Rating: * * * +
Type: Guided, themed museum
Time: 55 minutes
Kelly says: Well done, but for the serious-minded
Themed after a fourth century Byzantine monastery, the Scriptorium houses the Robert and Judith Van Kampen collection of biblical manuscripts, codices, incunabula, and other rare books that document the history of how the Bible has been preserved, published, and disseminated through the ages.
This is not your typical museum, however, with its treasures arrayed in well-lit rooms and accompanied by explanatory text. The Scriptorium's designers, seemingly inspired by nearby theme parks, have created a richly themed walking tour that uses set elements, decoration, smoke effects, dramatic lighting, and speaking mechanical figures to tell, not the Bible story but the story of the Bible, which is touted in media-savvy terms as "the best-selling book of all time."
This is a guided tour in the sense that a voice-over narration (some tours are in Spanish) offers tidbits of information about the articles on exhibit as changes in lighting signal guests to move on to the next chamber. Along the way, the narrator offers a distinctly evangelical interpretation of the propagation of the Christian faith, the Protestant Reformation, and the subsequent spread of various Christian sects to the New World. Highlights include 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablets, a "Tyndale Bible" reputedly stained with the blood of a martyr who died for possessing it, a re-creation of Gutenberg's printing press, and a narrow escape through Wycliffe's fireplace to elude persecutors. The tour culminates with a soul-stirring recitation of the Ten Commandments, complete with Charlton Heston-worthy lighting effects.
Serious Bible students and lovers of rare books will find much of interest here. Committed Christians will doubtless be moved by some moments in the tour. Others might be less impressed, I'm afraid. The tour's length and stately pace could well prove a problem for younger visitors and the easily bored. There is no exit once the tour commences.
Near the exit, in a small room, the Ex Libris Book Shoppe features a video presentation called A Day In The Life Of A Monk, which chronicles the daily routine of the pre-Reformation monastics who played such a pivotal role in preserving ancient scriptures (and along with them a great deal of the wisdom of ancient Rome and Greece, although this isn't mentioned). It's in black and white and runs on a continuous loop. The more historically minded should find it interesting.
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