'Green Collection' Uncovers Journey of God's Word

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ROME, Italy -- As Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, a one-of-a-kind interfaith event is bringing Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians together in Vatican City.

The smallest country on earth is now home to "Verbum Domini," which is Latin for the "Word of the Lord," putting more than 150 rare religious artifacts and biblical texts on display for the world to see.

"To have this selection of rare documents altogether in one place is extraordinary," said Cardinal Raffaele Farina, leader of the renowned Vatican Library.

Verbum Domini includes select pieces from "The Green Collection," a dynamic assortment of biblical treasures purchased by Steve Green, president of the retail chain Hobby Lobby.

"What we want to do is take this time to say, 'Here is a book that we all love and cherish, and let's celebrate that,'" Green told CBN News.

Curator Scott Carroll is a scholar on ancient and medieval manuscripts and is known by many as the "Indiana Jones" of biblical archaeology. He helped Green compile his still-growing collection.

"When I think of the Bible and the enterprise that composed it, preserved it, disseminated it, studied it, adorned it, it is an interfaith effort," Carroll said.

Scott Carroll says these historical treasures are key to Christianity today. Watch his explanation below.

So Close to History

Steps from St. Peter's Basilica, the 5,000 square foot exhibit takes visitors on a dramatic journey of God's Word through the ages.

"I never imagined I could be centimeters away from such historical documents. Here is the soul, heart, and light of God's Word," said Romulo Marianne, an Italian visiting the exhibit in Rome.

Eight exhibit rooms are filled with treasured biblical gems. It's a vast collection, from the earliest surviving New Testament written in Palestinian Aramaic, to pieces of papyrus containing the Sermon on the Mount, rare Byzantine Hebrew manuscripts, and even a Spanish Inquisition-era Torah.

Steve Green talks about why he started this rich collection, and what he hopes to achieve. Watch his extended interview below.

The collection also testifies to the hardships Christians endured to access, preserve, and translate the most published book in history.

"I was really touched to see the passing of the text through the ages and to see how it's preserved, and yet the spirit of the text is preserved," American visitor Chris Lanciott said.

What makes this exhibition at Vatican City unique is the fact that it has brought various faith groups together under one roof, displaying the manuscripts that are important to the Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish faiths.

"This exhibit is so important because of the subject itself," Cardinal Farina said. "The Bible as a written text is the instrument that unites us across the different religious denominations."

"This is the demonstration of how one central idea, one book, can give birth to many different traditions and which forms the foundation of Western civilization," Rome's chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni added.

More than a Collection

Walking in St. Peter's Square, Green can hardly believe the success of "Verbum Domini" since its opening in March.

"It is incredible. I know that a couple of years ago the idea would never have come into my mind, but we believe God is up to something," he told CBN News.

Two-thirds of the items on display belong to Green and his family. In just a little over two years, he's amassed the world's largest collection of ancient biblical manuscripts, artifacts, scrolls, and rare books.

"Our family does have a love for God's Word, and that has been passed down in my family for multiple generations," he explained.

Carroll helped the Greens buy many of the items. He now serves as director of "The Green Collection," which boasts some 50,000 rarities valued at about $500 million.

"To my knowledge, nothing has been done like this in the history of Christianity," Carroll said.

"Our family, myself included, are not really collectors. We have not collected this collection to sit in the closet and go in there, and look at it and be proud of what we have," Green added.

"We made this purchase and the acquisition of all these Bibles in order to tell its story. That's what we want to do," he said.

A Quest for More

The acquisitions by Green and Carroll will continue. The pair are traveling to the far corners of the globe in search of more biblical antiquities.

"We believe that we have been entrusted with a treasure; part of the treasure that God has preserved over time," Green said.

"And He has entrusted that we believe with our family, and we have this sense of stewardship, an obligation to tell the story that the collection tells," he said.

Part of telling that story is to encourage more people to read God's Word, something sponsors of the exhibit, which include the American Bible Society and the Vatican, hope visitors take away from "Verbum Domini."

"And that's the whole point. We are wanting to not only observe history, but we're wanting to make history by getting a new generation engaged in Holy Scripture," said Lamar Vest, president of the American Bible Society.

When Green isn't scouring the earth for old Bibles, you'll find him in Oklahoma City, Okla., running Hobby Lobby, the world's largest privately-owned arts and crafts retailer that his father started 40 years ago.

But he said it's the family's love for God's Word that gets him excited the most. He hopes to eventually house "The Green Collection" in a museum in Washington, D.C.

*Originally aired on April 3, 2012.

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CBN News
George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. International Correspondent

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