On November 17, 2017, the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, D.C., and if the vast crowds lining up to get inside it are any indication, this new museum is a hit of epic proportions. Located three blocks from the National Mall, at 400 4th Street SW, the privately funded museum is housed in a former refrigeration warehouse and is a short walk from the Federal Center SW Metro station.
Contributors spent $500 million converting the old warehouse into an eight-story, 43,000-square-foot museum, which is billed as “an innovative, global, educational institution whose purpose is to invite all people to engage with the history, narrative and impact of the Bible.”
Founded and partly financed by Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, and more than 50,000 other contributors, the museum houses, among many other artifacts, the world’s second largest collection of Dead Sea scrolls fragments, an early copy of Psalms translated into Greek from the third or fourth century, first editions of the King James Bible, Bibles that belonged to Elvis and several U.S. Presidents as well as Julia Ward Howe’s handwritten first draft of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It also has a “Wicked Bible.” This King James Bible was published in 1631 in London and contained a catastrophic error. In this Bible’s version of Exodus 20:14, it states, “Thou shall commit adultery.” The mistake was discovered a year after publication, and when King Charles I found out, he ordered all the erroneous copies confiscated and burned. Somehow 11 copies escaped the flames, and the Museum of the Bible has one of the “Wicked Bibles.”
The museum is state-of-the-art and high-tech. The long entrance hall ceiling features an ever-changing digital display. Throughout there are 20 video theaters and numerous interactive exhibits. The museum also includes a ballroom, a performing arts hall, a garden, Manna restaurant, Milk & Honey Cafe and a gift shop. Floors 2, 3 and 4 contain the bulk of the artifacts and exhibits.
As soon as we knew that my family and I would be in Washington, we went online for tickets. The museum is free, but requires a timed-entry ticket. Some of the performances or exhibits require a separate paid admission. Even a month out from our visit, it was difficult to get tickets for a Saturday. The first available admission time was 1:15. The ticket advised arriving 30-15 minutes before the admittance time. We arrived 25 minutes before our slated time and still had to wait forty minutes to be admitted through the 40-foot tall gates that look like pages from the Gutenberg Bible and are inscribed with the verses from Genesis.
After clearing a security screening area, we traversed the Grand Hall, gazing up at its magnificent digital ceiling, and took the elevators to the fourth floor to begin our tour. The fourth floor traces the History of the Bible from clay tablets and parchment fragments to today’s digital versions. The third floor is devoted to the Stories of the Bible. The line at the Old Testament exhibit was very long so we opted to visit The World of Jesus of Nazareth exhibit, which presented the village of Nazareth as it would have appeared in Jesus’ time. Costumed characters explained day-to-day living there from how olives were pressed to the meaning of the word Nazareth, which means “watch tower.” From there we went to the New Testament Theater, which featured an animated film that succinctly showed how the New Testament came into existence and how its message spread throughout the world.
The second floor examined the Impact of the Bible. It demonstrated just how widely the Bible has influenced every aspect of life from music, fashion, architecture and literature to politics, science, religion, pop culture, and civil rights. There are special exhibits and a large gift shop on the first floor.
We spent four hours in the museum and felt like we only scratched the surface of it. We could have spent many more hours there. The history buffs in my group were amazed to see so many ancient artifacts, especially ones that corroborated events that are described in the Bible, housed in one place. Even if you aren’t religious, I think you will find the museum very informative. One display showcases the various versions of the Bible and compares them to each other. Who knew that there was a Samaritan Bible and that there are only 2,500 Samaritan Christians left in the world?
The museum walks a tightrope, presenting facts without proselytizing or favoring one religion or denomination over another, and I think it does that quite well. Many scholars were consulted while the exhibits were being put together. Whether Jew or Christian or an unbeliever, you will still learn something at the museum.
One observation of the crowds there. My son who accompanied us to the museum lived in D.C. for 10 years and remarked that the throng at the museum was the most diverse crowd he’d ever seen. That’s saying something considering he went to college with students from around the world and the D.C. is cosmopolitan. There were people in the museum of seemingly every race and ethnicity. Ironically, when so many in society try to prohibit the Bible for fear of offending, the diversity that social engineers so desire was achieved at the museum uniting people through their curiosity to learn more about the Bible.
By: Janice Palko