Three blocks south of the U.S. Capitol and two blocks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Museum of the Bible is readying for a Nov. 17 grand opening that some say could help stem the tide of a nation and world that have been turning sharply away from the truth and authority of Scripture.
“Through the sovereign hand of God, He has placed Himself right in the middle of the mess,” said Tony Evans, author and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. “He has given us the opportunity to exalt His Word, with Him as the centerpiece, in an environment known for representing the authority of men.”
The scope of the undertaking is unprecedented. The 430,000-square-foot facility—one of the five largest of D.C.’s more than 200 museums—will be a multimedia experience allowing guests to explore and learn about the Bible’s history, stories and impact. The $500 million project will provide a scholarly and engaging presentation of the Bible and will feature world-class interactive audiovisual exhibits, special effects and live theater, along with art galleries, research labs and 800-1,200 artifacts at any one time.
Among many technologically advanced adventures awaiting guests will be a simulated walk through the parted Red Sea, as if with Moses and the Israelites when God was delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians (see Exodus 14); a surround sound theater with an action-adventure overview of Biblical history; a re-creation of a first-century village; and a “flyboard experience” taking guests on a flight through Washington, showing the Bible’s presence via inscriptions on monuments and buildings in the city.
There’s a 472-seat performing arts hall, where Broadway and off-Broadway caliber, live theater productions will be presented, starting with an eight-week run of Amazing Grace: The Musical.
“Hopefully, we will present the Bible in such a creative way that it will generate in people an interest to read it and pursue further understanding of it,” said Museum president Cary Summers, whose prior construction oversight projects includes Nazareth Village in Israel and the [Noah’s] Ark Encounter in Williamston, Ky.
“We want to put the Bible back into the center of conversation so it becomes a focal point to fill in the many voids around us that, unfortunately, are filled right now with the wrong things.”
The Museum project—the vision of Hobby Lobby president Steve Green—has been nearly a decade in the making. Its nonprofit organization was established in 2010, and the land and now-renovated building was purchased in July 2012. Its location is ideal due to its proximity to the Capitol and other museums (within walking distance of Smithsonian museums), plus the fact that it already has a Metro subway station stop on its block, making it a convenient and attractive destination for visitors.
“This is not your grandmother’s museum,” Summers said. “We want it to be more than just a place where people pop in to look at things and then pop out to leave.
“It’s one of the most technologically advanced museums anywhere in the world, but there are also some of the oldest artifacts dealing with the Bible in the world, so there’s quite a contrast that will occur.”
Among the exhibits will be one of the oldest known copies of the part of Romans 5 that states that Christians are justified by faith, the second-largest private collection of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, the largest private collection of Torah scrolls spanning 700 years of history, first editions of the King James Bible, and a letter written by Martin Luther the night before he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521—an event that directly led to the Protestant Reformation.
Green and Hobby Lobby have spent years collecting rare Biblical manuscripts and ancient artifacts, some of which were included on exhibit tours around the U.S. and globally. However, Green recently had to pay a $3 million federal fine and return 5,500 artifacts suspected of being illegally removed from Iraq by unscrupulous dealers. Hobby Lobby released a statement saying it unintentionally made “regrettable mistakes” due to being new to such acquisitions and has implemented changes in how it vets such purchases.
Behind the scenes, the Museum is a working research center, with dozens of scholars from around the world examining artifacts, translating manuscripts and developing educational curricula, which is already in use in Israeli schools.
“Our vision is to give voice to the artifacts, to let them speak for themselves, and also to help raise up the next generation of Biblical text scholars,” said Michael Holmes, a leading authority on Biblical manuscripts as well as a professor of early Christian writings and director of the Museum’s Scholars Initiative.
As an added attraction, the Israeli Antiquities Authority—Israel’s top archaeological organization—has a 20-year agreement to display its artifacts on one floor of the Museum.
The Museum is presenting the entire Bible and wants to be welcoming to people of all faiths as well as to nonbelievers.
“When you put something like this in Washington, D.C., you’re going to attract the mix of the world,” Summers said. “We’re simply saying, ‘Here’s the Bible.’ We’re not going to be forceful with it. Hopefully people will leave saying, ‘I want to learn more.’
“We’re not trying to melt down or water down anything. We’re not trying to add or take away. We’re just allowing the Bible to speak for itself. It has power within it, and it is strong enough to stand on its own two feet.”
Holmes said the Lord has chosen ministries such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to call people to decisions for Christ, but the Museum has a different role in God’s Kingdom.
“We’ll present the Bible in a way that lets people who might not otherwise ever want to look at it be intrigued enough to come to the Museum, where they can say ‘What in the world is going on here?’ and let God meet them where they are,” Holmes said.
For believers—church groups and otherwise—there will be a wealth of opportunities to grow in their faith, providing a potential impetus for widespread spiritual renewal, says author and Bible teacher Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries.
“America was born with a Bible in its hands, and it was to be a light to the world,” Arthur said. “But I think our light is going out—and America’s in the state it’s in—because the Bible has fallen from our hands.
“My prayer is that the Museum of the Bible will be used by God to bring about what may be the final great awakening in America. It’s going to reach multitudes, and I’m praying it will cause us to repent of our neglect and disregard for God’s Word and that He will use it to shed His grace on us again.”
Photographs: Courtesy of The Museum of the Bible