To take a trip back in time with Duane Chapman is to learn about dissidence, bloodshed, torture and even execution.
The story the retired airline pilot and evangelical Christian tells is that of the English Bible from 1380 to 1611. The people who died - some burned at the stake for heresy - were killed for the sin of translating the Bible at a time when it was believed that the general populace shouldn't have access to the book, lest it cause them to question authority.Chapman is an accidental historian. Nine years ago, he was offered the chance to purchase some pages from what was supposed to be an original 1611 King James Bible. After plunking down about $2,000, he learned he'd been defrauded; the two pages were from a much less valuable, although only slightly more recent translation.
But he was already hooked.
Today, Chapman is the owner of a traveling museum of Bibles, most of them early English. He shows them off primarily in California, visiting schools and universities and churches with his saga of the translation's bloody early years. He'll be in Salt Lake City Sunday, March 8, rare Bibles and pages in tow, for a special service at Brighton High School Auditorium, 2220 E. 7600 South, at 10 a.m. The event is sponsored by Calvary Chapel, which will also host a presentation that night at 6:30 p.m. in its church, 7136 S. 1700 East.
Chapman, who is hoping to cut back on his 30 presentations a year, said it will be his museum's only planned visit to Utah. The only other traveling museum of early English Bibles in the United States is based in Florida and never gets to the Midwest and West Coast.
After he was defrauded in his first foray into early Bible collections, Chapman flew to London to meet with The Rev. David Smith, "unquestionably the largest dealer of that kind of material." He traveled to Florida and Texas as well because he'd already conceived the notion of a traveling museum and a forum to tell the story of the English Bible.
No one was very encouraging. "You won't be able to get the materials, which are very hard to come by," he was told. But circumstances intervened. Several rare Bibles and related items were put on the auction block at Christie's and he was the successful bidder. That formed the basis of his collection, which continued to grow.
Today, he proudly displays an authorized photographic copy of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls, projected on leather in a process developed in Japan. The "exact copy" of the scroll is the only one of the 400 facsimiles made that is in private hands, the rest firmly tucked away in archives and museums. That one, he said, is for sale because he'd like to expand his collection and meet the expenses of his traveling museum, "which I have yet to do."
Chapman admits he doesn't consider himself a collector or a dealer. Besides selling items to meet expenses, "most collectors hold them in their lap and weep and caress them. I don't do that. I just enjoy telling people how this (translation) came about."
He also brings with him a 1539 Luther Bible, a partial 1611 King James Bible (yes, he managed to get one later, after that first disappointing experience), a Geneva Bible and about 100 other complete or partial books. The Martin Luther Bible was colored by hand and the vibrant colors testify to the quality of the ink and the care used in producing it, he said.
One of his favorite exhibits is the so-called "Wife-beater's Bible." The Mathews Study Bible earned the sobriquet because the book's annotated notes talk about submissive wives. Wives who are not submissive to their husbands, it coun-sels, should be beaten into submission.
"That is a clear indication," said Chapman, "that you have to be careful about other notes and Bibles. Scripture is scripture, but notes are simply notes."
Another highlight is a page from the Wycliffe Bible. This is the last time it will be shown as part of his collection because he has traded it to a Bible museum in Branson, Mo., for three other rare books.
The Wycliffe was translated in the 1300s by English theologian John Wycliffe, who according to Bible historians was an inspiration for later reformers. He believed that the Bible should be available to common folk, not just scholars and authorized theologians. Although Wycliffe was never tried for heresy, he was so hated that 30 years after he died, the Council of Constance had his body exhumed and burned.
Besides sparking reform, Wycliffe taught young street preachers to translate the Bible into English. Many of them were later caught teaching Bible study to the general public and they were burned at the stake, Chapman tells his audience.
Chapman said he's been criticized for making his valuable collection so accessible. But he laughs at the notion that a thief could benefit from robbing him. "One of the things about theft is there's nowhere they can go with this stuff." A fellow who stole a page of the Wycliffe Bible at Christie's found that its rarity made it impossible to sell.
For more information about the exhibit, call Calvary Chapel at 944-5188.
The collection will be on display Sunday, March 8, at 10 a.m. at Brighton High School Auditorium, 2270 E. 7600 South, and at 6:30 p.m. at Calvary Chapel, 7136 S. 1700 East.
Among the items on display:
Rare photocopy on leather of Book of Isaiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1539 Luther Bible, Partial 1611 King James edition, "Wife-beater's" Bible, Geneva Bible