The Bible, The British Museum And British Library


One of the highlights when I studied at the British Bible School was when our director of studies, Patrick Boyns took us on an annual visit to the British Museum and the British Library in London. I had never been there before and as you can imagine it was exciting, especially when he gave us a guided tour and described exactly what it was, we were looking at, whether it be old manuscripts or an ancient objects.

I must admit when we had finished, my faith in the Scriptures as being God’s inspired Word was really encouraged, as I saw with my own eyes, objects and letters which reinforced that the Bible is accurate and the people we read about within it were real people. It’s not that I didn’t believe they were real in the first place, but the characters we read about really came to life.

This isn’t a Bible study as such, but it’s written as an encouragement, written to help us all have faith in the accuracy of the Scriptures, it’s history and ultimately our God. If you’ve never visited the British Library or the British Museum, then please know, it’s certainly worth a day out.

The British Museum

‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So, I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. ‘Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’ Jeremiah 18:1-12

During the eighteenth century, knowledge of the world of the Bible depended entirely on the Bible itself and other written sources, such as the Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus. When students of the Bib1e read the description in Jeremiah 18:1-12 of the potter at work, they had no idea what the pot would have looked like.

The Biblical subjects so frequently undertaken by painters depicted men and women in clothing and with buildings and objects of everyday life which were those known to the artist in his time. This explains why such famous paintings as The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci show Christ and His disciples at a table that would have been entirely unknown in the New Testament age.

This was the state of knowledge when the British Museum in London, England was first opened to the public in 1759. The British Museum was established in 1753 to take charge of the library and collections of Sir Hans Sloane 1660-1753.

There was a veritable revolution in knowledge of the Biblical World during the nineteenth century. The period between the two World Wars saw a healthy increase in the number of excavations in Palestine, and this trend has been greatly expanded over the past forty years. There is now a wealth of material for the reconstruction of the culture of ancient Palestine and the surrounding area.

The Bible, from Genesis 11 onward, contains a history of the Hebrew people from about 2000 B.C. to the first century A.D. The Bible begins with a brief glimpse of the preceding history of mankind, notably the Creation, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. With Genesis 11:27-28 we enter the world of the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

Abraham sets out from Ur in Babylonia and travels to Syria-Palestine. There his successors and the tribe founded by him remain until Isaac’s old age when, following Joseph, 75 people travel to Egypt, Acts 7:14. In the process of time over two million of the descendants of Abraham leave Egypt and travel to the promised land. Israelite history thereafter largely was confined to Palestine. In spite of Divine warnings, the Jews picked up many of the elements of local culture and religion that was already established in the area.

The period of the Divided Kingdom is richly illuminated by many inscriptions, and other antiquities from Assyria, Babylonia, and from other areas outside Israel and Judah, as well as from Palestine itself.

The inter-Testamental Period falls within the Hellenistic period, a time when Seleucid and Ptolemaic rulers were rivals in the area, and which saw the beginnings of Roman control. The events of the New Testament took place against a background of Roman rule, and the spread of Christianity by men such as Paul in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome all took place within the Roman Empire. Greek was used throughout the eastern areas of the Empire and continued as the official language of the Byzantine Empire, so it is not surprising that the New Testament documents have been handed down to us in Creek.

In this study we want to examine some of the artefacts from the British Museum and see how they relate to our understanding of the Bible. There are six and a half million objects in the museum’s collection. Even if you just confined yourself to those objects dealing with the lands of the Bible you could easily spend days there and not see everything.

‘Royal Cemetery’ at Ur

The city of Abraham, from which many exhibits have been preserved. See the ‘ram in a thicket,’ the ‘Standard of Ur,’ the Royal Game, jewellery and other items dating from 2500 B.C., before the time of Abraham.

Creation Epic

Copied in 7th century B.C. on seven clay tablets in Mesopotamia, they present many similarities with the Genesis account.

Gilgamesh Epic

Or ‘Flood Tablet’ from the 7th century B.C. in the cuneiform script for Ashurbanipal of Assyria. There are striking resemblances to details of the Biblical account. From the library at Nineveh.

Hittite Relief of Teshub

Known in Canaan as ‘Baal’, this god is mentioned often in Old Testament.

The Land Of Egypt

Mud brick with chopped straw. Mud bricks were used for the walls and storerooms surrounding Egyptian temples, some bricks were stamped with the name of the king responsible for the construction. This brick is stamped with the name of Ramesses II, 1279-1213 B.C., and was taken from a building in Thebes, near the valley of the Kings.

The Egyptian god Horus has ivory eyes. Horus was the falcon god ‘lord of the sky’ and the symbol of divine kingship, he appears in hieroglyphics as early as 3000 B.C. In Egyptian mythology Horus was the god of light who personified the life-giving power of the Sun. He was usually represented as a falcon-headed man wearing a sun disk as a crown. Reigning kings in Egypt were believed to be incarnations of Horus.

The Rosetta Stone

This inscribed stone was taken from Rosetta, Egypt in 1799 by an officer in the French army, and it came to the British Museum in 1802. The stone contains a decree which was written in 196 B.C. The stone was a major key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The stela is inscribed in three scripts:
1. Koine Greek was the language of government.
2. Demotic Egyptian was the everyday script of literate Egyptians.
3. Hieroglyphics was the 3000-year-old traditional script of Egyptian monuments.

The hieroglyphic script would have been familiar to Hebrews in Egypt.

Did Moses, ‘instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians’, Acts 7:22 learn to read and write it?

Israel And Her Neighbours
The Jericho Tomb

Between 1952-1958 Kathleen Kenyon excavated Jericho on behalf of the British School of Archaeology. She uncovered many ancient tombs. Due to environmental conditions the organic material was well-preserved, inducing leather, wood, basketworks, and skin.

Ancient Lamps

The first terracotta lamp pictured was made around 450-600 A.D. Next is a wheel-made terracotta lamp made in Jerusalem, 50-100 A.D. The third lamp was taken from Jerusalem, 25 B.C.-50 A.D.

Assyrian Slingers

Next to archers, slingers were the most effective long-range warriors of the ancient world. The sling and stone are often mentioned in the Bible.

‘At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.’ Judges 20:15-16

The account of David and Goliath.

‘David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.’ Saul replied, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the LORD be with you.’ Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. ‘I cannot go in these,’ he said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them.’ So, he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.’ 1 Samuel 17:32-40

‘As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.’ 1 Samuel 17:48-49

Clay Model of Sheep’s Liver

Possibly used to train in art of divination.

‘For the king of Babylon will stop at the fork in the road, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen: He will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver.’ Ezekiel 21:21

Babylonian Chronicle

Part of a series of tablets summarising main events of each year. This tablet covers 605 to 595 B.C., from the battle of Carchemish to the capture of Jerusalem. 7th year, 598-597 B.C.

‘In the 7th year, the month of Kislimu (Nov/Dec), the king of Akkad (Nebuchadnezzar) mastered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land (Syria/Palestine) and encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king (Jehoiachin). He appointed there a king (Zedekiah) of his heart, received its heavy tribute and sent it to Babylon.” (Fall = 16th March 597 BC).

Darius Seal

Of Darius I in Persian, Elamite and Babylonian cuneiform, ‘The Great King.’ Under his rule Cyrus’ policies were executed.

Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

First Assyrian king to come in direct contact with Israel, 858-824 B.C. This obelisk was erected in the centre of Nimrud shortly before Shalmaneser’s death. It records his military campaign’s, showing the tribute he received from all directions. The obelisk shows Jehu, king of Israel, paying tribute, and his servants presenting bars of precious metals, an event not mentioned in the Bible. This makes Jehu the only Israelite king whose ‘picture’ is available.

The text reads,

Jehu, son of Omri … silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for the hand of a king and hunting spears I received.’

Shalmaneser is pictured beneath winged symbol of Assyrian god Assur, supported by two retainers.

Stela of Shalmaneser III

This round-topped stela was found at Kurth on the Tigris River in south-eastern Turkey in 1861. It bears a relief carving of Shalmaneser III, 859-824 B.C., king of Assyria, facing the symbols of four gods, Assur, Ishtar, Anu, and Sin. Across the front and back of the stela are inscribed 102 lines of cuneiform recording, the events of his first six military campaigns up to 853 B.C. In his sixth year he describes his campaign to the west where he encountered a coalition of states, including Israel.

Balawat Gates of Shalmaneser III

Not far from Nimrud, the site of Balawat was excavated in 1878. Three sets of gates were discovered, two of which are now in the museum. The gates were decorated with bands of embossed bronze dating from reigns of Ashurnasirpal II and his son, Shalmaneser III. The illustrations are similar to the wall panels.

Relief or Tiglath-Pileser III

This is a carved relief showing Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, 744-727 B.C., in his chariot before the fortified city of Astartu, in modern Jordan, with Assyrian soldiers driving out prisoners and herds. The Bible mentions Tiglath-Pileser III several times.

‘The descendants of Joel: Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son, Micah his son, Reaiah his son, Baal his son, and Beerah his son, whom Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria took into exile. Beerah was a leader of the Reubenites.’ 1 Chronicles 5:4-6

‘So, the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day.’ 1 Chronicles 5:26

Ahaz, king of Judah, appealed to him for help.

‘Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help. Ahaz took some of the things from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace and from the officials and presented them to the king of Assyria, but that did not help him.’ 2 Chronicles 28:20-21

There is a relief from a wall in the Central Palace at Nimrud which shows Tiglath-Pileser III standing over an enemy, making his enemy his footstool, Acts 2:34-35 / Hebrews 10:12-13.

Annals of Sennacherib (the Taylor Prism)

Sennacherib, 705-681 B.C., was an Assyrian king noted for his campaigns against Judah. The prism was found at Nineveh in 1830. The best-known passage on this prism describes that because Hezekiah had not submitted to the Assyrian ‘yoke,’ Sennacherib laid siege to forty-six fortified Judean cities, deported 200,150 people, and shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem ‘like a caged bird.’

It reads,

‘As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I lay siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth-ramps, and battering rams brought thus near to the walls combined with the attack by foot soldiers, using mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.’

The prism tacitly agrees with the Biblical version by making no claim that Jerusalem was taken, Isaiah 36-37 / 2 Kings 18-19.

‘That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So, Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.’ 2 King 19:35-36

The Greek historian Herodotus tells of ‘field mice’ eating ‘leather handles, quivers and bow strings of the Assyrian army.

Ashurbanipal’s Royal Lion Hunt

The palace of Ashurbanipal, Sennacharib’s grandson, 668-627 B.C., was discovered in 1853. Built in c645 B.C., it contained some of the finest sculptured panels found, including the Royal Lion Hunt. Note suffering of lions, heroism of Ashurbanipal, etc.

Objects from Lachish

Note the iron arrowheads and sling stones from Lachish from the time of the siege. Compare these with the wall panels.

The Capture of Lachish

Series of panels from Sennacherib’s palace showing the fall of the city. Some 20 years following fall of Israel, 722 B.C. Sennacherib invaded Judah. The death of Sargon II had prompted Judah to rebel and seek an alliance with Egypt. Sennacherib destroyed many of Judah’s fortified cities including Lachish. At the conclusion of this campaign 185,000 die outside Jerusalem.

The Panels

Panels 5-6, beginning of attack, note defending Jews and water pourers.
Panel 7, assault on Lachish, note Jews ready for exile, baby carried and Jews on spikes.
Panels 8-9, plunder from Lachish, note Jews into exile.
Panels 9-10, prisoners, note 2 officials being flayed alive.
Panels 11 and 13, Sennacherib watches the capture. Line 1 reads, ‘Sennacherib, king of the world, king of the land of
Assyria.’ The end of line 3 reads, ‘Lachish.’
Panels 14 and 16, the Assyrian camp.

‘Later, when Sennacherib king of Assyria and all his forces were laying siege to Lachish, he sent his officers to Jerusalem with this message for Hezekiah king of Judah and for all the people of Judah who were there.’ 2 Chronicles 32:9

Winged Bulls of Sargon II

There are many sculptures from the city and palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II at Khorsabad, 721-705 B.C. These human-headed winged bulls stood at the gates of the citadel, as magic guardians against misfortune. Sargon is only mentioned once in the Bible.

‘In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it.’ Isaiah 20:1

From Ashurnasirpal II’s throne room. Nimrud was Assyria’s capital for some 150 years. Ashurnasirpal II, 883-859 B.C. was founder of the empire proper and had a palace in Nimrud. The palace of Sargon II, built c710 B.C., was discovered in 1842 after advice from a passing farmer. Sargon was the only king to have palace at Khorsabad. These bulls each weigh c16 tons.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Bricks

Commemorating the rebuilding of two temples in Babylon.

Glazed Brick Panel

A beautiful panel from the palace at Susa of Darius I, father of Xerxes, Ahasuerus.

‘When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus in his royal palace’ might she have seen this guard on duty?

‘She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favour and approval more than any of the other virgins. So, he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality. When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up. During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.’ Esther 2:16-23

‘The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa.’ Nehemiah 1:1

Samaria Ivories

Carved in the Phoenician style, and found in the royal palace at Samaria, these ivories seem mostly to have been used in furniture. Though probably dating from 8th century B.C. they well illustrate Ahab’s ‘ivory house.’

‘As for the other events of Ahab’s reign, including all he did, the palace he built and adorned with ivory, and the cities he fortified, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?’ 1 Kings 22:39

‘I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,’ declares the LORD.’ Amos 3:15

‘You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.’ Amos 6:4

Royal Steward Inscription

Dates from the 7th century B.C. Written in standard Hebrew, it was located as the lintel to a rock-cut tomb and refers to the burial. Discovered in 1870 near to Jerusalem, it is very likely that of Shebna, the Royal Steward of Hezekiah, accused of ‘carving a habitation for yourself in the rock’, Isaiah 22:15ff.

‘They called for the king; and Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to them.’ 2 Kings 18:18

The Cyrus Cylinder

This day cylinder is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with an account by Cyrus, king of Persia, 549-530 B.C., of his conquest of Babylon in 539. He describes the measures of relief he brought to the city and tells how he restored a number of god-images to their proper temples throughout Babylonia, Assyria and western Iran. He also arranged for the restoration of numerous temples and allowed captives to return to their homelands. This is consistent with what
we read in Ezra 6:3-5, where Cyrus authorised the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and the return of the Jews to Palestine, Ezra 2.

‘In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide, with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to
Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God.’ Ezra 6:3-5

Phoenician Warship Relief

From late 7th century B.C. depicts a ship built for Sennacherib. These reliefs are all from the palace at Nineveh.

Phoenician Ivories

Found in Sargon’s palace in Nimrud, to which they had been taken as booty from the west.

Lachish Letters

Written on potsherds and in black ink, these were sent from outposts of Lachish to the city commander leading up to the city’s destruction in 586 B.C.

Figurines from Lachish

Often of Astarte, these items illustrate how many Judeans continued to honour Canaanite gods after they inhabited the land.

Bethlehem Tomb Artefacts

These vessels were discovered in 1865 ‘on the way to Bethlehem’ and date from 7th century B.C.

The Roman Empire

Augustus Caesar ruled 29 B.C.-14 A.D. He was the first Roman Emperor and the great nephew of Julius Caesar. His birth name was Gaius Octavius, he died at the age of 76 in A.D. 14. He became supreme ruler in 29 B.C., and received the name Augustus from the Roman Senate in 27 B.C. The word Augustus is a title meaning ‘worthy of honour’ or ‘consecrated.’ He is mentioned in Luke 2:1 as being the Emperor during the time of the birth of Christ.

‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.’ Luke 2:1

The name Augustus was later taken by most of the following Emperors.

Tiberius Claudius Caesar

Generally known as Claudius. He was the Emperor when the early church was growing and is mentioned in the book of Acts as the ruler in whose time a famine took place.

‘One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.’ Acts 11:28

When the Jews at Thessalonica accused Paul and Silas of violating Caesar’s decrees by proclaiming that Jesus is the king, he was the Emperor in question.

‘Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ Acts 17:7

He is mentioned by name as having expelled the Jews from Rome, Aquila and Priscilla being among them.

‘After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.’ Acts 18:1-2

Politarch Inscription

This is a Greek inscription from a Roman gateway in Thessalonica. It lists officials of the town in 2nd century A.D. beginning with six Politarchs. Acts records Paul and Silas in Thessalonica being brought before the politarchs, ‘rulers of the city’ accused of being trouble-makers.

‘But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil.’ Acts 17:6-8

The Emperor Vespasian

This head is from an over-life-size statue of the Vespasian, A.D. 69-79. The head is from Carthage, in north Africa. The Emperor Titus ruled A.D. 79-81. The Roman General in charge when Jerusalem was destroyed, 70 A.D. This statue is from Utica, near Carthage in north Africa. His conquest of Jerusalem made it possible to build the Coliseum in Rome, Nero didn’t kill Christians there.

Column-drum from Ephesus

From the temple of Artemis, Diana, this sculptured drum formed the base of one of 127 columns of this wonder of the world. Dating from 340 B.C., it stood until destroyed in A.D. 262.

The British Library

The items of most interest to us will be found in the John Ritblat Gallery, past the Bookshop to the left of the Main Entrance and up the stairs by the lift.

Hebrew Bible
British Museum Codex (Oriental Hebrew Bible)

This contains most of the Pentateuch in Hebrew and dates from about A.D. 950. Note the greater and lesser masorah. It’s a most valuable witness to the Masoretic Text.

Greek Bibles
Codex Sinaiticus א

This was discovered in 1859 by Dr. Constantine von Tischendorf at St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, it contains most of the Old Testament and the entire New Testament in Greek, the only uncial manuscript known to do so, plus the Letter of Barnabas and most of Hermas. It dates from cA.D. 340 and bears a mostly Alexandrian text. It’s a most important witness to the text of the New Testament.

Codex Alexandrinus (A)

Presented to Charles I in 1627 by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Constantinople, this handsome codex dates from the mid 5th century and once contained the entire Old and New Testaments. Much of Matthew and 2 Corinthians are missing, along with part of John.

Papyrus Fragment of John (p5)

Written in the 3rd century and discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, this papyrus fragment is one of the oldest known witnesses to John’s Gospel. The text displayed is from John 1:33-40 / John 20:11-17 / John 16:11-17.

Papyrus Fragment of Revelation (p18)

Written in 3rd /4th century and discovered in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, this fragment is from one of only four New Testament Greek papyri to have been written on a scroll, the reverse of one containing the Greek text of Exodus. The fragment contains the text of 1:4-7 and along with a and A preserves the reading ‘freed’ in verse 5.

Latin Bibles
Old Latin Genesis

Papyrus fragment containing Genesis 5:29-6:2 from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, dating from 5th century A.D.

Moutier Grandval Bible

Containing the revised Vulgate text according to Alcuin of York produced between cA.D. 834-843. Note the detailed illustration of creation and the fall.

Ceolfrid’s Bible

Similar to Codex Amiatinus with which it was copied in cA.D. 700 at Jarrow or Wearmouth. It exhibits an excellent Vulgate text.

Lindisfarne Gospels

One of the best examples of Old English illumination in existence. This is a Latin copy of the Gospels made around 700 by Bishop Eadfrith at Lindisfarne off the north east coast of England. In the middle of the 10th century a priest, Aldred, wrote a literal English rendering between the lines. Be sure to see the Turning the Pages™ exhibition.

Gutenberg’s Bible

The Bible was the first large scale printed book produced on Johannes Gutenberg’s movable type press. The British Library has two copies printed between 1454-1455, one on paper, the other on vellum. The illumination is by hand.

Syriac Bibles
Curetonian Syriac (Syrc)

From a parchment codex procured by the British Museum in 1842 from a monastery in Nitrian Desert of Egypt, William Cureton discovered more than eighty leaves to contain a 5th century copy of the four gospels in the Old Syriac text. It is fragmentary and contains the books in the order: Matthew, Mark, John and Luke.

Syro Hexaplar Exodus

Written in Syriac by a scribe called Lazarus in A.D. 697, it preserves Origen’s ‘fifth column’ with variant readings of Aquila, Theodotian and Symmachus.

English Bible
1526 Worms New Testament

After fleeing from Cologne, William Tyndale continued his work in Worms. The first printed New Testament in English appeared in February 1526, arriving in England about one month later. He had based his translation on the 3rd edition of Erasmus’ Greek text, with reference to the Vulgate and to Luther. This is one of only two copies of the first edition printed in Worms known to exist.


We’ve barely scratched the surface of the British Museum and the British Library, the museum once housed the oldest complete manuscript of the New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus, but all of the old Bibles and manuscripts have been moved to the British Library.

Let me encourage you to go and visit these places, seek out all those things I’ve highlighted in this encouragement kind of study, they will certainly enrich your faith in God and His Word.



"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Proverbs 3:6