After Thought: High-tech museum showcases Bible's contributions

By Todd Deaton

Published: May 1, 2018

Since the Museum of the Bible's opening last November, I have wanted to see the Washington, D.C., attraction. The six-story, 400,000 square-foot museum showcases the world's largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts.

The shear array of biblical exhibits is mind-numbing and overwhelming to say the least. By one estimate, a visitor would have to spend nine days at the museum to see all of the artifacts, read every placard, and experience the plethora of multi-media presentations offered. I only had three hours!

In town for a meeting of the Baptist Communicators Association last week, we squeezed in a quick fly-through after visiting the Senate Building, since the Bible museum is only a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

The museum's entrance is flanked by 40-feet high bronze doors, which display text from the Gutenberg Bible. But don't expect to read it—unless you can read Latin backwards (as type would have been set on the press). The scripture, however, is from Genesis 1.

High above the lobby is a 140-foot digital ceiling that displays rotating biblical artwork, a hint to the innovative technological marvels ahead. Even the elevator has video screens on its walls portraying biblical images and landscapes.

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Washington Revelations, best described as a high-definition, sensory flight through Washington, transports you up close to many of the buildings in our nation's capital revealing biblical texts and scenes. Through cutting-edge technology, mini-theaters, interactive media, and actors throughout the museum, visitors encounter the biblical settings and narrative.

In a walk-through, life-size model of the town of Nazareth as Jesus might have seen it—complete with Olive trees that are modeled after ones in the Garden of Gethsemane—actors present what life was like in ancient Israel. Another exhibit displays a 360-degree view of modern-day Jerusalem with significant sites labeled.

The heart of the museum, though, is more than 43,000 ancient biblical texts and artifacts, including papyri fragments, clay tablets, Dead Sea scrolls, ancient Torah scrolls, rare manuscripts, and early New Testament books. Among the many first-edition Bibles that I saw is the first one printed in America. It wasn't in English, as one might expect, but in a native Indian tongue.

On one floor, I paused to watch a working model of a Guttenberg Press. An actor demonstrated how metal type was set in two rows, inked with huge pads made from dog hair, and a giant lever turned a huge screw that pressed a plate of type onto a sheet of paper. Fascinating!

Among a seemingly endless trove of archeological and historic treasures are also exhibits that explore the Bible's impact on our culture, including literature, fine arts, architecture, education, science, film, fashion, music, family, government, law, human rights and social justice. Visitors may be surprised to see a replica of the Liberty Bell, which actually rings. The bell was inscribed with words from Leviticus 25:10.

"We want to invite all people to engage with this book," explains Steve Green, owner of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, whose family has amassed the impressive display of materials relating to the Bible's original writings and its preservation and distribution around the globe. "We think education is the first goal, for people to realize how this book has impacted their lives, and then consider the principles and apply them to their own lives because of the benefits that it brings," he has said.

Though the museum presents archeological evidence of the people, places and events of the Bible in a non-evangelical way, Green added, "But I think that, and our hope is that, it would change peoples' lives, that they would realize that this book is something for them to consider and would embrace its principles and live accordingly."

According to a spokesperson for the Green Collection, in a 2014 BP story about the museum's then-anticipated opening, the family amassed the collection "not to lock it away for safekeeping or tuck into a think tank but to share it with the world. … Their goal is to make the history, scholarship and impact of the Bible accessible to everyone."

After visiting the Museum of the Bible, I can say it certainly will awaken an awe and deep appreciation for the Word of God. The collection showcases the sweeping historical and cultural impact of the Bible across generations. And through it, we pray the Light of the Living Word will speak truth anew to the minds and hearts of a nation—and world—walking in darkness.