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The Desert Speaks: rare Bible manuscript displayed on campus

The Desert Speaks: rare Bible manuscript displayed on campus


This year, those attending the Easter Pageant also had the opportunity to view a tangible piece of ancient history. A one-day exhibit titled “The Desert Speaks: The P39 Manuscript” was displayed in Walton Chapel Wednesday, April 20. Though this manuscript is normally not allowed to be shown to the general public, the university was granted permission to put the small treasure on display in conjunction with the annual Easter Pageant.

The exhibit featured an original papyrus leaf with Greek text written on both sides, which was discovered in the ruins of the Egyptian village of Oxyrhynchus in 1897. Known as P39 (Papyrus 39), the manuscript was on loan to the university through the Green Collection. The collection, was established in 2009 by the Green family, founders of Hobby Lobby International, Inc.

The university was one of the first colleges chosen to be part of the Green Scholars Initiative, through which students are allowed to study and do research on rare Bible manuscripts. Dr. Renate Hood, associate professor of Christian studies, served as the local scholar/mentor for the students.

“The vision of the Green Scholars Initiative is to involve undergraduate students and to include smaller schools which normally do not get these opportunities,” Hood said.

P39 is one of the oldest existing New Testament fragments in the world. The Greek text of the manuscript has been identified as a portion of John 8:14-22. Part of the work being done at UMHB is to reevaluate the dating, which is estimated to be early third century to late second century A.D.

“There are only a handful of manuscripts which are this old,” Hood said. “It was written by a generation of scribes whose grandparents could have been alive during Christ’s lifetime.”