Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit coming
Negotiations finalizing visit to Springfield near completion
By W. K. Todd
June 28, 2005
SPRINGFIELD — It includes four papyrus fragments of a Greek Septuagint from the Book of Exodus dated to about 350 A.D. It includes the earliest witness to Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, on papyrus, in Coptic, dated to about 275 A.D. One might expect to find rare manuscripts of this caliber only on display at a major national museum. But, they are among dozens of items in a traveling display that track the history of the bible from its origins to its part in the founding of the United States.
The exhibit recently ended a stay in Paducah, Ky., and is headed to Spartanburg, S.C., where it will be from Sept. 16 until Oct. 30. Joel Lampe says curators have also completed negotiations and are awaiting signatures on a contract for a 2006 run in Springfield from March 9 through May 14 at the University Plaza Convention Center.
“We have everything from some fragments of Exodus from the Dead Sea Scrolls to an excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Colossians,” said co-curator Lee Biondi. “We have a letter from Thomas Jefferson that points to the Bible’s place in the founding of this nation.”
Biondi says the purpose of the traveling exhibit is to help explain how we got the Bible we read today. It’s also part of a mission to help visitors understand that the United States is truly a nation founded on Christian principles.
“For years the secular education system in this country has been misleading our children about the intent of our founding fathers,” Biondi observed. “In addition to tracking the origins of the Bible, this exhibit follows the Bible through history to America and clearly demonstrates this nation is a Christian nation. People didn’t come to this country to look for gold, they came to look for religious freedom.”
Biondi and others have been collecting and tracking the material for more than 20 years. Biondi can often be found at a table in the middle of the exhibition, along with his friend and co-curator Craig Lampe, casually chatting with visitors and answering questions one-on-one.
“This collection has been basically an endeavor of our entire adult lives,” Biondi explains, pointing to the displays. “We asked the question, ‘What did the Bible have to do with the founding of America?’ We then worked back through history. It is a dramatic story about how the Bible came into English. We just kept chasing it back and trying to get older and older material until some fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls became available. These are not reproductions; they are the real thing. This is literally the earliest scripture on the planet.”
Biondi jokingly notes that he is a rare book dealer, not a collector. He added, “A dealer is a collector who has learned discipline.” Biondi has put that discipline to good use, convincing several of his long-time customers to loan items from their private collections to round out the exhibit.
Biondi’s favorite item is a fragment of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It is also Lampe’s favorite artifact. Lampe has a Baptist background, but now attends an independent Bible church. He runs a Bible museum near his home in Goodyear, Ariz., where some of the displays normally reside. Lampe owns most of the historic European and American Bibles on exhibit. Biondi rounded out the collection by approaching private collectors he has assisted with purchases in the past.
Biondi has a home in Miami Beach where he attends Community Presbyterian Church. With a wry smile he explains, “Presbyterian is what you become when your father is a Catholic and your mother is a Baptist.” Biondi says playing a part in gathering the historic material has had a profound impact on his life.
“I can see back through my life where I was being led to help gather this collection and share it with others. We have a martyr’s Bible. Just knowing that someone died to preserve that Bible gives me a sense of reverence knowing I’m around it. God has definitely had a part in bringing this exhibit together and allowing me to be a part of it,” Biondi said.
Lampe says the whole goal of putting the exhibit together is to show the influence of the Bible and of Christianity on the founding fathers and how that threads through early American documents.
“It shows how God has visibly, demonstrably, brought His Word from antiquity to America. The documents speak for themselves. This country is founded on Christian principles by Christians. It is time that we fight back against the humanist, revisionist effort to teach our kids otherwise,” Lampe said.
During part of the stay the exhibit will feature talks by Frank Seekins, author of Hebrew Word Pictures – The Gospel in Ancient Hebrew. Seekins is a leader in ancient Hebrew studies, one of the four languages found within the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“Every letter is a picture and they start describing the meaning of the word,” Seekins said. “Father, for instance, is the strength of the leader of the house. Then, you go back to words that are older than Moses that clearly describe the gospel of Jesus. The word for religion is the door of the cross. Who could have written that before Jesus? It is not a dead language.”
Biondi says seeing people make a very quick connection to the ancient Hebrew is a rewarding part of the exhibit.
“Language is not my specialty. I’m just an expert in rare books and the manuscripts,” Biondi said. “But, when you look at the letters of the ancient Hebrew it’s uncanny how much they look like the English letters we use every day. It’s so clear you just see it as the revelation it is.”
In addition to Dead Sea Scroll fragments of the Old Testament and other important manuscripts uncovered at Qumran, the exhibit includes 5,000-year- old clay tablets from Mesopotamia; some early New Testament manuscripts, Medieval Biblical Manuscripts; as well as first editions of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and 1611 King James Bible.