Ryrie’s Bibles and Manuscripts Auctioned off

On 5 December 2016, Sotheby’s had an auction of one of the world’s largest private collections of Bibles and manuscripts. The collection was Charles Ryrie’s, former professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Seminary. For many years I would take my students to visit his home and see the treasures in his collection. Every year he would bring out new marvels that astonished me. I never saw the whole collection, but he was always generous in bringing out scores of volumes.

Ryrie died earlier this year. He was just a month shy of his 92nd birthday. I had been keeping a close eye on his collection and had discussed it with him many times over the years. Among other things, he owned three Greek New Testament manuscripts, one of only eleven vellum Luther Bibles in the world, and the finest copy of the 1611 King James Bible anywhere. He also owned several of Erasmus and Stephanus editions of the Greek New Testament, a couple of leaves of the Gutenberg Bible, and virtually every major English Bible from Wycliffe to the KJV. Altogether, nearly 200 items were auctioned.

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Benton Gospels—Codex 669

His Wycliffe Bible sold for $1.4 million, which was way over the anticipated price. The KJV sold way under its expectations—only $320,000. The Greek New Testament manuscripts were auctioned for $140,000 to $250,000. Codex 669, the Benton Gospels manuscript, was the most important (and most expensive) of these.

Sotheby’s does not let one know who the bidders are. We’re all given a paddle number and we bid with that, protecting our identities. But clearly someone was buying up a lot of these treasures, and the desire to get them no matter the cost (or so it seemed) certainly brought the price up. I bid on two small items, which quickly escalated out of my price range.

Ryrie did not own junk. His printed books were in excellent condition. The selling price reflected this. The very first published Greek New Testament, Erasmus’s Novum Testamentum (1516), sold for $24,000. The third edition (1522)—the first one to have the comma Johanneum in it—was a bargain at $5500.

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Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum (1516)

A second edition of Tyndale’s New Testament (Ryrie owned nearly a dozen of these!) sold for $75,000. There were also several copies of the Matthew’s Bible ($22,000), Coverdale Bible ($11,000–$21,000), Great Bible ($4,000–$28,000), Geneva New Testament ($30,000), Bishops Bible ($48,000), Douay-Rheims Bible ($18,000), a rare copy of the KJV ‘Wicked Bible’ (1631; so-called because the printer left out the ‘not’ in the seventh commandment; thus, “Thou shalt commit adultery”!) for $38,000.

The Luther vellum Bible sold for $260,000. It is probably the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen. This was more than double the expected sale price.

A rare Complutensian Polyglot (only 600 were printed) came in under expectations at $70,000. This included actually the first printed Greek New Testament, though it was not published until six years after Erasmus’s work was out. The Textus Receptus—the Greek that stands behind the KJV—was essentially Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, with some wording from the CP as well as later editions of the Greek New Testament that were largely based on Erasmus.

A very rare certificate of ordination signed by Luther brought $60,000. And the third edition of Pilgrim’s Progress netted $75,000—as much as three times the expected sale price. Finally, the Gutenberg leaves each garnered only $38,000, way under what was anticipated.

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts owns a 10th–11th century Greek copy of Luke’s Gospel that was appraised at a price that is significantly lower than any of these Greek New Testament manuscripts. Now we have more recent comparisons and the value of such a manuscript can be weighed in light of these other manuscripts. I think we need to up the insurance value!

I hope that these books and manuscripts have found decent homes, and that the new owners will take the best possible care of them. And I also hope that the owners will reveal who they are and make known their remarkable volumes to others. I especially would like to see them digitally preserved and the images posted on the Internet—in particular, the Greek NT manuscripts. CSNTM would be more than happy to digitize these manuscripts. It’s a good time of year to express such hopes. This is more than my bucket list—it’s my Christmas list! Owners, please do not hide your light under a bushel, but let the world see these historical items that all of us may be enriched by Ryrie’s collection.

 

 

Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Evangelicals: ETS 2016 in San Antonio

On Wednesday, 16 November 2016, I had the honor of delivering the presidential address at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in San Antonio. The title of the lecture was “Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Evangelicals: Lessons from the Past, Guidance for the Future.” Essentially I argued that we can learn many things from the paratextual and codicological features of medieval manuscripts.

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Codex 800 with wrap-around commentary

The lecture will be published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society next year. I would like to thank all of you who helped in the preparation of this message–especially CSNTM staff and interns–as well as all who responded afterward. The staff and interns need to be singled out here:

Staff: Rob Marcello and Andrew Bobo were especially helpful, as well as Stratton Ladewig, Christina Nations, Andy Patton, and Mark Arvé. Kudos to you all!

Interns: Laura Peisker, Micah Geyman, Colleen Doran, Joshua Smith, David Lopez, and Teddy Jestakom. You all helped immensely and responded quickly over the last few months to the myriad of sources I needed post haste for the paper. Thank you all!

I am very grateful for the privilege of having served as president of this Society, and I hope that its future will be bright. Sam Storms is now the president of the Society. He was responsible for selecting the plenary speakers on this year’s topic, the Trinity. I know that he will give an outstanding address at next year’s meeting. David Dockery will be the program chairman for the 2017 conference. I’m quite confident that it will be a terrific meeting. And Michael Thigpen and his staff (especially his wife, Bonnie) are to be thanked for their tireless efforts and timely communication. Without Mike as the Executive Director, ETS could hardly function. He is in charge of running the Society and he always seems to think four steps ahead of anyone else as to what is needed to make ETS both stronger and function smoothly.

Daniel B. Wallace
ex-president, Evangelical Theological Society

500th Anniversary of the Book that Changed the World

A new journal, Unio cum Christo, just published my article, “Erasmus and the Book That Changed the World Five Hundred Years Ago” (Unio cum Christo 2.2 [Oct 2016] 29–48). Erasmus published the first Greek New Testament on March 1, 1516. This article honors him and discusses the impact that his Novum Instrumentum Omne (a book that is almost completely unknown except by biblical scholars) has had on western civilization and the world.

Washington, D.C.: ‘Topping Out’ the Museum of the Bible

In August 2016, I received an invitation to go to the “Topping Out” event at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) in Washington, D.C. I have known about the MOTB for a long time—even before D.C. was the place finally chosen for its location. But I had no idea what a ‘topping out’ event was.

The MOTB will be the world’s largest privately-owned Bible museum. Sponsored primarily by the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame, it is intended to be a place where people of all faiths—and those of no faith at all—can engage with the Bible. The goal is to be non-sectarian but intentionally educational. The Bible has had far greater impact on human history than any other book ever written. Yet Biblical illiteracy is escalating at an astonishing pace and is even approaching the illiteracy levels before the King James Bible was published four hundred years ago. This museum in this location is strategic for the nations of the world.

I was of course very pleased to receive the invitation to this event; and because it was an all-expense-paid trip (thank you, Steve Green!) I was able to accept.

Three sites were originally considered for the museum: New York, Dallas, and Washington. As much as I would have loved to see it in Dallas, I knew that D.C. was a far more strategic location—even more strategic than NYC. The MOTB is just a few blocks from the US Capitol, and from its top floor one can see the Capitol dome as well as the Washington Monument.

The Greens have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ancient and medieval treasures. The collection now boasts more than 40,000 artifacts that are relevant to the biblical world.

On September 13, 2016 (the 14th anniversary of the founding of CSNTM [www.csntm.org], by the way), over one hundred guests were bussed to the MOTB from the Washington Hilton (the same hotel where President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley 35 years ago). Along with the 500 construction workers at the site, we ate lunch on the top floor and listened to presentations by several notables, including former mayor of Washington, Tony Williams. And I learned that ‘topping out’ meant the installation of the last steel beam in a building. That beam arrived from Germany and was installed just hours before our lunch.

The structure is in place; now to finish the task. The MOTB is scheduled to open in late November, 2017. In our tour of the building we learned that it weighs in at 430,000 square feet, is eight stories tall (two below ground), and is oozing with technological wizardry. Carey Summers, president of the MOTB, announced at lunch that it will be the most technologically-advanced museum in the world. This is not your father’s museum. Stodgy is definitely not an adjective to describe it!

I must admit, however, that I was a little concerned that the museum might have a cheesy feel to it, kind of like a Christian Disneyland. I’ve seen too many Christian museums that are of this sort. But the impression I got from the speakers, the tour, and the videos on each floor showing how the museum will finish out obliterated that concern. Yes, this museum will be technologically advanced, and yes, it will be accessible and interesting to people of all ages. But it will not be boring or cheesy. It’s a fine balance to achieve; the MOTB is on track to do it.

As you enter the museum, you will be greeted by two massive brass (?) doors—one weighing 8 tons, the other, 12 tons—both with biblical text on them. Inside, the vaulted ceiling will light up by replicating the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as a number of other famous paintings, murals, and scenes. The ceiling will morph through these displays of art via tens of thousands of LED lights.

As you ascend the stairs (or take the lift), you will see large exhibits from other museums—including the Vatican and the Israel Antiquity Authority (the latter has never had an exhibit of their artifacts outside of Israel). One floor will show the history of translation, with an impressive wall that lists all the regions/languages of the world that have the full Bible, parts of the Bible, or none of the Bible in their own language. It will be an instant visual display of the past accomplishments and remaining tasks of Bible translators. Another will be a library for studying ancient documents. A stunning, 400-seat theater will be used for a variety of events. Another floor will be a display room, showing visitors how manuscripts are photographed, and how artifacts are preserved. There will even be sections addressing the Bible’s impact on justice, on world history, and on the founding principles of the United States.

The cost of the museum (including various projects related to it throughout the world), will be an astounding one billion dollars! The Green family has put in half of this money; the rest is coming from other donors. Most of those who came to the topping out event were potential major donors. But those of us who are not in that league can still make a contribution: a ‘million name’ wall will list all donors who contribute any amount. It will be a powerful visual reminder that the Bible is a book of great import. Here’s the link: https://www.museumofthebible.org/onemillionnames. I plan on making a donation for each member of my family—including grandchildren. (Please don’t tell them; it’s a Christmas present!). There’s plenty of room for you to join and display to the world that you, too, honor the Bible and recognize its role in world history.

Here’s the link to the MOTB website: https://www.museumofthebible.org. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1pE-GIV0Fo to see a “360º” look at the MOTB (film produced by CV Global). And here’s the “Extended Fly-Through” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yu-c6RJW9E.

 

 

Ad fontes, ad futura

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On February 25–27, 2016, Houston Baptist University will be hosting a conference with the clever title, “Ad fontes, ad futura: Erasmus’ Bible and the Impact of Scripture.” This is HBU’s annual theology conference. The theme is related to the quincentennial of the publication of Desiderius Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum Omne, which made its appearance on March 1, 1516. The timing of this conference couldn’t be better.

Herman Selderhuis, Craig A. Evans, Timothy George, and I will be delivering keynote addresses. Robert D. Marcello and Stratton Ladewig will be representing the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (csntm.org) at the conference, each giving a lecture. Rob’s paper is entitled “Significant Contributions to the Text of the New Testament and Early Church from the National Library of Greece,” while Stratton’s is “New Images Bring Greater Clarity: Examples of Improved Textual Identity in CSNTM’s 𝔓45 images.” John Soden and Greg Barnhill, two former students of mine, will also be giving lectures. Dan Pfeiffer, a current PhD student at Dallas Seminary, will be giving a lecture based on his work in Advanced New Testament Textual Criticism, a course he took from me last semester. Others delivering papers include Stanley Helton, Jeff Cate, Jeffrey Riddle, and David Ritsema. It looks like it will be a most stimulating conference! See the webpage on this event here.