National Park Service/Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas

The Yonan Codex riveted the nation’s attention for a brief moment in the mid-1950s. This Syriac biblical manuscript, so it was claimed, not only was a copy of the original New Testament but was written in the language spoken by Jesus. Insured for $1.5 million, the parchment Bible traveled to the White House in March 1955 to be viewed by President Eisenhower (in the photo the codex is held by its owner, Norman Malek Yonan, a Washington businessman born in Iran).

A week later, it began its sojourn in the Library of Congress, where Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (see Yonan Codex exhibition opening) unveiled the leather-bound volume. Toward the end of 1955, the codex embarked on a national pilgrimage, meandering through the Bible Belt in a glass-domed bus called The Spirit of Galilee, which had been christened by Vice President Richard Nixon.

But by January 1956 the hoopla was over. The White House even asked the Aramaic Bible Foundation, the organization that had sponsored the tour, to stop distributing photographs of President Eisenhower handling the codex. What had happened? A bevy of scholars, including author Bruce Metzger, had shown that the manuscript’s language and date of composition make it less important than was claimed.