A collector deemed "the Indiana Jones of biblical archaeology" has helped amass the world's biggest private collection of biblical texts and artifacts, which are on a worldwide traveling tour and will be on display one day at a nonsectarian Bible museum.
Dr. Scott Carroll has personally inspected, studied and bought nearly 50,000 ancient biblical papyri, texts, and artifacts since Nov. 2009, when he was hired by the Green Collection, named after the Green family, founders and leaders of Hobby Lobby, the world's largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer, the ToledoBlade.com reported.
Among the highlights of the Green Collection are one of the largest private collections of Dead Sea Scrolls; 4,000 Jewish Torahs; rare illuminated manuscripts; early tracts and Bibles belonging to Martin Luther; and the Western Hemisphere's largest collection of cuneiform tablets, an early form of writing.
This month, the Green Collection is showing off its exhibit to the Vatican, featuring 152 artifacts displayed contextually in settings ranging from re-creations of the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered to a monastic scriptorium and an excavation of a Roman garbage city in Egypt.
"Some people, when they think of the Bible, they think of a book that is divisive. But in fact it is something that is a basis that unifies Jews, Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants on common ground," said Carroll, who holds a masters degree in church history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. "It seemed to me that having an exhibit that celebrated these things they have in common, rather than the things that divide, would be enormously positive."
The collection is still growing, and it has not yet found a permanent home – but plans are to build a museum where it will be on display for free to the public and help people learn and be inspired by the history of the Bible.
One of Carroll's most famous projects took place while he was leading the excavation of the oldest monastery in the world in the Egyptian Sahara, where he created an online program that connected thousands of students from 35 countries in real time with his excavation. The program was selected among the world's top five Internet education sites and remains a standing exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum. Carroll's efforts also created a method of extracting writings reused in the infrastructure of mummy coverings while preserving the decorative external features. This groundbreaking research has uncovered some of the earliest-known ancient Greek writings.
"I was introduced to the Greens around 2005 or 2006 by a friend of mine and I knew they had an interest in the Bible and religion, and that they had great success in business," Carroll shared of how the dream of the Bible museum began. "Once a year for five years I went to them and just talked with them about the need for a nonsectarian museum of the Bible that really focuses on the research and importance of that book. For five years, they listened, but showed me the door."
In 2009, however, at an auction in London where a handful of important biblical artifacts were to be sold, the archaeologist again approached the Greens. This time they consulted as a family, asked Mr. Carroll to set a price, and gave him permission to bid.
"We were able to acquire five of seven items," he revealed.
Since then, Carroll has traveled around the world and has acquired nearly 50,000 artifacts of Biblical importance. But before the Bible museum is ready, he plans on buying even more.
"We are rapidly acquiring at the same pace we have been over the last several years and have the green light as well to nurture new, additional benefactors," Mr. Carroll said. "I fully anticipate developing a few more benefactors over the course of the next year or so that will perhaps acquire at the pace of the Greens, and this collection will continue to expand at this rate."
The archaeologist, however, insisted that he makes sure each and every item is authentic before purchasing it.
"We've been extremely careful to vet everything acquired and are fully aware of the issues and problems," he said. "I work closely with international and national agencies reporting suspicious items that come our way."
Carroll and the Greens are envisioning the Green Collection to serve scholars and academics as well as the general public.