ST. PETERSBURG – Here is a thought: The diffusion of information is the engine that drives the progress of civilization.
Now, imagine how many people picked up the newspaper today and read that statement. How long would it have taken to communicate that idea without the conduit of the printed word – how long would it have taken to convey the concept by word of mouth alone?
The self-guided “Ink & Blood: Sacred Treasures of the Bible” exhibit at Florida International Museum effectively illustrates the importance of written communication by tracing the history of the Bible. This unprecedented collection of artifacts includes Sumerian pictographic clay tablets dating back 5,000 years, ancient biblical manuscripts and authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
Perhaps the most important archeological find to date, the discovery of the 11 caves along the northern shore of the Dead Sea containing the oldest known biblical texts between 1947 and 1956 yielded a wealth of information. On first examination, however, the diminutive fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls showcased in the exhibit seem too small to be of any academic interest. One, a sliver from Jeremiah, is practically microscopic.
A video presentation nearby reveals that few intact scrolls were discovered and that most of the papyrus and leather documents found were similarly small fragments that had to be reconstructed. Archeologists have recovered 18,000 such pieces.
Also displayed is a large third-century fragment of the Gospel of John in large uncial Greek script, a rare remnant since few pieces of New Testament scripture from that era survived the Roman clampdown on Christianity. Such censorship and suppression through the ages resulted in the spilled blood that gives the exhibit half of its name.
Fast forward more than a thousand years to John Wyclif, an English critic of the Medieval Roman Church. Wyclif orchestrated the first English translation of the Bible, an example of which is on display. Hand-copied and illuminated texts, each Wyclif Bible took months to complete and a small herd of sheep to furnish an adequate supply of parchment. For all his contributions, Wyclif’s followers were persecuted and executed. Though Wyclif escaped their fate in life, more than 40 years after his death Pope Martin V branded him a heretic and had his remains exhumed, burned and tossed into the river Swift.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a replica of the Gutenberg press. Associate curator Rusty Maisel led a demonstration, highlighting the importance of the invention. Through it, books, including the Bible, became available to the masses. Ideas – be they theological, philosophical, scientific or literary – could be put into print more quickly and more reasonably, and then distributed to a much more diverse audience.
“Ink & Blood” brings to light the historical narrative of the Bible, from the development of written communication at the dawn of civilization down to the influence the Bible has on American society. Cost is $16 adults, $14 senior and military and $9 students. Children under 6 are free. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 6 p.m., with last admission at 5 p.m. daily.
FIM is at 244 Second St. in downtown St. Petersburg. Call 341-7900.