New Bible Museum Opens in Washington

17 November, 2017

Washington D.C. is a city full of museums. Visitors have a large choice of places to go to learn about United States history, culture and art.

The latest one to open in Washington is the Museum of the Bible. The 40,000-square-meter building is located near the U.S. Capitol, the National Mall and several Smithsonian museums.

Unlike most major museums in Washington, the $500 million Museum of the Bible was not financed by the government. An American businessman, Steve Green, mostly paid for it. He is the president of Hobby Lobby, a large business that sells arts and crafts.

Green's idea for the museum came after he privately collected more than 300 Bible-related artifacts. He wanted a way to share these items with the rest of the world in a permanent home.

Green says the goal of the museum is to educate people, not preach to them. "There's just a basic need for people to read the book," he told reporters. "We just want to present the facts and let visitors decide."

Museum officials have said the institution is not intended to represent the views of any particular religious or political group. They noted that more than 100 scholars representing a variety of groups helped design all exhibits in the museum.

People preview the exhibit
People preview the exhibit "The World of Jesus of Nazareth" at the Museum of the Bible, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

However, some religious scholars have questioned whether the museum provides a balanced view of the Bible and religious history.

Joel Baden is a professor at Yale Divinity School and co-author of the book Bible Nation. He told Reuters the museum leaves out some important history relating to other major world religions.

"They are telling a story of the Bible that is a particularly American Protestant one." He said little attention was given to Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons.

There are also concerns about the museum's true intentions because of several controversies involving Steve Green and Hobby Lobby. Green and his family have been very public in opposing birth control and supporting efforts to include Bible teachings in U.S. public schools.

In 2014, Hobby Lobby won a U.S. Supreme Court case giving the right to deny workers at family-owned companies health coverage for birth control.

In July, Hobby Lobby also was ordered to pay a $3 million fine and return artifacts the company bought without knowing the items had been smuggled out of Iraq. The company admitted it should have taken greater care in doing business with its dealers. Museum officials said none of those items were meant to be put in the Museum of the Bible.

John Fea is head of the history department at Messiah College, a private, Christian college in the state of Pennsylvania. He said he thinks it will be very difficult for the museum to remain neutral in proving information about the holy book.

"It's going to be very, very hard to present the Bible in that way," he said. "Because the Bible is always so sort of ensconced, and so connected to a particular religious tradition and their way of interpreting it."

Visitors enter the museum through a dramatic 12-meter-tall bronze entrance containing writing from the first book of the Bible, Genesis. One museum official said about the design, "when you walk in, you're really walking into the Bible."

The writing on the doors came from an early version of the Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed in Europe with movable type.

An exhibit discussing slavery in the United States is displayed inside the Museum of the Bible, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
An exhibit discussing slavery in the United States is displayed inside the Museum of the Bible, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Among the many Bibles shown at the museum is one called the Eliot Indian Bible. The museum says it was the first Bible printed in America in a Native American language.

The Museum collection also includes several first editions of the King James Bible and early versions from Christian Reformation leader Martin Luther.

Also shown are a large collection from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and what the museum describes as the "world's largest collection of Torah scrolls," covering more than 700 years of history.

In addition, visitors can explore an area on the Bible's influence on cultures across the world, including education, literature and art. Included in this area are a Bible once owned by Elvis Presley and modern fashion designs inspired by biblical subjects.

There is no cost to visit the museum, but donations are accepted.

I'm Bryan Lynn. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Is the Museum of the Bible a place you want to visit? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

artifact n. things made by people in the past

innovative adj. using new methods or ideas

engage v. to do something

preach v. speak or write about something in an approving way

basic adj. simple, not including anything extra

exhibit n. collection of objects placed in one place for people to see or inspect

controversy n. strong disagreement over something among a large group of people

ensconced adj. positioned safely or comfortably somewhere