Last night, I sat in the beautiful sanctuary of Trinity United Methodist Church next door to the Museum of Idaho. The auditorium was full. In a short hour and a half, the founder and curator of the Ink & Blood exhibit, Dr. William Noah amiably lectured to his audience on the topic, “Dead Sea Scrolls to the King James Bible.”
Don’t mistake him for having a Ph.D. in biblical archaeology, Hebrew paleontology, or church history. He is an intensive-care unit surgeon (instrumental in setting up centers for lung disease and sleep disorders), practicing in Nashville, Tennessee, to which my wife, a registered nurse at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, responded to the news back at home, “That’s cool!” Besides having an extensive knowledge in the history of the Bible, I wonder if Bill knows all the intricacies of HCA that once controlled the main hospital in the region here in Idaho.
After a couple good personal talks with Bill (at the museum and then at the Methodist building before his presentation last night) I can express how much I appreciate his love for God. There is a message from Christ in John’s Gospel that we powerfully share in common—“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. . . . And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Above the denominational doctrine and systematic theology, Bill is convinced that people who are the Lord’s sheep will hear His voice. And people that hear His voice will die to themselves and bear fruit—everlasting, life-giving fruit.
David Pennock, executive director for the Museum of Idaho, gave a nice introduction to Bill and thanked the Methodist church for hosting this series of lectures.
Bill started out his lecture, “I have a speech impediment. I am from Tennessee.”
And with Idaho Falls being the fifth venue (if I remember correctly) for this incredible exhibit, Bill transparently responded, “My first thought?
Idaho? Well, David, Nick Gailey (Program Director), and the staff of the Museum of Idaho deserve a big congratulations for bringing this to a town of 50,000 people.”
Here are some of the highlights of Bill’s lecture, minus the dazzling, color slides that he showed of what will be in the Ink & Blood exhibit at the museum:
Ta Biblia – “Many Books Become One”
(1) Torah Scroll – 18th century, (2) Parisian Bible – 13th Century (contained chapters), (3) Geneva Bible – 1560 (introduced English verse references)
You can’t ignore that the Bible is the central item of Western Civilization. How can you take a Western Civilization class without talking about the Bible? When professors cry, “We need to keep it academic – that is hogwash!” Craig Salazar, the chief operating officer of Ink & Blood illustrates it this way, “Teaching western civilization without talking about the Bible is like teaching the history of the automobile without mentioning Henry Ford.”
Now, Jesus didn’t read out of the KJV. He used scrolls. Each synagogue had a library. He was handed the scroll from Isaiah. And Luke’s Gospel records Him reading from Isaiah 61. Can you see Jesus turning the knobs 23 feet to Isaiah 61? But as I believe He was all-powerful, perhaps the text was already there before Him.
Concerning Parisian Bibles, scribes meticulously copied. For Latin Bibles it would take 60 to 70 sheep to make a book; therefore, they were expensive. In this Parisian Bible, ca. 1250, there are chapter divisions.
The Geneva Bible was printed on paper, it is in English where the common man could read. The English world became literate during the 16th & 17th centuries. Families taught their kids English from the Bible. So whether you are Methodist, LDS, or Catholic, this history of the Bible and learning English is something that ties us together.
Oldest Known Writings in the World
(1) Pictographic Writing – “Writing began as pictures more than 5000 years ago in ancient Sumer, or what is now modern-day Iraq. The oldest known examples of writing incorporate a script dated before 3000 B.C. that communicated ideas, not sounds. These primitive “letters,” called pictographs, were etched with a metal or wood stylus into soft clay. Then the clay tablets were placed in the sun or an oven until hardened” (Commemorative Exhibit Catalogue, 8).
(2) The Marzeah Papyrus – 700-600 BC
The first alphabet was Canaanitic. Semitic languages descended. The Marzeah Papyrus is the oldest surviving piece of Canaanitic language (early paleo-Hebrew) on papyri. It is not a biblical document, but you will see the biblical words, Marzeah and Elohim.
In this juncture in the lecture, Bill discussed the two Hebrew letters, Aleph and Bet. He talked about early Hebrew expressed as pictures (9th century) compared to the later squared (2nd century) script. He mentioned there are six texts in the earliest Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In later days in Europe, the anti-Semitism took us to Greek culture rather than Hebrew. He pointed out that in joining the two Hebrews letters, we get Ab. Abba means authority in the house. (Of course, he then threw in the southern joke of where is that to be found. If a man is alone out in the woods expressing an opinion, he is still wrong. Right?! J)
Dead Sea Scrolls
1. They are the oldest pieces of the Bible.
Every OT book is expressed among the Dead Sea Scrolls except the book of Esther.
2. They validate the Hebrew scriptures as the single, most accurate preserved text of antiquity. Nothing else is even close.
Compare the Isaiah B scroll with the Isaiah Masoretic Text. They are almost identical.
Of course, this is not all—Jeremiah is shorter. But remember, you will find less than 40% correlation between Shakespeare writings.
3. They are the founding documents of the nation of Israel. They testify to the existence of Jewish people on the land. And even though most everything is in pieces, it is invaluable. We would still preserve and revere the U.S. constitution even if it was in pieces.
In the museum, there will be tiny fragments from Isaiah 26:19-27:1 (200-100 BC), Jeremiah 48:29-31, and Genesis Midrash (200-100 BC). Actually, the data from these pieces were published just two years ago.
Bill also told the fascinating story about Professor Sukenik, an orthodox Jew who had just examined the oldest known copy of Isaiah, and on that very night, heard from dancing women in the streets that the UN voted to make
Israel a nation. The date was November 29, 1947.
“Under their greatest king, Alexander IV (355-323 B.C.), the Greeks conquered much of the region now called the Middle East, and Greek (Hellenic) influence spread. Many Jews became Hellenized and lost their knowledge of Hebrew. The need arose for the Jewish Scriptures to be translated into Greek language. Thus the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called Septuagint, appeared. The name, meaning ‘seventy,’ derives from a legend that seventy scholars from the twelve tribes of Israel translated the first five books in seventy days under the impetus of the Greek king Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt. However, most scholars actually believe Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, performed the translation between the third and first centuries B.C.” (Commemorative Exhibit Catalogue, 20).
In the museum, there will be Septuagint fragments from Exodus 3:16-4:3, Exodus 12:30-41, Exodus 11:7-11:10 & 12:3-12:6, and Leviticus 27. The Greek text is older than the MT. And the science of textual criticism causes us to return to the original text. Textual criticism is a good thing.
The Early Christian Era
The museum will contain the Gospel of John 8:14-22 (Oxyrhynchus Papyrus [P39] 3rd Century AD) from an early codex. A codex was a book with helpful features: bound on one end, a cover to protect, the ability to write on both sides of the paper, and to hide under your arm for concealment during times of persecution.
This Oxyrhynchus Papyrus, recovered from the buried rubbish in the sand, is unique. It is the oldest known document that has a page number, “74”.
Bill then jumped into a discussion on Diocletian, Constantine the Great (280-337 AD), and Theodosius. The Commemorative Exhibit Catalogue states, “The fourth century brought a great swing of the pendulum in the Roman Empire. The century began with the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian, but ended with Emperor Theodosius I (379-395 A.D.) declaring Christianity the sole legal religion. The shift in power from the state to the church began with Constantine, but it was Theodosius I’s submission to Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan (339-397 A.D.), that completed the great shift. As the Western Roman Empire fell, the authority that once belonged to the Western Roman state merely transferred to the Bishop of Rome.”
The Latin Period
It was a bureaucracy for the next 1200 years. Latin replaces Greek. Jerome translates the Bible into Latin at the end of the 4th century. It became the Bible of Western Europe. There wasn’t much development during the dark ages. You would find a gospel book, a Pentateuch, a Psalter. The Bible would be a stack of books about this high. But universities began in the 14th century, Paris, Oxford, etc. Books were put into historical order so that students could study. Bookstores were churning (as fast as scribes can copy) out the books across Notre Dame. Rather than the example of the Parisian Bible in the museum, the classic examples are smaller, much more compact, less rubrication. The one in the exhibit is more ornate.
You will also see the Guise Book of Hours, a schedule for prayers. Notice the veneration of Mary and the meditation on images and pictures. This is the height of the medieval theology. Cathedrals were ornate.
John Wyclif and the Lollards
The question became, “What does the text say?” John Wyclif (1330-1384) was an expert in every possible way on each subject that he wrote about. As he encouraged people to read and study the text, this became monumental.
The great schism was on. Two popes were trying to raise armies to overthrow each other. There was a major class war. Only the wealthy, educated could get to the Latin. Wyclif’s followers were Lollards, a Dutch slang word, meaning mutterers. They were the beginning of the middle class, helping Wyclif to educate the masses.
But many were slaughtered, hence, the Lollards Pit. Lollards Prison. In 1401, there is passed De Heretico Comburendo. What would be the heresy? Owning something in English. Pope Martin V commanded Wyclif’s bones to be dug up 42 years after he was dead and be burned.
Bill Noah talked about the unbelievable history of a Lollard living in later times, Richard H., working a shop near London Bridge, 100 years later after Wyclif. Very unusual in those days, He would share the gospel of Jesus in English. His daughter died at 2 weeks old. This guy pitted the authority of the king against the authority of the pope. In one Catholic mass, he was called a heretic. He responded back with charges of slander. The church authorities didn’t quite know what to do. One night in secret, they ran nails through his nose while he lay in jail. But he wouldn’t die so they wrenched his neck and hung him from a noose. But the blood trail showed this was a murder. Yet the Church tried him for heresy and suicide. His corpse was burned. This shows you how insane things were during that day.
During Gutenberg’s day, it was just another Latin Bible. His technology, not his Bible, changed the world. It was the greatest invention in the last 1000 years. At the museum, the first page of Psalms in the KJV and a page from the Latin Vulgate will be printed each day on a replica Gutenberg press.
The Return of Greek: Erasmus
Born as an illegitimate son of nun and a priest, Erasmus grew up to be a scholar and not very humble. He walked a fine line between heresy and being a good Catholic. He gave us the first Greek text, the first edition in 1516, followed by two more editions in 1519 and 1522. (These three editions you will see of five). Erasmus’ work provided the matches that Luther and Tyndale would use to start the fires of the Reformation.
“In 1516 a young German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther (1483-1546) began teaching that men and women are justified, or made right with God, by trusting only in Christ. This doctrine of justification by faith was based on Luther’s reading of Romans 1:17, which became the banner of the Reformation” (Commemorative Exhibit Catalogue, 43). Luther would be a great guy to meet. Sure, he had some problems as he got older. But wow. The 95 thesis. Reformation Day. His defense at Worms. Logic so impeccable. Scripture argument so profound. After his escape, he translated the Bible into German. Lutheran Bibles printed like mad under the protection of German princes.
Bill asked, “How many of you have ever heard of William Tyndale?” Most people’s hands went up. He joked, “Down South there would be only 10% that have heard of him, if they have heard, it is the publishing name on Left Behind book covers.”
He suffered martyrdom on Oct. 6, 1536.
Bill loves the man. In speaking of Tyndale’s book, Obedience of a Christian Man, Bill remarked, “This is my theology. It is fantastic. How can you disagree with it? He is so humble. Read the book.”
Tyndale translated into modern English, no more the rambling middle English. Latin is based on nouns. Greek is based on verbs. Latin could never make it in modern science. Tyndale brought to you modern English. How could anyone have more influence on you? And he is not even taught in English literary classes.
The KJV NT reflects 83% of Tyndale’s wording. His English is in 90% of the Geneva Bible.
The Coverdale, Matthews, and Great Bibles
Tyndale’s two apprentices – Miles Coverdale, and then the next year John Rogers, using the pen name, Matthews, finished their Bibles, utilizing Tyndales’ work.
John Rogers was burned at the stake by Bloody Mary. He had eleven kids. The story is powerful.
Bill skipped over this, running out of time.
The Geneva Bible
It was done under the persecution of Mary. Those that were persecuted, fled to Geneva, under John Calvin. The translators added the verses in English. It is 450 years old. Guess what the pilgrims brought here to America? To Jamestown? It is easier to read, flows smoother than the King James Bible. The problem with it was the commentary. It lashed out against the Roman church. They felt oppression. In the 1596 edition, here is an example of the strong language in the commentary, “The pope is a beast out of the pit of hell.”
The Response to the Geneva Bible
1568 Bishops Bible
Douai-Rheims – excellent translation
But you can see the Church’s bias in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.”
The King James Bible
The King James Bible is not authorized. And the King didn’t have anything to do with the translation. It was the 47 scholars. They plagiarized. End of story. Any questions?
The Bible in America
Eliot Indian Bible – first Bible printed on American soil.
The Sauer Bible – German
It was illegal to print an English Bible. America went to war with
Britain over more than just tea.
The Aitken Bible – Congress approved this on September 10, 1782.
You can see how Dr. William Noah quickly zipped through the last entries for the sake of time. But he did field some questions here at the end of his lecture. And let me express, that this blog venue is not verbatim of all that he spoke to us about the Ink & Blood exhibit last night.
One lady asked, “What about the NIV and NASV?”
Bill shared something like this, “They are just modern translations. Don’t confuse texts from translations. A translation enters in something. Go to the Greek and Hebrew. We have better texts today. Many of the modern Bible are not translated as well. There are literal translations and dynamic equivalent translations. The latter is not really a translation in my opinion, it is more a commentary, a “Nearly Inspired Version”. There are 280 to 290 translations in English, today. Why? It is all about money.” And then Bill used the illustration of the Southern Baptists’ copyright and how they didn’t want to be dishing out more money to the NIV copyright. He explained how you can’t earn a new copyright by just tweaking the King James Version of the Bible. Copyrights show control and generate money.
But he also mentioned, “The NT was written in Greek.” Don’t call the translators inspired.
Another lady asked, “Why did this exhibit come about?”
It all started by Bill’s desire to look to the evidence that might cut through the religious myths. As he gathered a little collection. People were interested. It took off from there. And he mentioned this in closing about the Ink & Blood exhibit, “It is not taught in most schools, universities, and in most seminaries.”