May 13, 2013 Updated: May 13, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In 1892, Scottish twins and biblical scholar-adventurers Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis crossed the Egyptian desert on camels to reach St. Catherine's Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai. There, they were shown to a secret closet that contained chests filled with ancient texts that would prove vital to understanding the history and evolution of the New Testament.
By the mid-19th century, much of what remained of the world's biblical writings and artifacts had been liberated from timeworn resting spots, scattered wide or lost to the ages. In Egypt, though, Lewis was able to buy a page of what came to be known as the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a palimpsest, or recycled and overwritten manuscript, with original Aramaic text dating to the 4th century A.D.
That leaf of parchment, later united with 136 other pages to form the Codex, represents 'one of the earliest near complete Bibles, ' said Jerry Pattengale, a biblical scholar, historian and executive director of the research arm of The Green Collection, the world's largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts. 'It's in Aramaic, in the same dialect that Jesus would have spoken. '
The murky provenance of the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, which came to rest for a time at Westminster College in Cambridge, ended in 2010, when Hobby Lobby president Steve Green bought it for his new and fast-growing collection of biblical antiquities.
'Once we found out that the Codex Climaci Rescriptus was being sold, we were immediately interested. Knowing its significance, we knew it was an opportunity we had to pursue, ' said Green, who was interested in the Codex for his 'ultimate museum ' and as a project for the Green Scholars Initiative research team.
'We felt that through new light scanning technology, more of the underlying text could be discovered. '
The Codex, along with 450 rare and one-of-a-kind items from the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox faith traditions, will go on display as part of a nonsectarian, interactive exhibit on the Bible opening this week in Colorado Springs. 'Passages: The Bible Experience ' takes over a 40,000-square-foot space inside the vacant Rustic Hills Hobby Lobby on Thursday for a nine-month run.
'We had a lot of interest in (bringing the exhibit to) Colorado Springs from a lot of different ministries, ' said Green, whose father founded the chain of arts-and-crafts stores in 1972. 'We happened to have space in an old Hobby Lobby location, so we thought it would be a great opportunity. '
The living-history exhibit sets out to chronicle the narrative story behind the Bible - the most-debated, banned, best-selling book of all time - from ancient to modern times.
'This is a book that almost everybody in America owns, but we're also pretty ignorant of it, ' Green said. 'In just about every area of our lives, this book has had an impact, in ways that we don't even understand today. '
Antiquities on display include the world's largest private collection of Jewish scrolls, including fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, a portion of a Gutenberg Bible and full working press, and examples of the early writings of Christian reformist Martin Luther.
Other highlights include a third-century text that is the earliest known document from the Book of John and a copy of the 1782 Aitken Bible, the first English-language Bible printed in the U.S. and endorsed by Congress. The exhibit also features interactive, information-dispensing holograms and animatronic versions of historical figures, including Saint Jerome and William Tyndale.
'You see the earliest scriptures of the Old Testament and walk around the corner and you see one of the earliest scriptures of the New Testament and you walk around the next corner and you see the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, ' Pattengale said. 'We've had huge crowds whenever we've taken just a few of these items. '
Visitors can view a page of the Codex through a multispectral imaging lens that allows them to see the undertext.
'You actually see the technology unmasking these top layers of text. It's sort of like the movie 'National Treasure,' except it's real, ' Pattengale said.
The exhibit was previously on long-term display in Oklahoma City, Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta and the Vatican.
'When we were at the Vatican, one of the cardinals . told us it's the first time an outside person has had an exhibit in the Vatican about the Bible, ' Pattengale said.
Last year, the Green family bought a building near the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with plans to open a permanent national Bible museum crafted around the 40,000-plus antiquities from the Green Collection.
The museum is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017.
'We made the first acquisition in November of 2009, with a dream of having a Bible museum, not knowing that it would escalate as it has, ' Green said. 'I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for residents of Colorado Springs to come and see something that you would otherwise have to travel the world to see the equivalent of. '
'Passages ' runs through January at 3979 Palmer Park Blvd. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.explore passages.com or call 888-297-8011.
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364