Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Soldiers' Bibles Exhibit a Walk Through American History

NEW YORK (RNS) -- The simplicity of the exhibit -- copies of the Bible resting in glass cases -- can be deceptive.
But the Museum of Biblical Art's exhibition, "Finding Comfort in Difficult Times: A Selection of Soldiers' Bibles," is American religious history come alive.
The exhibit showcases three dozen copies of Scriptures published for members of the U.S. Armed Forces from the Civil War onward, from leather-bound, 19th-century copies to contemporary Bibles clothed in camouflage.
But more than the Bibles themselves -- on long-term loan from the American Bible Society -- the exhibit tells the stories of the men and women who read them, their struggles with hardship, and the place of religion in their lives.
Given the personal histories they contain, "every scripture in the Rare Bible Collection at MOBIA has its own unique story," said the New York museum's executive director, Ena Heller.
Efforts to supply Bibles to American troops began in the waning years of the American Revolution. Decades later, in 1817, the one-year-old American Bible Society began supplying Bibles to the crew of the frigate USS John Adams.
Eventually, the society became the most prominent, though not the sole, distributor of Bibles to members of the U.S. military. While most of the Bibles have been intended for Protestants, Catholic versions, as well as Jewish Scriptures, have also been provided.
An early challenge was distributing Bibles during the Civil War. The New York-based American Bible Society opted to supply Bibles to both sides of the conflict, but distributing them to Confederate troops proved daunting. Some were intercepted as contraband by Union forces.
During World War I, General John J. Pershing and President Woodrow Wilson penned messages that accompanied a 1917 copy of the New Testament. In his preface, Wilson, a Presbyterian elder, declared that "the Bible is the word of life" and urged soldiers to read the Scriptures and "find this out for yourselves."


No comments: