AFA Journal staff writer
May 2018 – “At first I was a little concerned about what they would have in a museum of the Bible. Is there enough for a whole museum?” A religiously unaffiliated YouTuber recalled his initial concerns after visiting the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Then he added: “But the truth is, I think this is a museum we really need just because there is so much that was influenced by the Bible.”
His reaction reflects the response of nearly everyone who walks through the doors of the 430,000 square-foot attraction. But Cary Summers, president of Museum of the Bible, knows that even such a large building could never contain all that could be seen and studied about the Bible.
“The Bible is so big that we had to come up with a special approach to get our heads around it,” Summers told AFA Journal. “So we developed three focuses: impact, narrative, and history.”
The three-prong approach to grasping the Bible is literally built into the museum. Each focus has its own floor with unique exhibits. The impact floor is home to a functional Gutenberg Press reproduction where an operator works and answers visitors’ questions. The history floor hosts a scribe from Israel handwriting a copy of the Torah. The narrative floor depicts the Nazareth Jesus grew up in.
Traditional exhibits have interactive aspects as well. State-of-the-art tablets invite guests to experience augmented reality.
“This gives visitors the ability to look at things behind enclosures in a 3-D environment,” Summers said. “You can move and twist them around, watch videos about them, or study the culture of its era.”
Driven by purpose
A singular mission drives each exhibit: “Invite all people to engage with the Bible.”
“We have people researching what it means to engage with the Bible right now,” Summers said. “Because if you ask 50 people what it means, you will get 50 answers.”
Defining the action word – engage – is difficult because of the wide swath of guests.
Kids from local schools visit on field trips. Academics examine what they have only read about. Families point to concrete exhibits of what were only vague ideas before.
“No matter what type of person walks in, we have one consistent response,” Summers said. “Everyone learns something new.”
But not everyone can make it to Washington, D.C., to walk through the immense doors of the museum. For them, Museum of the Bible has invested in social media.
“We designed the museum to be a toolbox for the world,” Summers continued. To that end, the museum has published several videos on YouTube that spotlight its exhibits and attractions. While viewers may never get to see them in person, they can get the next best thing.
“We may have a million visitors in one year,” Summers said, “but there are billions who will never come here. If we aren’t a resource for anyone interested, then we have failed our mission and purpose.”
Museum of the Bible operates on a family friendly, pay-as-you-wish model with suggested donations of $15 for teens and adults, and $10 for children 12 and under. For more information, reservations, or museum support, visit museumofthebible.org. Videos can be viewed free at youtube.com.