DALLAS -- By way of their mutual interest in Bible history, Lee Biondi and Craig Lampe had run into each other frequently over the past 15 years.
But Biondi, a Los Angeles antiquities dealer who specializes in rare biblical manuscripts, and Lampe, a Phoenix purveyor of historic Bibles, had never displayed their artifacts together.
That is, until William Noah, a Tennessee doctor who shares their interest in Christianity's roots, suggested the idea.
The result was the exhibit "From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book," a $15 million collection of manuscripts and Bibles that organizers expect to draw more than 100,000 people to the Biblical Arts Center in Dallas through Nov. 16.
"Craig and I live with this material all the time, but it's in a rarefied world ... a world of wealthy collectors," said Biondi, the exhibit's coordinator. "This was just a chance for regular folks to come see. It was completely an impromptu act of love that we wanted to do."
The exhibit opened in April in Tennessee.
Interest was so high -- more than 30,000 visitors in a 23-day run -- organizers decided to take a national tour.
Since the Sept. 5 opening in Dallas, thousands have watched the 17-minute video on Bible history and viewed the exhibit.
The exhibit is not without critics. Bronson Havard, editor of the Texas Catholic newspaper and a spokesman for Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann, said the exhibit presents a skewed view of Bible history.
"There is in this biblical exhibit, which is best viewed only by discerning persons, more than a hint of anti-Catholicism," Havard wrote last week in the diocesan newspaper. Noah said the exhibit's goal is to show persistence and sacrifice of men killed for translating scriptures into English. "This event is not anti-Catholic," he said. "It's not anti-anything. It's only pro-history of the English Bible."
The exhibit features a few Dead Sea Scroll fragments from the Old Testament books of Genesis and Isaiah and third-century fragments of the Gospel of John and the apostle Paul's letter to the Colossians. The Dead Sea Scroll fragments are darkened so that they can be read only through infrared photography. The scrolls were found in 1947 in the Judean desert.
An even older display is a legal document from 700 B.C. that Biondi said records the earliest known written name of the Judeo-Christian God as "Elohim."