Dr. Jerry Pattengale stepped through the dim cave entrance inside Innovation Park and absorbed his surroundings, touching the rough, curved rock walls with his hands.
“This is something new. I haven’t seen this,” he said inside the replica of Cave 4, the main cave on the Dead Sea where the famous scrolls were found. “It’s similar to something we had in the Vatican.”
Pattengale, executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative – the research division of The Green Collection, the world’s largest private collection of rare biblical artifacts – was seeing the “Passages” exhibit in Charlotte for the first time.
“Passages” is an assembly of more than 400 biblical relics from The Green Collection, owned by Steve Green, president of craft retail chain Hobby Lobby. The collection has been part of a traveling exhibition that has spent time in Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Rome, Italy.
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The exhibit opened Sept. 12 in Charlotte and will run through March. Eventually the collection will be housed in a national Bible museum in Washington, D.C.
Pattengale leads a team of 30 university researchers who study the artifacts within the collection. Since the exhibition’s debut, he has been on a whirlwind schedule, making time to catch the exhibit in each city before its curtains open to the public.
Fresh off a plane to Charlotte, he finished his lunch in the cab ride over. Then he began his walk through the 30,000-square-foot display, which includes a cave, an ancient synagogue and a stained-glass-windowed church sanctuary.
Pattengale’s passion for the artifacts that make up the exhibit is well known and respected. When the setup crew that travels from city to city spotted him, their faces brightened. They climbed down from their ladders to shake his hand.
His knowledge and insight of each tattered slip of scroll, each religious relic, draws them in.
“Each of these items has a story,” he said, standing in a room filled with gold-embossed Bibles that glint under glass. “We’ve taken priceless items that you would have to travel the world to see, and put them in one place.”
“Passages” aims to tell the story of the Bible from start to finish: not only how it was created, but also how it has been changed, and how it has changed the culture and history of humankind.
Through multimedia and interactive displays, robotic mannequins and animals, many rooms create a historical setting that demonstrates the circumstances of the time for all ages to understand.
Other rooms hold relics that Bible experts and students come from near and far to examine.
“What we’ve done,” Pattengale said, “is create an exhibit that appeals to both scholars as well as schoolchildren, and somewhere in between.”
One room displays the Jewish roots of Christianity. The assemblance of sparkling silver and brass Tiks, or scroll cases for Torahs, line the walls.
Bible misprints fill another room. The 1551 Matthews Black Letter Bible, dubbed “the Wife-Beater Bible,” instructs husbands to beat the fear of God into their wives. The 1631 King James Bible reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery,” omitting the word “not.”
“Passages” is meant for everyone, said Pattengale.
“The collection is made in a way that it intersects with people that are at different places in their own journey,” he said, “from the art to the inspirational to the icons.”