexington, Kentucky on 24 June 2005. Anyone desiring additional information and more detail about the exhibit is encouraged to check the website, http://www.inkandblood.com

Report by Donald Dean Smeeton, May 2005

Bodleian Library Exhibition 2005

After Gutenberg: History and Culture in 15th century printed books

November 2004 - April 2005

The Bodleian Library’s decade-long project to catalogue its incunabula (15th century books printed in the period from Johannes Gutenberg c.1455 until 1500) was completed in 2004. Incunabula is a Latin word meaning swaddling clothes, cradle or, more generally, origin or beginning. The term was first used in the context of printing in 1639 when Bernard von Mallinckrodt described this period as being prima typographiae incunabula, the time when typography was in its swaddling clothes.

To mark the end of the project the Bodleian mounted an exhibition to bring together the incunables showing features, which will be described in a catalogue (unfortunately not printed in time to accompany the exhibition but it should be available this summer). Items displayed included the Library’s copy of its world famous Gutenberg Bible, a Bible in Hebrewprinted in Naples in 1492, a pilgrimage map (the Rom Weg) charting routes to Rome from European towns and Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio of 1486, the first printed travel guide; also on display were one of only two surviving copies of the first printed advertisement in English (Caxton’s advertisement for the Sarum Pye) and the Canon Missae. The latter printed using Gutenberg’s type survives only in two complete copies, and is therefore much more rare than Gutenberg’s Bible.

Once incunables had been printed, it was assumed that they would be €˜finished’ by hand, with decorations and rubrication, as were manuscripts. Spaces were left for capital letters, and wide margins were provided to assist this. For some purchasers it was enough that initials, paragraph marks, and capital strokes (the medieval form of highlighting) were supplied. Others wanted the first page of the book decorated, and painted borders were the most common expression of this. For owners who were prepared to pay more, luxury copies of books printed on parchment were provided with sumptuous borders and initials. One example of this is a stunningly decorated copy of Pliny’s Natural History which has borders and initials painted by the Italian Monte di Giovanni di Miniato, for the banker Filippo Strozzi.

Whilst text alone was sufficient in some books others required accompanying illustrations. Wooden blocks continued to be used throughout the incunable period to provide such pictures and examples were on show in this exhibition. The blockbook Apocalypse, printed in Germany in the early 1470’s and coloured by hand, shows the defeat of the Devil. The single sheet woodcuts on display included three English examples. The first was a unique illustration of Death and the Last Judgement, probably made for the Brigittine monastery at Syon Abbey, Middlesex. The others were two illustrations of the Sacred heart and the Wounds of Christ, one of which is unique, the other produced for the Charterhouse of Sheen near Richmond in Surrey, was probably intended as a souvenir for pilgrims.

All in all a fascinating exhibition — would that we could report that it was about to take place rather than it has. However, this time one can at least retrieve the situation by buying the catalogue whose high profile absence annoyed those who had the privilege of attending.

Report by Valerie Offord, June 2005

The Bodleian houses the fifth largest collection of incunabula in the world, and the catalogue to this exhibition represents a major contribution to the study of the history of the book — both in Britain and in Europe.

An Exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible Exhibit

10 April to 3 July 2005

Since Bristol can be considered the heart of Tyndale country, it is interesting to note that a significant modern Bible project is currently underway less than one hour’s drive west in Monmouthshire, Wales. In a converted mechanic’s shed, the modern equivalent of the ancient scriptorium, illuminator and calligrapher Donald Jackson is applying himself to the mediaeval tradition of producing a handwritten, richly illuminated edition of the whole Bible on vellum. He is the artistic director of a team of talented individuals in the UK and the US reviving a tradition that has been nearly absent from the Christian world since the invention of printing more than five centuries ago. The multi-year, four million dollar project weds the ancient and modern, the quill and computer. It is understandable that The Saint John’s Bible draws interest from art historians, specialists in medieval manuscripts, bibliophiles and those committed to the history of the scripture. But it also demands the attention of individuals who are not academic specialists and those with little or no interest in religion. People are struck by the shear magnitude of the undertaking and its exceptional artistic qualities. The finished product will consist of seven distinct volumes, two feet tall and three feet wide and containing about 1,100 pages each. The team uses quills and natural handmade inks, hand ground pigments, and gold and silver leaf, but at the same time they employ state of the art technology to assist in page layout and for the communication of text and images across the Atlantic. The Saint John’s Bible is an attempt to engage the post-modern individual of an ecumenical age in a conversation about the sacred, about scripture and about religious devotion. The undertaking is sponsored by Saint John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery of nearly 300 residents, located in central Minnesota two hours from Minneapolis. Along with Saint John’s University, the abbey sees this project as consistent with its educational mission to ignite imagination, glorify God’s word, preserve tradition and give voice to the gospel. To speak to the modern world, the team selected the text of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which means, of course, it is in English. (One does not have to explain the parallels to William Tyndale’s passion to translate the Word into the media understood by his generation.) The present exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which features the first three volumes (the Gospels and Acts, the Pentateuch and the Psalms), is a “must see” for those who have the opportunity to be in Minnesota. The organizers, however, expect the exhibit to travel and are considering invitations from New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle. Those who cannot see the exhibit in person can follow the project by checking the official website http://saintjohnsbible.org. Additionally, it should be noted that The Liturgical Press publishes two books based on the project: Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John’s Bible by Christopher Calderhead and Gospels and Acts by Donald Jackson. Those wanting to see the process of creating a manuscript Bible in modern times should obtain the 49-minute DVD produced by 3BM Television for BBC Wales and Saint John’s University entitled The Illuminator and a Bible for the 21st Century.

Report by Donald Dean Smeeton.