Museum of the Bible
The Museum of the Bible is a museum being constructed in Washington D.C. documenting the narrative, history and impact of the Bible. The museum is set to open in November 2017. The Museum Collection claims to have amassed one of the largest assemblies of biblical artifacts and texts in the world through collaborations between private donors, institutions and other museums.
|Location||409 3rd St SW Washington, D.C., United States|
|Executive director||Tony Zeiss|
|Public transit access||Federal Center SW|
The Museum is non-sectarian, non-political, and claims it will not proselytize. The president of the Museum of the Bible, Cary Summers noted, "Our goal is straightforward: reacquaint the world with the book that helped make it, and let the visitor come to their own conclusions. The Museum of the Bible is a global education institution that invites all people to engage in the Bible. We don’t exist to tell people what to believe about it".
The Bible Museum was established as a nonprofit in 2010. The museum’s building location and design were announced in 2012 when the Green family purchased a warehouse two blocks from the National Mall that used to be the Washington Design Center in Washington, D.C. The estimated $400 million project is updating 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 to original condition, with new brickwork imported from Denmark. The primary building was awarded historical status by the District's Historic Preservation Review Board. The glass-enclosed rooftop will offer views of the United States Capitol, the Washington Monument and several Smithsonian museums. The construction efforts have been led by Clark Construction, a nationally renowned building and renovation firm. Previous projects include the White House Visitors Office and several Smithsonian museums. The architectural design team is led by SmithGroupJJR, whose portfolio also includes several Smithsonian museums as well as the International Spy Museum.
The exhibitions will offer a scholarly perspective on the impact of the Bible in history. Bible scholar David Trobisch director of the museum's collections will advise on new acquisitions, identify the storylines for the museum's exhibits and supervise a team of 30 scholars and curators. Indiana Wesleyan University professor Jerry Pattengale will serve as Executive Director of Education Initiatives. The Museum also 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 will 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 will combine ancient artifacts with modern technology to immerse the participant in the Bible. The front entrance on 4th Street SW features 40-foot (12 meter) tall, 2.5 ton (2,300 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 will focus on the Bible's impact on world culture and history. The third level will present the general narrative of the Bible from Abraham through the creation of Israel to the ministry of Jesus and the early church. This floor will also contain a large Jewish Bible section. The fourth floor will present 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 will contain 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 will also contain separate exhibit space for displays presented by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Level six will contain 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 will be 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 is 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 will recreate a Nazareth village from the first century. C&G Partners is leading 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 will contain over 40,000 objects and artifacts 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 and the Louvre. The partnership with the Israel Antiquities Authority will allow the museum access to display many of the 2 million artifacts contained in Israel's National Treasure, which will be displayed in a dedicated museum section. 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 will operate two establishments in the museum. "Manna" will be an Israeli-Mediterranean street food cafe featuring such biblical foods as flatbread and date honey as well as traditional Jewish foods such as falafel and hummus. "Milk and Honey" will be a 70-seat coffee shop offering cappuccinos, lattes, and teas as well as snacks and sandwiches. The Grays will also provide catering for events at the museum. Many of the food offerings will be certified kosher.
Despite its claims to factuality, the Museum has come under criticism by a few academics, who are wary of the originally-explicit evangelistic purpose of the Museum. While the original purpose statement for the Museum sought to confirm the reliability and authority of the Bible, the newest statements have shifted towards more of an academic presentation of artifacts and versions. The latest (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."
Concerns have also been raised regarding the provenance of the artifacts in the collection. In response to this issue, the museum appointed David Trobisch, a liberal European scholar, as director of the collection and charged him with displaying transparency and satisfying critics. Using a dozen researchers, Trobisch cataloged the history, authenticity and acquisition of the nearly 40,000 artifacts in the collection. Trobisch says he has "yet to find a questionable piece".
More recently, the founders of the museum were forced to relinquish thousands of artifacts because they were smuggled out of Iraq via the United Arab Emirates. Notably Hobby Lobby neglected to confirm where the artifacts had been stored. Hobby Lobby was forced to relinquish 5,500 artifacts and to pay a $3 million settlement. The Justice Department discusses archaeological looting in Iraq:
In October 2010, an expert on cultural property law retained by Hobby Lobby warned the company that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq. The expert also advised Hobby Lobby to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify that their country of origin was properly declared at the time of importation into the United States. The expert warned Hobby Lobby that an improper declaration of country of origin for cultural property could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the artifacts by CBP U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Museum of the Bible responded by noting that they are an entirely separate organization which "was not a party to either the investigation or the settlement." The Museum voluntarily "adheres to the current Association of Art Museum Directors' standards on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art, as well as guidelines set forth by the American Alliance of Museums" and, further, that "none of the artifacts identified in the settlement are part of the Museum's collection, nor have they ever been."
Scott Thumma, a dean and professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, defended the Museum of the Bible for the harsh coverage they've received, citing a double standard in the media. "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," Thumma is quoted as saying.
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