I’ve recently been doing some research on a few early Christian books that were on the antiquities market about a decade ago. There are a lot of interesting stories here. We’re all pretty familiar with the collection now known as the Museum of the Bible, which really got going in 2009. Part of its public debut was the traveling “Passages” exhibition, which I have discussed earlier on this blog. The “Passages” exhibition itself seems in some ways to have been built in the mold of an earlier road show of biblical antiquities, “Ink & Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible.” The “Ink & Blood” undertaking has been discussed at length by Roberta Mazza in her article on P.Oxy. 15.1780 (a.k.a. P39), a fragmentary leaf from a large-format papyrus codex containing the Gospel According to John. (P.Oxy. 15.1780 was one of the “distribution papyri” given away by the Egypt Exploration Fund in exchange for financial support at some point around 1922 to 1924. The papyrus ended up on the antiquities market and found its way to the “Ink & Blood” display.)
“Ink & Blood” involved a number of early Jewish and Christian manuscripts, and was organized by William H. Noah, a medical doctor with an interest in meeting “a huge need within churches as well as the general public to know the true story of Bible transmission.” “Ink & Blood” seems to have gotten underway in 2004, but activity associated with the exhibition trailed off in 2009, just as the Green Collection and the “Passages” exhibition got rolling. So, when I visited what had been the basically dormant “Ink & Blood” website a couple days ago, I was surprised to see this:
That the tour will resume in 2020 is interesting in light of its similarity to the “Passages” and Museum of the Bible displays (“Dead Sea Scroll” fragments of dubious provenance, historical printed Bibles, a working model of a Gutenberg press, etc.). Indeed, at least one of the pieces that the new website lists under the “About the Exhibition” tab actually now belongs to the Museum of the Bible. The aforementioned P.Oxy. 15.1780 was purchased by the Green Collection and is now on display in the Museum of the Bible. Nevertheless, the “Ink & Blood” display is still said to include “the P39.”
Under the tab for “The Collection,” however, there is a sampling of the artifacts included in the display that appears to be more up to date. P39 is not present on this page, and there are a couple other notable absences when this list is compared with an earlier description of the exhibit from late 2004. One of the other pieces that will apparently no longer be part of the tour is the so-called “Marzeah papyrus,” a piece of papyrus with Hebrew writing said to date to the 7th century BCE, but now widely regarded as a forgery. Other items, such as the papyrus fragment of Exodus for which I was searching were also missing. I believe both of those particular pieces were associated with the dealer Bruce Ferrini (of “Gospel of Judas” infamy), who was also involved in the original “Ink & Blood” exhibition. In any event, I’ll be curious to see what the new incarnation of the exhibit involves.