A Museum of the Bible will soon open its doors to the public in the town of Pelhřimov. Organized by the Biblical Theological Seminar, a non-profit organization that provides theological training in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the museum will display a large number of bibles in different languages –from rare old prints dating back to the 16th century to a Lego Bible for children. I asked one of the organizers of the project, theologian Vladimír Donát to tell me more about the museum and how the idea to establish a permanent exposition of this kind emerged.
“This idea goes back a long way. I have been collecting old bibles for a long time and then about two or three years ago we had an exhibition of bibles for the 400 th anniversary of the Kralická Bible in our town and ever since then we considered the idea of using these books not only for these one-off exhibitions but to have a permanent place where we could really present the history of the Czech bible and the message of the Bible to our people in a permanent place.”
What will be on display?
“There will be hundreds of bibles of course, and they are divided into several different sections. One of the sections is the early prints, starting with the year 1549 and then we have more bibles from the 16th century and all the way up to the 18th century and then modern bibles in more than 50 languages some very interesting and exotic languages for Czechs. Then there is a section of bibles in Braille for the blind, we have a Lego bible for children, we have a waterproof bible that will be presented in an aquarium with a fish and so on. But alongside these different bibles we will also have other very interesting exhibits –one of them is a replica of a Medieval printing press that is functional, our visitors can print a page on this printing press and we have many other interesting things that can be touched, tried, people can be part of a handwritten bible project ...”
Can you explain what that is?
“Yes, every visitor who comes is welcome to join us in this project. There will be an open copy of a Czech bible and he or she can write one verse, two verses, ten verses taking up from where the last visitor left off and once that is finished we will have a handwritten bible produced by a large number of our visitors and all of them will be permanently with us through this project and we will have the book bound and put it on display for everyone to see.”
You obviously have a lot of rare books there – where did you get the exhibits-from institutions, private collectors?
“It was a long process – a difficult and expensive one as well. It takes a long time to look for these bibles and try to buy some of these rare pieces .We try to buy anywhere we can –at auctions, from private owners or anywhere these bibles appear on the market.”
Which is your most valuable exhibit?
“That’s hard to say because it is more personal than objective. We have part of the so-called six-part Kralická Bible that was printed in Moravia in Kralice in the 16th century. We have the fourth volume of this six part bible from the year 1587. That is a very dear bible to us because from this translation other translations came about in time but this bible itself was used for about 300 or 400 years continually. We have older bibles as well, but the Kralická Bible is particularly dear to our hearts.”
Have you asked people to donate bibles?
“Yes, it is possible to donate bibles, we have received a number of very interesting bibles in different languages. Just recently a friend of ours sent us two copies of modern bibles – one is in Arabic, one in Korean -and they will make interesting exhibits. So we are spreading the message that donations are welcome and we will see what the response will be. Donations are welcome and always help.”
What about the Lego bible –where did that come from?
“Well, that is one of those interesting – or maybe some people would say strange –things. One man got the idea to build several thousand biblical scenes out of Lego blocks and then took pictures of them so it is almost like a comics book. It is both for adults and for children –simply a very interesting way to present the story of the bible.”
The Czech Republic is perceived as one of the most secular countries in Europe – where does the interest in the Bible stem from? You said you previous exhibition attracted a great many people. ..Is it the historic character of the book?
“I would say there are several different angles. Of course, the historical aspect is an important one – I mentioned that we have the Kralická Bible, the Melantrich Bible and some others which are very important in the context of our history so even people who are not religious enjoy coming and seeing these exhibits. On the other hand, there are many people who belong to a church and for whom this is much more than just history, and there is another group, students from local schools or schools all over the Czech Republic who study these things, so whether they are religious or not seeing these exhibits first hand is something that helps them much more than just plain learning about them.”
When did the first Czech translation of the Bible appear?
“The first Czech translation –the first was not even in Czech it was actually in the old Slavic language and it was a translation by the two Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century. So the history of the Bible in our country goes very far back – much further than in many other countries around us. Talking about Czech bibles – there were handwritten bibles before the Guttenberg press invention in the 13th and 14th centuries, so there are several of those as well, but the first Czech printed bible is called Pražská Bible – the Prague Bible – which was done in 1488.”
This exhibition is very much your project –what are you hoping it will bring?
Well, our hope is to present two things – one is the beautiful history that is connected with the Bible in our country; how it was translated, preserved, how it made it all around the world with people who went into exile at different times of our history. But also we want to present the message of the Bible because we as Christians believe that the Bible is the most important book. And you can see that in the history of the world itself that it is the most translated, printed, published book with an estimated 7 billion copies that have been printed and distributed around the world.”
For more information about the museum, which is due to open on February 1st, go to www.malemuzeumbible.cz