From history to technology, Museum of the Bible is as impressive as Disneyland
By Mike Haynes
Forty-foot-high bronze columns of type
copied from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible
flank the main entrance of the Museum
of the Bible, three blocks from the U.S.
Capitol in Washington, D.C.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
As a kid, one of my dreams was to go to Disneyland. I still haven’t made it to Anaheim, although I’ve been to the Florida version as a grownup.
After my wife, Kathy, and I had been in the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., for less than an hour the week before last, I told her I was in Disneyland. Kathy was impressed, too, with the $500 million attraction that opened Nov. 17, but she was satisfied with one full day exploring the four main floors of displays, videos, touch screens and ancient artifacts.Two days weren’t quite enough for me.
Not everyone will be as enraptured as I was to see a page from the Gutenberg Bible, which is the “Holy Grail” for someone interested in not only the Bible, but the invention of printing. But the MOTB has a page from that historic book, printed in Mainz,Germany, in 1455. Johannes Gutenberg’s Catholic Bible in Latin is considered the first book printed with movable type in the western world, and it created a communications revolution.
The museum entrance is flanked by two 40-foot-high replicas of columns of type from Gutenberg’s Bible. The 118 brass panels that form the columns give the building quite a grand entrance.
The lobby of the Museum of the Bible in
Washington, D.C., is topped by a 140-foot LED
screen that rotates various visual effects.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
I also am one of the few who are fascinated with the first King James Bible, printed in 1611 after England’s James I decided to approve a new Bible to replace the Geneva version, which he thought was too biased toward the Puritans. But the MOTB displays two of those 407-year-old Bibles, along with books that James wrote himself, such as his personal translation of the Psalms, printed six years after his 1625 death.
As impressive as the museum’s biblical collection is, it also is a technological wonder. A video table shows in real time what words from the scriptures are being searched for in various countries around the world. At one moment on Jan. 8, “love” was the most-searched word in Cambodia and “sin” was the third-most-searched in Zimbabwe.
Although just in the testing phase, “digital guides” – handheld tablets – can take you through the museum on a customized tour. When fully operational, the guides will store your high-priority exhibits and activities and steer you to them. Built-in GPS shows your location in the building within a few inches, and tapping on the map produces audio describing what’s in front of you.
Most impressive visually is a 140-foot LED screen that covers the lobby ceiling. Its color-drenched images constantly rotate from cathedral ceilings to stained glass to garden scenes.
The museum is a renovated food refrigeration facility built almost 100 years ago. Its 430,000 square feet cover eight stories, four of them major exhibit areas. The museum’s content focuses on the Bible’s impact on society, its narrative and its history.
The impact floor includes a 3,200-pound copy of the Liberty Bell that was lowered into the
The narrative floor has a recreated Nazareth village, including a first century synagogue replica, the New Testament Theater and, our favorite, the “Hebrew Bible Experience.” For 45 minutes, visitors walk from theater to theater and room to room, experiencing a blazing bush emerging from the dark, a trek through stylized walls of simulated Red Sea water and an emotional retelling of the first Passover.
The history floor features not only scores of notable Bibles but Dead Sea Scroll fragments, videos by “Drive Thru History” TV host Dave Stotts and “illumiNatons,” a circular area with shelves of Bibles translated into hundreds of languages – and spaces for many more languages still to be translated.
All that and more, plus a restaurant and a kids’ play area – and extensive research and education programs that already have been going for a few years.
rd Psalm in Greek on Egyptian papyrus, probably from the years 225 to 325 A.D.; a 1400s Torah from Spain written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic; a copy of John Newton’s song, “Amazing Grace,” in the Choctaw language.
This page of a papyrus manuscript
includes the 23rd Psalm in Greek.
Part of the Museum of the Bible collection,
it was found in Egypt and probably dates
from 225 to 325 A.D. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
I was surprised by this Vincent van Gogh quote in the “Art and the Bible” section: “I cannot tell you how much I sometimes long for the Bible. I read it daily, but I would really like to know it by heart…”
Maybe the most moving moment for Kathy and me was the finale of the museum’s first theatrical production in its World Stage Theater. It was “Amazing Grace: The Musical,” tracing Newton’s early life as a slave trader and his dramatic turnaround to oppose the immoral practice. Tears flowed as the audience joined the biracial cast in that amazing song.
The musical now embarks on a national tour that will include stops in Ruidoso, New Mexico, April 4 and Wichita Falls April 17. I recommend it heartily. As I do this treasure of a museum.
This “digital guide” can take visitors around the
Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
The touch screen uses precise GPS to show guests
what displays they are near and even to guide
them to preferred exhibits. (Photo by Mike Haynes)
The impact floor of the Museum of the Bible in
Washington, D.C., includes an exhibit showing
how the Bible has affected men and women
who are incarcerated in prisons and jails.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)