“Say Cheese!” a tour leader tells her excited group posing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Every year, an estimated 21 million people visit Washington, DC, to see reminders of what made America great. From the White House and the looming Washington Monument to the museums telling the unique story of American history, the city offers more than you can take in on a single visit. But one thing is missing, or at least it has been until this fall. Just three blocks away from the heart of DC, a new museum is taking shape. This one isn’t dedicated to pop culture, political history, or world-renowned art. Its goal is to invite all people to engage with the Bible.
How could this happen today, in a culture characterized by increasing biblical illiteracy?
Gobbling up 430,000 square feet of precious capital real estate and costing an impressive $500 million, this one-of-a-kind nonprofit museum is opening November 17, 2017. Despite its imposing name, Museum of the Bible won’t be filled with thousands of dusty old Bibles. Instead, it aims to be the world’s most technologically advanced museum, with the purpose of inviting all people to engage with the Bible’s narrative, history, and impact.
Who had the vision and resources necessary to invest in a place like this, and how did they construct a building to honor the Bible at the very center of Washington, DC?
Vision Behind a Bible Museum
Steve Green is best known as the openly Christian president of Hobby Lobby, the wildly successful arts and crafts retailer, whose stores seem to appear on every corner of small-town America.
While everyone knows him for ribbons and craft glue, behind the scenes he has been amassing a mountain of Bibles and artifacts. Two close friends of Green suggested he take his thousands of artifacts and build a museum. Through a series of surveys, he decided that DC would be the best location for a Bible museum since it is the museum capital of the world and home to many of the world’s most respected cultural and research institutions.
“The Bible has had an unquestionable influence on science, education, democracy, arts and society. This book has also profoundly impacted lives across the ages, including my own.”
CEO, Hobby Lobby and Founder of Museum of the Bible
“The Bible is the best-selling, most translated book of all time and is arguably history’s most significant piece of literature,” Green says. “It has had an unquestionable influence on science, education, democracy, arts, and society. This book has also profoundly impacted lives across the ages, including my own.”
Despite the increasing biblical illiteracy in the country, it is difficult to deny the Bible’s central role in the history of Western culture and the nation. Green wants to attract guests of all faiths, and those who have professed no faith, to learn what the Bible says, discover its fascinating history, and learn about its significant impact on art, music, government, science, and more.
Green sees the museum’s role as simply presenting the Bible and letting its guests draw their own conclusions.
In 2009, Green decided to pursue the idea of building a museum, but he couldn’t do it all by himself. He asked someone who was intimately familiar with modern large-scale attractions, Cary Summers, to oversee the launch of the museum and serve as president. Summers previously served as president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment/Silver Dollar City Corporation, one of the world’s largest theme attraction operators.
His first job was to find a big enough building. After two years of searching and bidding without success, Museum of the Bible bought an old, historic refrigeration warehouse within three blocks of the US Capitol Building. To an untrained eye, it looked like an impossible task. Builders had to knock out every other floor, as well as create a basement foundation. But with some engineering wizardry, they managed in less than three years to rebuild the facility into the eight-story, state-of-the-art museum it is today.
“These last few years have been a whirlwind,” Summers admits, smiling. “I wake up every morning asking God, ‘What amazing thing are you going to do today?’”
Now Summers can’t wait to see what happens once the massive facility opens to the world in November.
Museum of the Bible isn’t a typical museum where you aimlessly walk around until you’re ready to leave.
From the beginning, Summers said leadership wanted to take the lead in next-generation museum experiences, with no holds barred and no expense spared. If the technology didn’t exist, they would build it from scratch. They didn’t simply want to imitate the best, most recent museums, but think ahead to what could be done with the technology and computer software now at our disposal.
Each guest receives a personal digital guide, which makes it easy to plot their entire experience. The device’s navigation and supplementary content serve as a tour guide through the museum, providing each person the chance to customize what interests them most in the time available for their visit and the flow of crowds that day.
In addition, the system allows for 3-D interactivity with biblical artifacts, as well as virtual and augmented reality. For example, you can turn the pages of a beautiful medieval manuscript or explore the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. The digital guide also contains audio content, designed to help guests dive deeper into the narrative, history, and impact of the Bible.
The Bible Is Already in the Capital . . . You Just Might Not Have Noticed
Bible verses are carved into the walls of the
Washington Monument, including “
Scriptures” (John 5:39) and “
The memory of
the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7).
The Lincoln Memorial includes citations of
Bible verses. For instance, “The Almighty
has His own purposes. ‘
Woe unto the world
because of offenses; for it must needs be that
offenses come, but woe to that man by whom
the offense cometh’” (Matthew 18:7).
“As was said three thousand years ago, so still it must
be said ‘
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether’” (Psalm 19:9).
A large painting in the Capitol Rotunda depicts the Pilgrims holding an open Bible and praying to God for protection on their journey to the New World. The words “God with us” appear on the sail in the upper left.
Library of Congress
The Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenberg
Bible are on prominent display. Bible verses
are etched on the walls, including these:
The light shineth in darkness, and the
darkness comprehendeth it not” (John 1:5).
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore,
get wisdom and with all thy getting, get
understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). “
the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy
God” (Micah 6:8). “
The heavens declare the
Glory of God, and the firmament showeth
His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
Teaching the Bible’s Relevance Today
Based on its humble beginnings as a private collection, you might expect the museum to display row after row of Green’s artifacts.
But the designers wanted a museum that appeals to everyone, not just history buffs. They wanted to combine technology and visual pizzazz in a way that moves people to understand the Bible’s history and ongoing relevance today.
Experience Washington Revelations
After you pass through an area of Bible-focused interactive games and activities for children, exhibits begin in earnest on the second floor. One experience is sure to astonish guests—Washington Revelations. It takes them on a virtual tour of all the places they’ve been in DC and highlights the Bible verses woven throughout many of the capital’s historic landmarks.
Washington Revelations is the first virtual experience of its kind in the US. Forty people at a time gather in an alcove where screens come to life and “fly” you around the capital.
You soar past places like the Supreme Court, where the Ten Commandments catch your eye.
You fly over Arlington National Cemetery, noticing the many biblical verses inscribed on gravestones of our nation’s heroes.
Zooming by the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial, you see an inscription of Amos 5:24, a verse quoted in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
You’ll even fly inside the Library of Congress, where Micah 6:8, etched on the wall, declares, “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
“This virtual experience is designed to show the Bible’s impact in America,” Summers explains. “Through it, we want our visitors to contemplate the fact many of them have been at the places before, but they have never noticed the Bible’s impact and relevance.”
Hear the Old Testament Accounts
The museum’s Narrative Floor begins where it should—at the beginning. The Hebrew Bible Walkthrough provides an immersive walk through major narratives in the Hebrew Bible.
Guests first hear an audio narration and visual depiction of Creation, the Garden of Eden, and Adam’s fall into sin.
The narration continues as guests “walk though” the accounts of Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea, and David and Goliath, to name a few.
Museum guests walk through major Bible narratives such as the Great Flood of Noah.
Explore a First-Century Village
As you proceed, you are completely immersed in The World of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish village is designed to look like one where Jesus walked, and it highlights agriculture, sheep, oil lamps, and other fascinating details of daily life. Museum guides, acting as villagers, will discuss the cultural and political realities of first-century Galilee.
The Narrative Floor also features a New Testament Theater with a stunning 270-degree screen. It showcases a 12-minute film highlighting various accounts from the Gospels and other New Testament books.
A completely immersive themed environment will transport guests to a meticulous re-creation of a first-century village.
Not Just Another Book
An estimated 21 million people from all over the world visit the capital each year. Museum of the Bible, just steps from the National Mall and the US Capitol, hopes to attract many of those visitors. Through a series of high-tech exhibits, immersive settings, and interactive experiences, the museum will share the Bible’s impact, history, and narrative with guests of all ages, walks of life, and faith backgrounds.
“It takes a world-class team to build a world-class museum,” Summers remarked. “We’ve assembled just that: the best in architectural, interior, and environmental design, to provide guests with an experience that is unique, innovative, customizable to each visitor’s level of interest, and most of all memorable.”
The museum has made extremely clear that it is open to people of all beliefs and will not evangelize. Yet Christians know that the simple communication of the Bible’s content, without elaboration, will do more than simply teach another interesting facet of history.
As Terry Mortenson, speaker and theologian at Answers in Genesis says, “You can’t talk about the contents of the Bible without coming face-to-face with the claim that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth, died on a cross, and rose again. Christians know that this book is not like any other. It claims to be God’s revealed Word and to have supernatural power to convict of sin (Hebrews 4:12). Simply by reading these words, people will see their need for salvation and God’s loving plan to provide it through Jesus Christ.”
In a national capital split by political wrangling over the best way to solve the problems of the human condition, the citizenry needs to hear the biblical perspective. Believers should pray that God would bless this venture in ways the builders never imagined.