There is plastic sheeting everywhere, beeping cranes, lighting experts up ladders, security men testing the alarms, academics creeping around stroking their beards, PRs with clipboards, cleaners polishing the glass cases and curators Professor Jas Elsner and Stefanie Lenk lost in contemplation, the realisation gradually dawning on them that what began as a research project over two years ago has culminated in a world-renowned exhibition.

The arrival of another shrouded antiquity being hastily slotted into place brings them back to earth, Jas nodding at The Vinica Tiles (circa AD 550-550): “The Macedonians are late.”

But theirs is the final piece in a show which covers the visual culture of the earliest periods of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, and aims to demonstrate their intrinsic similarities, with enormously prescient timing.

The result is Imagining The Divine – Art and The Rise Of World Religions – arguably the Ashmolean’s most ambitious project to date, which demonstrates that the initial founding of these now inherent faiths borrowed heavily from contemporary arts, which, due to the ever changing and itinerant global populations certainly crossed the divide.

Or as Stefanie puts it: “At that time, everything was religious, so this is more about power and culture crossing all boundaries than it is about religious identity. It was purposeful rather than coincidental, and proved how interconnected the world was then as different religions and cultures tried to forge their own identities.”

Perhaps only a research project between Oxford University and The British Museum could have divulged such a wealth and richness of exhibits with which to educate Luddites such as myself, leading us gently through the 150+ artifacts, warming to the theme as we view each religion’s identity being forged, as communicated through the imagery, from India to Ireland and back.

It is the result of all consuming collaboration between the Empires of Faith team made up of 10 specialists from all over the world, including Professor Ja? Elsner and Stefanie Lenk, Imagining The Divine being a distillation of three years of work.

The exhibition reminds me instantly of The British Museum’s enormously successful concept A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor,which explored world history from two million years ago to the present. And the Ashmolean team accedes the comparison and its easy method of imparting knowledge.

But how to demonstrate the team’s theories better than the initial room which displays works of Jesus with and without a beard. Hair or hairless? The floor mosaic from Hinton St Mary, one of the most famous pieces of Roman art from Britain depicts him without, a rather anonymous figure, reminiscent of Roman imperial portraits, empirical in its portrayal, Greek letters framing his head. Further Hinton St Mary mosaics include the myth of Bellerophon, demonstrating a smorgasbord of periods, styles and empires

“Eventually one Jesus wins out and emerges over the centuries,” Stefanie smiles, nodding at an AD 602-10 chased silver censer’s bearded Christ, which makes me wonder at how easily we accept the pre-ordained images so inured into our culture and psyches and yet developed over several centuries.

But perhaps it is the final exhibit which sums up the exhibition’s ethos best; Franks Casket which hails from Northumbria and carved from whalebone is one of Christianity’s earliest objects. And yet it’s sides depict Christian, pagan and even Germanic tales.

“We didn’t want to dumb down what is a complex issue, so we use the images as tools to prove how the different religions and their identities influenced each other,” Stefanie explains.

And yet in the present climate, carefully executed one would imagine? So has it been like walking on eggshells? “There are so many religions that we aren’t covering which could be a problem in itself, but you can’t do it all and we have done our best not to step on anyone’s toes.

“We are not trying to proclaim anything new, just pointing out what we know, because this was such an amazing and formative time when everything came together.

Quite a coup to pull off. So is Stefanie nervous of the outcome? “I’m just excited, very excited. This is the grande finale for us and it’s been fascinating from start to finish.

“I just want to see everyone’s reactions now.”

*If you need similar enlightenment there is a series of guided scheduled talks between November and February with the experts around the exhibition.