About the Dunham Bible Museum

The Dunham Bible Museum had its beginnings in 1997, when Houston Baptist University purchased a collection of rare American Bibles and Christian books from Jonathan Byrd, an entrepreneur in Indiana, who had assembled his collection over a 30 year period. The collection includes first editions of significant 18th and 19th century American printings of Scripture. Included are the only existing copy of one of the oldest New Testaments in America, the Francis Bailey New Testament printed in 1780, and the 1782 Aitken Bible, the first English Bible printed in America. Also included are rare first American editions of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. In addition, a number of children’s hieroglyphic Bibles and schoolbooks by Noah Webster are among the rare volumes.

With the Byrd collection as a foundation, the University established the Bible in America Museum, housed in rooms in the University’s Moody Library. The University also bought a collection of framed Bible leaves illustrating American Bible production from the colonial period through the nineteenth century. In 2005, the Museum was renamed the Dunham Family Bible in America Museum, in honor of Archie Dunham and his major donation to the Museum.

As items were added, the Museum’s collection and exhibits expanded beyond America to include a broader chronological as well as geographical span. With the Museum’s move into the Morris Cultural Arts Center in 2008, the expansion of the Museum’s collection was reflected in its new name – the Dunham Bible Museum.

Brake-and-HellsternExhibits in the new facilities include items from the exquisite collections of Hellstern-Brake Collection  which Houston Baptist University acquired in 2010. These collections include papyrus pieces, scrolls and illuminated manuscripts, showing the Bible’s transmission from the earliest times up to John Wycliffe.  A working Gutenberg-style press brings to life the 15th century, and the message of the Reformation becomes more vibrant when viewing printed Bibles from that period, including the first edition of Erasmus’ printing of the Greek New Testament from 1516. The Brake/Hellstern collections also include the earliest  English Bibles, beginning with a 1536 New Testament, translated by William Tyndale.  A 1560 Geneva Bible and other forerunners of the 1611 King James Bible reinforce the story of personal sacrifice behind the preservation of the English Bible we so freely read today.  Here are links to more detailed descriptions of Dr. Donald Brake’s Collection, and to Dr. John Hellstern’s Collection, in the following categories- Manuscript through Early Printing; 17th Century; 18th century; 19th century, part 1 & part 2.  Dr. Brake has also written two books which highlight items in the Brake/Hellstern collections A Visual History of the King James Bible and A Visual History of the English Bible.

In 2015, Bill Chamberlin donated his extensive Bible collection to the Dunham Bible Museum. Chamberlin is the author of Catalogue of English Bible Translations: A Classified Bibliography of Versions and Editions, a bibliographical resource found in major libraries throughout the world. His collection of primarily English Bible translations includes volumes from the sixteenth century to the present.  Links to additional information about Mr. Chamberlin’s collection can be found here under the following categories: Online Bibles; Song Books, Prayer Books and Military Bibles; Miscellaneous English Bibles; Original languages.

A searchable catalogue of the entire collection is available online.

Houston Baptist University’s Dunham Bible Museum provides a unique educational opportunity for its students as well as the wider community. Exhibits, educational programs, and publications show the Bible’s influence and importance in history, government, education, literature, law, and culture. The Museum’s rare collection enables visitors, students, and scholars to better understand the Bible’s place in our heritage.

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