Don't ask me why "fragments" is in scare quotes.
Tour includes other ancient biblical texts drawn from private collections
Sunday, May 23, 2004
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A remarkable array of ancient and antique biblical texts, including four fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, will be on exhibit at the Monroeville ExpoMart from Friday through June 20.
And it's generating more controversy:
Ronald Tappy, professor of Bible and archaeology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was disturbed that a Web site belonging to one of the show's chief sponsors sells panels cut from 400-year-old Torah scrolls.
Joel Lampe, the co-curator who operates the rare Bible dealership at www.greatsite.com, said the scrolls were badly damaged in a fire more than a century ago and are beyond restoration.
"We are the largest restorers of biblical materials in the world," he said of his family's business at the The Bible Museum in Goodyear, Ariz. They create whole Bibles from damaged rare texts and sell only pages and panels left over from the restoration process, he said.
Tappy, who has a similar Torah scroll at his Bible Lands Museum, compared it to smashing an ancient jug missing its handles and selling the shards. "There is something unseemly about selling it, even if it is just a fragment," he said.
But those academic debates will probably mean little to most people who tour the exhibit. The highlight will be what Biondi says are the only four biblical fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls in the United States.
The scrolls, which most scholars believe were copied by a Jewish sect between about 100 B.C. and 68 A.D., were discovered in caves by Bedouin shepherds in 1947. There are scholarly debates about why they were stored in the cave and about the beliefs of those who stored them. But to the show's curators they are primarily a testimony to reliability of the Hebrew text as it was transmitted over the ages.
There's an update on the lawsuit in Akron, Ohio, too:
The show has had a somewhat troubled history of its own.
It toured several southern and midwestern cities as "From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book." Then a collector who was a partner in the exhibit, William Noah, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., sued two other collector-partners, Biondi and Bruce Ferrini, of Bath, Ohio, over financing. The suit forced the exhibit into involuntary bankruptcy, and a trustee was appointed to sort through the competing claims.
Biondi said he was no longer involved in the suit and that Noah and Ferrini were not involved in the reconstituted exhibit. The trustee, lawyer Kathryn Belfance, of Akron, Ohio, was unaware of the Monroeville exhibit until a reporter called. She said she could not be sure whether it violated any court injunction.
"I don't know what assets they are using," she said. Unpaid bills remain from a March exhibit in Akron, which drew 2,000 visitors daily and had a gift shop that made "tons of money," she said.
There are also photos of a scroll fragment under regular light, when the writing is unreadable, and under infrared light, which makes the letters clearly visible.