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Nominal Me

I'm falling in love with my camera and taking photos everywhere I go. That, combined with my passions for politics, sports, religion and other things we all agree on, makes this blog persist.

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Location: Astoria, New York, United States

I'm born in Manhattan and raised in Queens.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ink & Blood in St. Petersburg, FL (Part II)

In the first part of my review of the Ink & Blood exhibit at the Florida International Museum, I covered the origins of writing and showed examples of the earliest Old Testament texts. In this post I'll get into the early development of the New Testament.

While Jewish communities in 1st century A.D. were solidifying procedures to organize and preserve their texts, the Christian movement was just beginning to figure out what to do with theirs. Since Christians were likely spending most of their time avoiding being lion food, and many texts were likely destroyed, early drafts of Christian works have been thus far impossible to find.

One of the key texts we have is the Oxyrinchus Papyrus (photo above), also known as P39. This fragment of the Gospel of St. John is one of the earliest examples of New Testament writing, dated at Third Century A.D. It is also one of the oldest known texts to have page numbers included in it.

Attitudes toward Christians changed with the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who would endorse the church. It was his desire that clergy not be distracted by secular work, and so they were provided legal immunities and monetary support. Soon after, a profession and hierarchy developed. This had a dramatic effect on the production and availability of the Bible.

It also established clear rules and guidelines on how Bibles were to be made, and many would die for the right of changing them.

With a church structure forming, the next major phase of the Bible as we know it came in the form of the Greek language Bible called the Septuagint (LXX). The name (Lain for "seventy") derives from a legend that 70 scholars from the 12 tribes of Israel translated the first five books from Hebrew in 70 days under the the impetus of the Greek king Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt.

However, Ink & Blood notes, the northern tribes were dispersed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and only three tribes were present in Palestine in the 3rd Century. Most scholars, according to the information provided in the exhibit, believe that the work was done by Greek-speaking Jews in the Alexandria, Egypt.

This is a fragment showing Exodus 12:3-6 from Fourth Century A.D.:
Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.
I love lamb. Mmmmm. Oh wait...the Bible...

It is here that the exhibit notes that the word "testament" comes from the Latin word testamenum, meaning "covenant". This is in relation to Jesus bringing the "new covenant" to the Jews and Gentiles alike. Ergo, "New Testament".

Later on in the exhibit, Bibles from the "dark" and middle ages were on display (not pictured). They were beautiful, but only the very rich could afford them. A Medieval Bible required the skins of 50 to 70 sheep to produce enough parchment and took nearly a year to copy. According to the exhibit, Bibles were so rare that many priests of the time had never read or even seen one. These versions of the Bible were called Latin Vulgate translations. As the power of the Catholic church grew, Greek was phased out as the language of the literate and educated in the West.

In 1181 Archbishop Stephen Langdon, who became one of the principal authors of the Magna Carta, added yet another major contribution to the Bible: chapter divisions. We still rely on much of his work today, as it's hard to find John 3:16 without it (although he didn't think of adding the verse numbers).

Over time, the Western and Eastern churches split over language and doctrine, and developed its own sense of religious scholarship and art. Above is a 13th Century Monastic Byzantine Leaf that demonstrates the Eastern brand of faith.

The Bibles of the wealthy became more ornate, like this Armenian Canon table of about 1040 A.D. This was, of course, long before the Turks would try to wipe away the Armenian culture and civilization in the name of Islam.

The next major advancement in the Bible came from a critic of the Catholic church, John Wycliffe, who dared for the first time to print a Bible in the "vile" English language. Only Latin was allowed.

The year 1401 marked the enactment of the statute De Heretico Comburendo, "all heretics must be burned". The Lollards, those who promoted the use of English Bibles and other new ideas, were doing so under penalty of death. It is partly why the exhibit at the Florida International Museum is called "Ink and Blood". Wycliffe, a leader of the Lollards, would be considered an enemy of the church.

Wycliffe's theological doctrines and his translated New Testament, made in 1400-1425 in Oxford, England so angered the church that after he died his bones were dug up on the order of the Pope and burned 44 later.

Through this time, all Bibles were translated and copied by hand. These disputes were matters of the wealthy and educated elite. Few Christians could ever hope to read the Bible on their own, giving the various churches a lot of power on how people could think and what they would do.

Things would change, however, and our culture and society would evolve with the invention of the printing press.