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Dan Wallace's Dispatches from Romania 2: "Oh, the Bible? I've Seen the Movie"

Categories New Testament Guest Posts

On their latest expedition, Dan Wallace and his team from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts discovered ten NT manuscripts in Greece and Romania. Dr. Wallace's second dispatch shows how travel through foreign cultures can reflect insight into our own.

After driving for over eight
hours from Bucharest to the northeastern region of Romania known as Moldova, we
came to the second largest city in the country—Iasi (pronounced “Yawsh”). I
have written about the road less traveled in another report, and will not go
into much detail here. Suffice it to say that we traveled an average of 31 mph,
yet in a few spots we were going over 85 mph. Very few spots.

We had booked a room at the
Hotel Unirea in the heart of the city. It was a three-star hotel which, in
Europe, normally means one or even two stars lower than in the States. We were
bracing ourselves.

The hotel turned out to be a delightful surprise. It’s a thirteen-story, very attractive building, situated right in front of the Piata (plaza) where two
other famous hotels are located. Free parking, free breakfast, free Internet, and a three-bed suite (they ran out of two-bed suites) for 60 euros a night! The only problem we had was the AC. But that’s a problem almost everywhere in Europe. Keeping it running 24/7 got the room down to about 80 degrees.

The Hotel Restaurant
We got in late and decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. It’s on the thirteenth floor. Yes, it’s not marked the fourteenth floor. The old superstitions that prevent architects and builders in the West from calling a building’s thirteenth floor what it is apparently did not infect Romania. Increasingly in the last few years, almost entirely in Europe, I’ve been in buildings with a labeled 13th floor. It’s a refreshing change. This hotel wasn’t quite that bold, however. Their elevator went up to the 12th. Then we walked up another floor to the
restaurant which was on an unnumbered floor.

Noah and I got to the restaurant at 11 PM, just in time for a late dinner. We had eaten a lunch on the road, which constantly reminded our bodies that we made a bad decision. Belches, farts, gas, and upset stomachs—just what you need when
you’re about to drive through Pothole Hell for the last 35 km of your trip! We
thought we would be on a crash diet in Romania after that experience. We were in
for a big surprise!

The menu listed a veritable feast—pork medallions, chicken parmesan, steaks galore including Chateaubriand, different kinds of duck, lamb, etc. We decided that
after the harsh road trip, we would give ourselves a little treat. The prices
were ridiculously low. We each ordered duck, shared a salad, had some Romanian
wine (which was really good!), and various side dishes and other unmentionables—all for about $60. Although more than our daily budget for food, this was a special day. Like a parent welcoming a son coming home from war, we celebrated our survival of the DN24 (the road into Iasi).

The First Waitress
The waitress spoke almost no English, but she did speak German quite well. Our conversations were thus in the Fatherland’s tongue for the rest of the evening.
At one point, she asked what we were doing in Iasi. It had quickly become
apparent to us that this was no tourist town. The DN24 made sure of that. It
was a university town, but like the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” it seemed to be
a place where people checked in but they didn’t check out. We dubbed the city,
Hotel Californ-Iasi (“Californ-yawsh”).

Back to her question. We told her that we were here to photograph ancient manuscripts of the New Testament. She didn’t understand. “What is the New
Testament,” she inquired in German. I told her that it was part of the Bible. Before
I could explain (which would have been a real chore, since my German skills are
elementary at best), she said, “Oh, the Bible! Yes, I know it. I’ve seen the
movie.” I tried to explain that the Bible was not a movie, but that the movie
was based on the sacred text of Christians and Jews. She had never heard that
before.

Here was a European woman, mid-30s, who had never heard of the Bible. I was astounded. As I mused over the matter, however, I realized that she had
probably not been exposed to the Bible in any way in school. After all, the
country was Communist until Christmas Day, 1989, when President Nicolae
Ceausescu and his wife were executed by a firing squad. How long would it take
before the Bible would even be introduced into the curriculum again after that?
If it was three or four years, she would never have been exposed to it in
school.

The Second Waitress
The next night we ate at a restaurant nestled in a residential neighborhood (zoning laws are quite different here than in the States) and the waitress was in her early 20s. We had figured that the younger a person was, the more likely it was
for them to have heard of the New Testament and Bible. I was hoping for an
opportunity to tell her about what we do. But I didn’t need to start the
conversation. Like our waitress at the hotel, she, too, was curious about why
we came to Iasi. When I told her that we came to photograph ancient manuscripts
of the New Testament, she understood. I asked, “Have you heard of the New
Testament?” “Yes, of course,” she replied.

These two incidents put in bold relief how the old Soviet bloc countries are undergoing dramatic change. The irony is that—as I have witnessed multiple
times—the students growing up in these post-Communist countries are getting
greater exposure to the Bible than most American students get in what is
increasingly becoming a post-Christian country.

Daniel B. Wallace is executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.csntm.org). When not traveling the world, he teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he is a professor of New Testament studies. His Greek resources published by Zondervan include Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, The Basics of New Testament Syntax, and A Workbook for New Testament Syntax.

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