Marking the history of Scripture, Treasures of the Bible: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Beyond offers visitors a window into the ancient past. Engage in thousands of years of history as you behold rare biblical treasures, including Dead Sea Scroll fragments, a Gutenberg Bible leaf, original Barker edition King James Bibles, and more.*
Among the many compelling items on display, here are 10 of the extraordinary artifacts you won’t want to miss:
For a listing of all the artifacts featured at the exhibition, view the artifacts index.
Dead Sea Scroll fragments (ca. 50 BC)
Considered one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves of Qumran, east of Jerusalem, some 2,000 years after they were written. Uncovered between 1947–56, these manuscripts—written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—represent the oldest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures, and provide a testament to the accuracy of the Bible.
In 2009, Azusa Pacific University acquired five Dead Sea Scroll fragments containing text from the biblical books of Leviticus and Daniel, two from the book of Deuteronomy, and one unidentified, perhaps from Exodus. Joining the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, APU becomes one of only three higher educational institutions in the country to own fragments of these ancient biblical manuscripts.
Greek Gospels Codex (11th century)
Around the first century AD, Roman bookmakers began stitching manuscript pages together, replacing the scrolls and wax tablets of earlier times. By the end of the second century, the codex—the ancient forerunner of the modern-day book—had become the exclusive format for Christian Scriptures.
But a single codex usually proved unable to accommodate the full extent of the Old Testament or New Testament. So, from late antiquity through the medieval era, each codex typically contained only a portion of the Bible, such as the Psalter, the Gospels, or the letters of Paul. An example is the Greek Gospels Book, which was likely used in the churches of Southern Italy. Its text is earlier than the modern convention of chapter and verse divisions.
Latin (Vulgate) Illuminated Bible Leaves (12th–15th century)
During medieval times, the beginnings of chapters of Christian manuscripts were often distinguished by the embellishment of initial letters with precious paints and sometimes images. The intent was to fill the reader with wonder and awe befitting the sacra pagina (“sacred page”) of Scripture. Through the reflection of color and light, the worshiper could absorb into the soul the meaning of the work in accordance with traditional meditative modes of reading Scripture known as lectio divina. Illuminated Jewish and Christian biblical manuscripts represent some of the finest artwork and craftsmanship ever produced.
Gutenberg Bible (ca. 1455)
The invention of the printing press radically changed Bible production. Around 1440, German craftsman Johannes Gutenberg created a mechanized method of printing from moveable type using metal molds, a special press, and linseed oil-based inks. The process made mass production and marketing of Bibles and other books possible for the first time.
This folio-sized Bible, printed around 1455, represents the beginning of a new era. Of the 180 copies of this large-format, two-volume Latin Bible made, only about 50 still exist. The Gutenberg Bible was meant for public reading and is legible from about three feet away. Considering its large format and text size as well as the fact that its numbers were written as words rather than Roman digits, it is likely that the text was meant to be read aloud. The Gutenberg Bible also included blank areas on many pages for hand-painted illumination as was common for high-quality Bibles of the time. Gutenberg clearly attempted to produce a Bible for the people as a superior-quality lectern Bible for use in monasteries and the households of nobility.
Complutensian Polyglot Bible (1521)
The Biblia Complutensis appeared as the first printed polyglot (multi-language) Bible. Publisher Cardinal Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros commissioned the best Jewish and Greek scholars of the time and secured the most reliable manuscripts possible, including many from the Vatican library, for this endeavor.
The project represented a remarkable typesetting achievement that took 15 years to complete, resulting in 600 copies printed on paper. This six-volume Bible features the Old Testament in Hebrew text, the Vulgate (Latin Bible) text, and the Greek Septuagint text (with interlinear literal Latin translation), plus Aramaic Targum texts (and attendant Latin translation) for the Pentateuch. Parallel columns featured the Greek and Vulgate texts in the New Testament. This polyglot Bible stands as a scholarly edition aimed at restoring original texts and comparison of the earliest translations.
Luther Bible (1534)
In the midst of the Protestant Reformation, despite the fact that 18 printed German Bibles already existed, Luther published his own translation of the New Testament in 1522. Luther’s use of the Greek New Testament text, instead of the Latin, helped him realize that a relationship to God is not a matter of objective management, but rather a subjective personal approach that begins with repentance and is followed by faith.
Every page reflects Luther’s fluent literary style, featuring carefully selected vocabulary that is as nonparochial and as mainstream as possible. By virtue of its easily understood German and its clear, open-print format, the Luther Bible aimed at maximum accessibility to Scripture. Printed and reprinted over and over again in editions of thousands of copies, it ultimately became an authoritative text in its own right, the accepted norm for the Lutheran community.
Tyndale New Testament (1534)
William Tyndale, an Oxford-trained priest who converted to Protestantism, was responsible for the first English translation of the New Testament rendered from the Greek. This pocket-sized edition circulated rapidly, raising red flags for secular and church authorities alike who feared the potential for heresy and rebellion should Protestantism find a footing on English soil.
Tyndale was publically executed by strangulation and burning for heresy in 1536. His literary masterpiece had an immense impact on the English language through subsequent English translations. Like Luther, Tyndale’s genius lay in his biblical language proficiency combined with his mastery in crafting the vernacular of his day.
Geneva Bible (1607 printing)
Fleeing England during the Catholic rule of Mary I, many Protestant scholars sought refuge in Geneva. There they began work on a new English translation of the whole Bible from the original languages. A New Testament appeared in 1557, and in 1560, the complete Bible went to press in Geneva, giving the translation its popular name, “Geneva Bible.” In 1558, Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, and the Protestant English Bible found a welcome. Despite the fact that the Geneva Bible never received royal sanction, the endorsement it received from the general population established it overwhelmingly as the Bible of Elizabethan England.
Success came to the Geneva Bible largely because it differed from previous English Bibles in ways that mattered to readers. Its smaller size made it handier and more portable, and it featured clear, easily readable Roman type. A word or brief sentence at the top of each page noted the contents of that page, and several maps helped orient the reader to key biblical geography. Woodcut illustrations depicted the tabernacle and temple accouterments, and the biblical text had numbered verses for the first time in an English Bible. Versification proved helpful for reference study of the Bible with concordances and marginal cross-references. With literacy sharply rising, the Geneva Bible immediately appealed to the people of England.
Rheims Catholic New Testament (1582)
In 1570, Oxford-trained priest Gregory Martin joined other Elizabethan Catholic exiles at the English Roman Catholic College at Rheims in France to freely practice his faith. Martin began translating the Vulgate (Latin Bible) New Testament into English, consulting also the Greek text and other vernacular versions. He completed the Rheims New Testament just before he died in 1582; by 1609, the Old Testament was finally ready.
By this point, the college had moved to Douay, and so the first Catholic Bible in English came to be known as the Douay-Rheims, or simply the Douay Bible. Just as the Protestant vernacular versions produced in exile included commentary to advance the Reformation cause, the Douay-Rheims Bible included lengthy annotations to its Vulgate-based translation seeking to support Catholicism from Scripture. Born in this “battle of the Bibles,” the Douay-Rheims translation endured as the basis for English-language Catholic Bibles for nearly four centuries.
King James Bible (1611)
In 1604, Church leaders decided that a new Bible translation was needed to replace the academically inadequate Bishops’ Bible used at the time. Various translation teams comprised of some 50 scholars came together and labored for seven years. The new translation was ideal for public liturgical reading. But some time would pass before it became the favored Bible of the English-speaking people.
By 1750, the English-speaking world fully accepted the King James Bible and many considered it a great work of literature. High esteem of this particular version of the Bible continued until well into the 20th century. Like Luther’s Bible for German, many consider the King James Bible a treasure of English in its own right. Today, it is the best-known, most-published, and most widely distributed book in the English language.
*The collection of artifacts may change without notice.