Museum of the Bible
Museum of the Bible, November 4, 2017 before opening
|Established||November 17, 2017|
|Location||400 4th St SW Washington, D.C., United States|
|Executive director||Tony Zeiss|
|Public transit access||Federal Center SW|
The Museum of the Bible is a museum in Washington D.C. which documents the narrative, history and impact of the Bible. The museum opened on November 17, 2017. With 1,150 items from the museum's permanent collection and 2,000 items on loan from other institutions and collections, the museum claims to have amassed one of the largest assemblies of biblical artifacts and texts in the world through collaborations with private donors, institutions, and other museums.
The museum says it is nonsectarian, non-political, and that it does not proselytize. The president of the museum, Cary Summers, said the goal was to "reacquaint the world with the book that helped make it, and let the visitor come to their own conclusions. ... We don't exist to tell people what to believe about it".
In the year before its launch, however, it had to field questions about the acquisition of its collection, including a federal case over smuggled Iraqi antiquities and thousands of clay artifacts. Despite the museum's nonsectarian stance, members of the museum's board of directors are required to sign a "faith statement."
The dedication ceremony of the Museum of the Bible received an official pontifical blessing from Pope Francis and individuals in attendance included Cardinal Donald Wuerl, musician CeCe Winans, chaplain of the U.S. Senate Barry Black, mayor of Washington, D.C. Muriel Bowser, and Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.
The museum was established as a nonprofit in 2010. The museum's building location and design were announced in 2012 when the Green family purchased the 1923 Terminal Refrigerating and Warehousing Co. building, two blocks from the National Mall that used to be the Washington Design Center in Washington, D.C. The estimated $400 million project updated the historically protected structure as well as adding two additional floors and a rooftop café and garden. The building's 1923 original red brick, architecture and ornamentation was restored, with new bricks imported from Denmark. The primary building was awarded historical status by the District's Historic Preservation Review Board. The glass-enclosed rooftop provides views of the United States Capitol, the Washington Monument and several Smithsonian museums. The construction efforts were led by Clark Construction. The architectural design team was led by SmithGroupJJR.
The exhibitions intend to offer a scholarly perspective on the impact of the Bible in history. Bible scholar David Trobisch, director of the museum's collections, was hired to advise on new acquisitions, identify the storylines for the museum's exhibits, and supervise a team of thirty scholars and curators. Indiana Wesleyan University professor Jerry Pattengale serves as Executive Director of Education Initiatives. The Museum has an external board of advisors, and works with Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and other religious and secular institutions.
Each of the six floors in the museum contain a different exhibit which emphasizes different aspects of the Bible's history or impact. This includes three permanent exhibit floors, each measuring 55,000 square feet (5,100 m2). The first floor combines ancient artifacts with modern technology meant to immerse the participant in the Bible. The front entrance on 4th Street SW features 40-foot (12 meter) tall, 2.5 tonnes (2,500 kg) bronze front doors with stained glass art containing a relief depicting the creation account in Genesis. There is also a grand lobby with a 200-foot (60 meter) LED ceiling allowing for changing visual effects and messages.
The second floor focuses on the Bible's impact on world culture, in areas like science, justice, and freedom. Another section is dedicated to the Bible's impact in American history.
The third floor presents the general narrative of the Bible from Abraham through the creation of Israel to the ministry of Jesus and the early church. This floor also contains a large Jewish Bible section.
The fourth floor presents biblical history and archaeology. Trobisch stated that the museum "will not whitewash conflicts in Christian history but will explain the arguments that were made at the time".
The fifth level contains a performing arts theater with a 500-person amphitheater. The museum plans to sponsor scholarly lectures as well as multimedia performances relating to the Bible. The fifth floor also contains separate exhibit space for displays presented by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The sixth floor consists of a rooftop viewing areas overlooking the National Mall and U.S. Capitol, stained glass exhibits, and a ballroom that seats 1,000 guests. The museum's artifact research facility and reference library is located in a one-story addition to the roof of a neighboring office complex.
Several museum partners are responsible for the design and layout of the various exhibits. The PRD Group was responsible for the history of the Bible floor. PRD Group has previously collaborated on exhibits at Smithsonian National Museum of American History and National Museum of Natural History. BRC Imagination Arts is developing the narrative of the Bible floor. Jonathan Martin Creative recreated a Nazareth village from the first century. C&G Partners led the design of the impact of the Bible floor. Previous work by C&G Partners includes the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
The museum contains more than 40,000 objects and artifacts, ranging from the time of Abraham through the New Testament period. Planned artifacts include biblical papyri, Torah scrolls, rare printed Bibles, Jewish artifacts and contemporary treasures of Christian and Jewish culture. The museum has made arrangements to exhibit significant archaeological artifacts owned by collaborating institutions and private collectors such as the Israel Antiquities Authority. Steve Green has donated 13 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls for exhibition at the museum, along with thousands of other ancient artifacts from his personal collection. Additional initial exhibits include remains from Julia Ward Howe's original manuscript for the famous song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as well as a replica of the Liberty Bell upon which is engraved the Bible verse from Leviticus "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof".
"Equinox" owners and "The Jewish Table" authors Todd and Ellen Gray operate an 165-seat, Mediterranean-inspired, fine-dining restaurant inside the Museum. The Grays will also provide catering for events at the museum. The Museum also contains a more casual lunch and coffee shop, where some of the food offerings are certified as kosher.
Despite its claims to factuality, the museum has come under criticism by academics, who were wary of the original wording of the mission, which described an evangelistic purpose of the museum, namely, to "inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible." A newer statement has shifted away from that language. The revised 2013 mission statement reads, "We exist to invite all people to engage with the Bible. We invite Biblical exploration through museum exhibits and scholarly pursuits."
Hobby Lobby smuggling scandal
The Hobby Lobby smuggling scandal is the series of events starting in 2009 when representatives of Hobby Lobby organized archaeological looting in Iraq to present smuggled artifacts to the Museum of the Bible. In 2017 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York directed Hobby Lobby to return the artifacts and pay a fine of US$3,000,000. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned 3800 items seized from Hobby Lobby to Iraq in May 2018.
Dead Sea Scrolls authenticity
The museum displays five parchment fragments that they claim are part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, there has been doubt cast upon whether these are authentic. Three of the fragments are suspected by researcher and expert Kipp Davis of being forgeries.
Scott Thumma, a dean and professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, defended the museum in the artifacts controversy. "Many of the collections of our great national museums and universities are full of the very objects that Hobby Lobby is being fined for smuggling and are seldom required to return or pay compensation."
The overarching narrative is the impact of the Bible...its own internal history of how it came together, spread and was passed on. It exudes one of the best things about art culture in this country. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Ethiopic, Orthodox — all of them are here. There’s a message of shared culture and respect that the museum exudes. Everyone who comes here is going to go out with that message.
In contrast to these comments, Biblical scholars Joel Baden of Yale Divinity School and Candida Moss of University of Birmingham, who wrote the book Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, expressed concerns about the museum's mission saying, "They have misled the public at large by promoting a curriculum and a museum that tell only the story that the Greens want to tell, without acknowledging that scholars and experts have spent decades, indeed centuries, laboring to provide very different accounts of the Bible and its history."
After spending many hours while writing the book with museum founder Steve Green and president Cary Summers, they concluded:
Their three-minute promo is fascinating demonstration of this problem. At least half of it is a reenactment of American history which has no bearing on the Bible—the signing of the Declaration of Independence, for example, or the Revolutionary War. The worry is that the museum portrays a story of the Bible that culminates in Protestantism and America. (Baden)
John Fea, associate professor of American history at Messiah College, and chair of the history department, said, "It’s hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to try to bring Christian values in the Bible’s teachings as understood by evangelical protestants, like the Greens, into the center of American political life and American cultural life."
However, the Catholic theologian Thomas L. McDonald, writing in the National Catholic Register praised the abundance of material dedicated to the history of the Bible with respect to Roman Catholicism:
In 2012, the museum brought its traveling Verbum Domini exhibit to the Vatican, which helped forge relationships with the Vatican Museums and Vatican Library. A similar exhibit was mounted in Philadelphia during the visit of Pope Francis, continuing the museum’s process of courting Catholic leaders and press. The result is a permanent space on the first floor of the museum for rotating exhibits from the Vatican, including the giant illuminated Urbino Bible (15th century) and a number of reproduction frescoes illustrating Church councils. New items will be brought from Rome every six months. In addition, one of the special exhibits for the opening is a series of Stations of the Cross sculptures. Catholicism permeates the art and exhibits. A section of paintings and sculpture shows how artists depicted the Virgin Mary throughout history. Dorothy Day and St. Josephine Bakhita highlight an exhibit on social justice. There’s the prayer book of Emperor Charles V, who condemned Luther as an outlaw, and various versions of the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims Bibles, among other Catholic versions. Pre-Reformation books and illuminated manuscripts, displays of Catholic architecture and art, the role of monks and nuns, and discussions of Catholic saints and scholars are all in the mix.
A blog article in The Economist criticized the Museum of the Bible for allegedly taking into consideration Protestant, Jewish and Roman Catholic views, but ignoring the views of Orthodox Christianity and not mentioning the "impact of the Bible on Islam" or taking into account the opinions of scholars who do not consider that the Bible contains a coherent story. On the contrary, Thomas L. McDonald stated that "The Museum of the Bible is telling the story of the holy book in all of its complexity. One display details all the various canons of Scripture, from Jewish to Ethiopic, what books they include, how they came to be in that form, and how they’re used."
Pope Francis sent an official pontifical blessing for Museum of the Bible's dedication on 17 November 2017, which was read by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the event. He stated that "He is confident that those who revere the sacred scriptures as the word of God will here find nourishment for their faith, while many others will be introduced to a fascinating and vital chapter in the spiritual history of the human family". Cardinal Donald Wuerl offered the invocation, followed by prayers and remarks from musician CeCe Winans, chaplain of the U.S. Senate Barry Black, mayor of Washington, D.C. Muriel Bowser, and Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.
On the previous day, 16 November 2017, museum officials held an opening gala and reception for the facility at the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C. in the Old Post Office Building. Mor Dionysius John Kawak, archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church, along with other representatives of that Oriental Orthodox denomination, Augeen Alkhouri, Freed Shammas and Raymond Dunya, were in attendance. Benjamin Netanyahu sent "warm greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of Israel." However, a number of museum employees and academic consultants refused to enter, citing the problem of having the event in a hotel affiliated with the controversial president of the United States, Donald Trump.
Museum officials did not release an attendance count of those present on the museum's opening day.
Board and leadership
- Steve Green – president of Hobby Lobby
- Allon Lefever – entrepreneur, former business professor at Eastern Mennonite University
- Anne Beiler – founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
- Carlos Campo – president of Ashland University
- Rick Warren – founder and pastor of Saddleback Church
- Robert E. Cooley – vice chairman of the board; president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Gregory Baylor – senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom
- Harry Lee Crisp III – director and owner of Pepsi MidAmerica and Crisp Container Corporation
- James Moore Jr. - former president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated
- Mark DeMoss – founder of DeMoss public relations
- Mary Banks – president of WOW Consulting Group
- Bob Hoskins – secretary of the board; founder of OneHope
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