Hunting for Bibles: Reaffirming a ‘National Treasure’

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- Surveys have long showed that in the United States, Bible literacy is on the decline.

During this year marking the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, one prominent family hopes a treasure hunt of sorts will help reverse that trend.

The People's Bible

The first printing of the King James Bible in 1611 meant the so-called "common" people could begin to read for themselves the truth of God's Word.

The translation, with its memorable language and poetic phrasing, appealed to a wide audience and became known as "The People's Bible."

"It was treasured by them," Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, told CBN News. "It was something they would engage in, in their own lives and in their families."

"And I think today, the lesson for us is to treasure the Word of God as much as the translators would, as much as the first people who received that translation did," he added.

That lesson, however, is coming up against a culture that's becoming harder to reach.

"It reflects again this kind of shift in our value system, in a world view that's taken place over the past couple generations," explained Dr. Scott Carroll, a specialist in ancient manuscripts.

One Family's Mission

Carroll, one of the world's foremost scholars on ancient Biblical texts, and the Green family, founders of the retail chain Hobby Lobby, say enough is enough.

They're on a mission to re-awaken Americans to the importance of the Bible and the rich heritage of our nation.

"Here's a book that they've got on their shelf that they may not even know to what extent it has influenced their lives, given them the freedoms that they have," Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, told CBN News.

"To be able to tell people that story in an engaging, compelling way is something that we're very excited about," he said. "And we feel that's a story that needs to be told."

Green believes a National Museum of the Bible will help educate Americans, and he's not wasting any time. In just a year and a half, he and Carroll have bought thousands of rare ancient Bibles, Torahs, scrolls, and artifacts.

"Inspire people to reconsider the Bible again, to read it again -- to understand its value and its impact," Carroll explained.

Carroll has been named the director of what's being called, "The Green Collection," which eventually will be housed in a museum, possibly in Washington, D.C, in three to five years.

Carroll anticipates the collection will be seen by a million-plus people each year.

"In terms of collections in private hands, very likely it's the largest collection in the world in private hands," he said.

So far the Green family and Carroll say they've collected more than 30,000 items for the museum. Some date back to as early as 4100 B.C., as in the case of cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia.

"I think that we have been able to acquire some things at much less than they would be worth," Green said.

Economy Helped Acquisitions

The struggling economy has opened doors for the Green family. They have purchased Bibles and artifacts at lower prices from organizations wanting to turn their holdings into cash.

Steve Green estimates the worth at well above $40 million. The speedy acquisitions have many dealers in antiquities buzzing.

"It's not that we're out there looking for recognition, but it's hard not to be noticed when we have collected and spent as much as we have," Green explained.

"I'm delighted with the quality of the things that we have," Carroll shared. "I'm overwhelmed."

Most Valuable Artifact

Carroll believes the most valuable item is a near-complete Bible known as the Codex Climaci Rescriptus. The faint Scriptures underneath the bold text are major portions of the Old and New Testaments.

"Together it constitutes the fifth earliest near-complete Bible in the world," Carroll said. "The handwriting portrays that it actually was copied from something in the 100s, so you're only three generations away from Jesus in His own language. That's really cool."

"It is the most incredible book ever put together, that it could not have come together without Divine guidance, and that it is something that all mankind should be reading and adhering to," Green said.

They believe that a national museum could be the first step in helping a country founded on Biblical principles find its way home.

*Originally aired May 18, 2011.

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.