The smell of a page of the Bible fused to debris from the World Trade Center is a trigger for photographer Joel Meyerowitz. In addition to bringing back a flood of memories, the smell of concrete dust and singed steel and paper also points to something much more profound than the horrific events of 9/11.
Meyerowitz spent nine months at Ground Zero in New York City after the terrorist attacks in 2001 to document the wreckage. As he was sifting through debris one day, a firefighter handed him something that would have a deep impact on anyone who sees it. Meyerowitz received a page of the Bible melted onto a piece of “heart-shaped steel.”
What is most significant about the find, superseding the fact that fragile pieces of paper could survive such a disaster, is the passage of Scripture the Bible was open to. Under the heading Retaliation, Meyerowitz reads from Matthew 5:38-39 where Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
“Out of all the pages of the Bible that it would be open to, that was remarkable,” Meyerowitz says.
That day the Bible was found, Meyerowitz wrapped it in a scarf and put it in his bag. He kept it safe for years in his studio, until he found the right institution to give it to. He gave the Bible to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in 2010.
More than an artifact from a horrible American tragedy, though, Meyerowitz says the story of this Bible is a story of survival, and he hopes that people have a sense of “wonder and awe” when they see it. “It’s going to carry some message about the way the word of the Bible has survived through centuries, through millennia, of history,” he says.
The story of this Bible also points us to hope. As Meyerowitz says, the artifact shows us that “something as fragile as a bunch of pieces of paper in a book could be saved and have survived this incredible tragedy.”