The Vatican Library is one of the world's great repositories of precious written materials. The treasures are shrouded by suspicion and conspiracy theories that are fostered by a popular, if not accurate, view of the Catholic Church. The inner bowels of the recently refurbished library are filled with endless stacks of the most precious religious tomes, off-limits to most.
Now imagine a private collection of ancient manuscripts and rare books, based in Oklahoma City, Okla., and owned by an American Protestant family, partnering with the Vatican to host an international exhibit on the Bible in St. Peter's Square. The exhibit is called Verbum Domini and it will run at the Braccio di Carlo Magno, just steps from St. Peter's Basilica, from March 1 to April 15.
The relevant details are even more startling. The Green Collection, presently based in America's Protestant Bible belt, is just over 2 years old. The ever-growing collection currently has some 50,000 items and constitutes the largest and most significant collection of ancient biblical and biblically related artifacts, scrolls, manuscripts and rare books in private hands in the world. The collection has been orchestrated by the Green family, owners of the American-based Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain. Known for their public faith, it should be no surprise that the Greens would have an interest in collecting Bibles and biblical artifacts. After all, people collect things they are passionate about.
The Green Collection is destined to find its permanent home in a non-sectarian museum that takes a scholarly approach to the most popular, most controversial, most influential, best-selling book of all time -- the Bible -- and its related items. While seeking a permanent location, The Green Collection also has a 450-item traveling exhibition called Passages that is presently on display in Atlanta through April 15. Both the Passages and Verbum Domini exhibits display the items in immersive, interactive exhibits. For more information visit ExplorePassages.com and VerbumDominiRome.com.
Verbum Domini is a display of more than 150 items of great historical significance, two-thirds of which come from The Green Collection. The balance comes from significant private collections throughout the world. The exhibit celebrates interfaith contributions to the composition, preservation, adornment and study of the Bible. While it is easy to think of all that divides Jews, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Protestants, they all share a common ground in Scripture. God's Word is not the possession of the Catholic Church or evangelical Protestants, but is shared equally by all who appreciate it.
The name Verbum Domini, meaning "the Word of the Lord," was recently used in an historic work by Pope Benedict XVI calling on Catholics to read and meditate on Scripture. The exhibit contains an array of priceless, little-known treasures preserved by collectors of all faiths, although none of the items were borrowed from the vast collection of the Vatican Library or Museum. It provides a refreshing view of the interaction between Jews and Christians. The exhibit tells the story of the composition and preservation of the Bible, under the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica, using items that even the Vatican has never seen.
Verbum Domini underscores the importance of The Green Collection and private repositories. It shows that the preservation of the Bible, much like its survival throughout the ages, is alive and well in private hands. The exhibit provides a refreshing take on a book that is often equated with division and controversy. Verbum Domini also shows the foresight and magnanimity of the Vatican Library -- and the Vatican itself -- to allow such an exhibition in St. Peter's Square at a time when millions will be visiting Rome.
Ironically, the day that Verbum Domini opens in Vatican City, an exhibit by the Vatican Library on secret papal archives will open in Rome. I guess the secret is finally out: Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians can finally come together and share their love for the Word of God and honor those who have preserved it over the ages for that very purpose.
Dr. Scott Carroll is director of The Green Collection. One of the world's foremost scholars on ancient and medieval manuscripts, he has scoured the world over--from the hallowed halls of Cambridge to the remotest parts of inner China--to create the world's largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts. Carroll has research appointments at Baylor University and Tyndale House, Cambridge.