Among all the holy books of the world’s religions, the Bible is unique in that it is rooted and grounded in history. The leader and prophet Moses stands out among the Bible’s early historical figures, and a large mural of Moses with the ten commandments stands at the beginning of the Dunham Bible Museum’s first exhibit area. These ten commandments are recognized as the foundation of morality and law.
According to tradition, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are often called the “Torah”, a Hebrew word meaning “teaching.” The Torah contains several foundational themes that recur throughout the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures:
- God’s creation of the world and all its inhabitants, including humans, who are created in the image of God
- The Fall of Adam and Eve in the garden and the curses for their disobedience
- God’s covenant with Noah and the earth following the Flood
- The earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt
- God’s call and covenant with Abraham and the children of Israel
- Bondage in Egypt and God’s redemption of the Hebrew slaves
- God’s covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai.
In the Torah are:
- the 10 commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5)
- the declaration that “The Lord our God, He is One! You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6)
- the commands “You shall be holy, for the Lord your God am holy,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:2, 18)
Torah Scroll, Yemen, 16th century. Jews in Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, produced this Torah scroll. Yemenite Jews were among the oldest of the Jewish communities outside the land of Israel, claiming to date from the time of King Solomon. This scroll is hand-lettered in Hebrew on sheep skins. A scribe usually took a year to complete one Torah scroll. To insure accuracy of the sacred text, rabbis implemented stringent rules for copying the scrolls.
A 3-dimensional cliff diorama with caves similar to where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered sets the stage for viewing archaeological artifacts and replicas of the earliest Biblical documents. In 1947, Bedouin shepherds in the searched a cave looking for a stray goat and discovered clay jars and seven scrolls dating from about 2,000 years earlier. In the following years, 11 caves were found with thousands of fragments of scrolls written in Hebrew and Aramaic, dating from between the third century B.C. and A.D. 68. The Dead Sea Scrolls show little divergence from the Masoretic manuscripts dating 1,000 years later. Pictured here is a facsimile of one of the Dead Sea Scroll jars and the famous Isaiah scroll.
Oil lamps were to ancient times what light bulbs are today. Archaeologists often date their findings by the style of lamps found in an excavation. Whenever the Bible referred to a lamp, the common oil lamp was meant.
This Alabaster Jar from ancient Egypt dates from 3200-2900 B.C.
Alabaster was a soft, translucent stone used by the early Egyptians to produce many kinds of containers. Alabaster jars were used for both measuring and storing foods, cosmetics and other products. The ointment with which Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet was stored in an alabaster jar.
Codex Vaticanus, Facsimile, Fourth century.
Codex Vaticanus (“Book from the Vatican”) is one of the earliest complete manuscripts of the Bible, It includes the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Greek Christian Scriptures, the New Testament. Scholars speculate the manuscript was written in, possibly one of the 50 complete Bibles commissioned by Constantine the Great. Written on vellum or calf’s skin, the codex has been in the library since at least 1475.