Tuesday, 12 December 2006

In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000 is an exhibition being staged at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C. (part of the Smithsonian Institute). The exhibition, which runs until 7 January, looks like a great experience and I envy those who will be able to go there to see the historical evidence behind what the gallery blurb calls "the best-selling book of all time".

An article written by Souren Melikian for the International Herald Tribune goes some way toward outlining the descent of written texts, but it's really quite difficult to follow. Possibly the exhibition catalogue would work. But I suspect that to explain this enormous subject meaningfully requires a monograph. All those scrolls, parchments, vellum sheets, translations and editions: two thousand years of scribal and bibliographical development would need a mighty tome of scholarship to adequately address. Certainly I would buy it if anyone were to make the effort to pull together into one volume all the work that has been performed on this tremendous subject.

Guest curator Michelle P. Brown says in a presentation that you can hear and read on the Web site:

And so in a way, people are having to revise their views all the time. And again, that can still make people uneasy. Are they going to find something that's going to challenge my belief and make me think about it in a different way? Well, they might. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls are showing that a lot of material is actually corroborating in different ways as well. But you have to be prepared to carry on being open to be pleasantly surprised and challenged by the material, because it undoubtedly has new things to tell us and always will.

Amen to that. I like how that word "challenged" is deployed to efficiently circumscribe adverse comment about the attitude that is reinforced by the kind of work she does. Secular scholarship rises up against the mindless devotion of the believer. Here we have managerialism where it is needed most: beside the pulpit. "Pleasantly surprised"? Many won't be. Imagine how the Saudi thought police would scream if someone tried to do this kind of work on their holy book.

Thanks to Chekhov's Mistress for the heads up.

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