By now you have probably heard all the buzz about the 10 hour miniseries airing on the History channel , bringing to life the epic stories of the most controversial, most published, most translated book in the world: The Bible. (And if you have not yet heard, you should probably come out from under that rock now.) Not surprisingly, the first episode drew a record breaking 13.1 million, making it the most watched cable entertainment telecast of the year. Executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey clearly know a thing or two about producing quality programming and this series is no exception – in fact, of the many notable accomplishments in their careers, it’s probably the one that they are the most proud of. Devout Christians themselves, they went over and beyond to make the retelling of the best known stories from both the Old and New Testaments as compelling, genuine and inspirational as possible. And judging from the viewership, I’d say they succeeded.
Ever the over-achievers, the producing duo opened (to much fan fare), an exhibit in downtown Manhattan last night entitled “The Bible Experience.” Admitedly when I first heard about it, I assumed it was going to be a collection of props from the set and some still photography of various scenes. Turns out, it was much more. For starters, stepping into the cavernous, unfinished, dimly lit space, I felt like I had just passed through a time machine that took me back a millenium or two and I wanted to trade in my 5 inch platform pumps for some leather sandals. There was just something about the atmosphere that transported me to another time, so very different from the bustling city street I had just stepped in from. As I began taking in the experience, I realized that I wasn’t at a typical gallery opening by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, there were breathtaking larger-than-life still photos hanging from the walls but they were only the tip of the iceberg. I approached the first glass encased exhibit and realized I was only one thin pane away from true religious history – pages of scripture from as old as the third century AD, papyrus so well preserved that the Greek writing was as clear as the print on this morning’s newspaper. We’ve all been to museums and have come in close contact with real historic items, but the overall atmosphere had a greater impact on me that any contemporary museum setting ever has. Seeing one of the first ever printed comprehensive bibles from Spain circa 1500 was awe inspiring, as was laying eyes on actual Dead Sea Scroll fragements and medieval Torah Scrolls. It’s important to note that all these artifacts belong to a private collection on display for the first time in New York. Held by the Green family, the collection was previously at the Vatican where it will be returned when the exhibit comes to an end on March 27th.
One of the most striking aspects of the space, made even more spiritual by they way the light shone through and reflected off the fog (ok, so there may have been a smoke machine involved, but it was tasteful!) was the enormous replica of the crown of thorns that Jesus was forced to wear. It was suspended from the ceiling at the center of the room and I heard first hand from the event producers that it weighed 2 tons. The shadow to the floor was cleverly an equally large crown of a king, which altogether was a creative marvel and definitely worth experiencing for yourself.
All told, I highly recommend that anyone living in the New York area, regardless of religious beliefs, should go see the exhibit. It truly was an “experience” and one that I will likely never forget. And for those not caught up on the original airing of the TV series, it comes out on DVD on April 2nd, featuring tons of extras that are not to be missed.