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The Museum of the Bible will impress you with its scale and amenities, but not with its evangelism.
Located two blocks from the National Mall, the brand-new museum showcases its 430,000-square-foot building, historical artifact collections, and $42 million worth of cutting-edge technology to the public for the first time on Friday.
Steve Green and his billionaire evangelical family sought to launch a museum solely dedicated to Scripture nearly a decade ago. Plans changed over the years, but the goal was always to be one of the most innovative and awe-inspiring museums in the world. “This is a journalistic view of the Bible—it’s not about espousing our faith,” Green said. “We just want to present the facts and let the visitors decide for themselves.”
Tony Zeiss, executive director of the museum, told reporters at a media preview days before the grand opening that he hopes visitors will have two takeaways: “Wow, that’s the most incredible museum I’ve ever visited, and two, maybe there’s something about this Bible.”
But he quickly added a disclaimer, saying that does not mean evangelism.
The first-floor lobby of the museum features a 140-foot-long digital ceiling display that cycles through images of historic landscapes, art, and artifacts from the Museum of the Bible’s 1,600-item collection.
Upon arrival, each visitor can pick up a small digital tablet that syncs with 86-inch touch tables where guests can customize their visit. The tablets have indoor GPS capabilities to track guests in the museum, display relevant information, and locate children who wander off.
Admission is free to the public, but the museum has suggested donations and asks visitors to reserve timed-entry passes to avoid overcrowding. The museum has a limit of 5,400 guests at one time. Museum staffers claim it would take nine eight-hour days to review all of the content.
One floor up from the lobby visitors can take a tour through a permanent exhibit on the “Impact of the Bible.” This floor highlights how Scripture has influenced culture throughout history on everything from education, literature, art, and fashion to the civil rights movement. Large displays outline the Bible’s influence on U.S. founding documents and give information on influential Christian leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. and Billy Graham.
The third floor focuses on the narrative of the Bible. Guests can choose from three distinct exhibits: a movie-set re-creation of Nazareth from when Jesus walked the earth, a 12-minute video of stories from the New Testament, and a 40-minute immersive, cinematic walk through the Old Testament narrative.
The museum cost $500 million and took more than three years to construct. It hosts one of the world’s largest private collections of Torah scrolls, and it will temporarily showcase artifacts from the Israel Antiquities Authority—the first public viewing of the collection. The Green family led the funding effort along with 50,000 smaller donors including James Dobson, Rick Warren, and Ben Carson.
The Museum of the Bible opens amid a Justice Department settlement where the Green family paid $3 million and returned 3,500 artifacts illegally obtained from Iraq. Green said he made “mistakes” early on while acquiring artifacts for the museum but claims no provenance problems with any items on display at the museum—and if doubt remains about something, he will remove it.
Green told me he always intended the Museum of the Bible to be a “nonsectarian” view of Scripture. The museum is not bound to any denomination, and it is even difficult to find in the museum references to Jesus and His death and resurrection.
The Museum of the Bible’s founding documents in 2010 stated its purpose was “to bring to life the living word of God, to tell its compelling story of preservation, and to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible.” Seven years later, the museum’s purpose is more subdued: “to invite all people to engage with the history, impact, and narrative of the Bible.”
But for Green, any exposure to truths found in God’s Word is a good thing.