Inside Texas Tech: The Evolution of the Bible

Nov 2, 2018

If you like art and you like history, you can enjoy both at an exhibit in the Museum of Texas Tech University. It’s called the “Premodern Bible, From the Dead Seas Scrolls to the Complutensian Polyglot Bible,” and represents the largest collection of original and facsimile biblical manuscripts ever assembled in West Texas.

John Howe, co-curator of the exhibition and a professor of history at Texas Tech, says visitors can learn much about the Bible and its iterations through the years.

“This is not a theology presentation, this is a public university. What we are presenting is not a deductive presentation from the word of god down. What we are presenting from the standpoint of history and from art history is the materials that have been left behind that were very important for the development of culture. And also, from the point of view of art history, there’s a lot of pretty stuff,” Howe says.

The various presentations show the evolution of the physical Bible, the progress in methods of analyzing it, and how it was refined through the years to convey the teachings within to those with limited literacy. 

The Bible wasn't always the one that they know now

"The Bible wasn’t always the one that they know now, and I think they’ll learn a lot from this,” says Janis Elliott, a co-curator with Howe and associate professor in art history at Texas Tech. “We have examples going back to the Dead Sea Scrolls for example and looking at how it was written and started out in Hebrew and Greek and had to be translated and there’s always something lost in translation. So then the scholars of the middle ages are trying to find, get to the source, what’s the real translation of the Bible. It was a huge effort for thousands of years.”

Elliott says formats, manners of interpretation and ways of presentation of Biblical texts have changed over the millennia.

The exhibition looks at how the material Bible came to exist as it does today. And it also shows the refinement of scholarship of the pre-modern Bible and how it touches today’s academic practices.

“A lot of what was developed in terms of footnotes or glosses or commentaries or critical study, or attempts to go back to the original linguistic sources—these are the basic tools of intellectual life today,” Howe says. “And modern scholars at places like Texas Tech are heirs of people back centuries who developed ways of critically approaching text, trying to find out their meaning and truth. So, it’s still a story that’s part of us today.”

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The exhibition’s highlight is the Complutensian Polyglot Bible. Its pages are laid out to include bible passages in four languages. Four columns reveal Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Aramaic. It was created at a university in north-central Spain at the end of the Middle Ages, in 1520.

That same university was the inspiration for architect William Ward Watkin. He modeled Texas Tech’s first building – the Administration Building - after the Spanish university’s design.

Howe says that makes the exhibition a local story of sorts. “The long-term reason is really that as we are now designated a hispanic serving institution, this is really a chance to show off an aspect of the Hispanic heritage as well. Some of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Complutense Polyglot Bible relates to the same northern Spanish area that a produced the Spanish revival architecture for Texas Tech. So this is a local story too and fun to tell,” Howe says.

Many of the manuscripts in the exhibition are facsimiles because manuscripts that are real are unique and too precious to travel. Included in the exhibition are piece from Texas Tech, Baylor Abilene Christian and Western Michigan universities.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Helen Jones Foundation, a Civic Lubbock Cultural Arts Grant, and Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition runs through March 3.