Museum of the Bible

Journalism students go to D.C. for opening of the Museum of the Bible

Four journalism students and their advisor traveled to Washington, D.C. to work as press for the opening of the Museum of the Bible from Nov. 11-18. Professor Greg Bandy wanted to plan a learning trip to D.C. and was able to secure press passes for seniors Katie Ellington and Cathryn Lien and juniors Matthew Pertz and Robin Gericke. The opportunity came through his connection with Phil Cooke, whose production company has been filming the Museum since construction began.

Bandy was reminded of the impact Scripture has on history. “Several years ago I had an opportunity to help curate a small, traveling exhibit on the history of the English Bible. The project opened my eyes to stories that were not only riveting, they changed the course of human history. Museum of the Bible presents this epic on a grand, engaging scale at just about every level,” Bandy said.

The first day was spent at the Museum. After attending a briefing by several Museum board members, the press had access to exhibits, and experts were available to answer questions about artifacts and the Museum. The students were grateful for the opportunity to work in this environment.

“I think opportunities like this are really important in college. You can only learn so much in the classroom. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in the field and doing real, professional work,” said Ellington.

The dedication of the Museum was on Friday, Nov. 17, and featured speakers such as Navy Chief of Chaplains Margaret Kibben and Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of the Jewish Federations of North America. Members of the press had the opportunity to interview the founders, board members and supporters of the Museum.

“Working as press alongside professionals from networks across the country was an incredible experience,” Gericke said. “It showed what truly happens in the field and the quick turnaround time required. The writer from the National Journal that we ate lunch with the first day had already turned in an article based on the press briefing from that morning. Seeing the pace journalists must work at was exciting!”

The team created the following multimedia package including video packages, articles and photography.

Museum of the Bible from Collegian Video on Vimeo.

Museum of the Bible shows the good, the bad and the ugly

By Katie Ellington, Staff Writer

After nearly eight years of planning, the Museum of the Bible opened its doors last month in downtown Washington D.C., just two blocks from the National Mall. The massive six-story building features top-of-the-line interactive displays, ornately decorated medieval Bibles, a “flying theater” ride and its own restaurant. According to museum co-founder Steve Green, some exhibits cost “well over a million dollars.”
Museum leaders have stated the museum’s purpose is not to evangelize, but to educate visitors on the history, narrative and impact of the Bible.

“We created this museum to help our guests understand and appreciate the role of the Bible not only in America, but globally,” said museum president Cary Summers. “We have no other agenda.”

For this reason, the museum is also nonsectarian and owes its existence to scholars and curators from around the world and varying faith backgrounds.

“By featuring Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and other faith traditions, the museum highlights our shared values and beliefs, as well as the history and development of the Judeo-Christian culture over the centuries,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter read at the museum’s dedication.

In a museum that explores the history and impact of the Bible, it’s impossible to avoid conflict and controversy. The Bible has been at the center of political and social struggles for centuries.

“We want to show the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Norman Conrad, the museum’s curator of Americana and English Bibles.

In Conrad’s exhibit, which focuses on the Bible in the Americas, this means discussing early religious persecution by the Puritans and displaying items like A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies. This is a book written by Bartolomé de las Casas in 1552 that details the cruelties committed by the Spanish empire against the natives of modern-day Cuba.

The exhibit also contains a slave Bible from 1808 that omits any reference to freedom, as well as the entire book of Exodus.

“[Slave masters] didn’t want them to have hope that God might deliver them,” said Conrad. A display case full of pamphlets dating back to the nineteenth century shows that the Bible was used to both defend and condemn slavery.

On the other hand, the museum also shines light on the Bible’s positive impact on American history and culture. In the seventeenth century, many of the colonies had high literacy rates due to the Protestant ideal that all people should be able to read the Bible. In addition, biblical principles were used to promote the American Revolution, social reform movements during the Progressive Era and the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s.

Another exhibit explores how the Bible has been preserved and translated throughout the ages. The “history floor” contains more than 500 biblical texts, from ancient rabbinic writings to Bibles used by the Oriental Orthodox Church.

“This floor is essentially a biography of the Bible,” said Bill Lazenby, whose company helped design the exhibit.

A central display case houses fragments that some scholars believe may be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known biblical text. Another section educates visitors on the various rabbinical texts and oral traditions of Jewish law. Off to the side, a display case holds Bibles used by various sects—including Protestants, Catholics, Samaritans, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox.

“It was important to us to represent the Bible not as a monolithic artifact but with great diversity in and of itself,” said Lazenby. “People should be able to come in and read their Bible…. Samaritans only read the first five books of the Bible, but it’s still the Bible.”

The latter half of the exhibit focuses on the translation of the Bible into modern languages—a centuries-long endeavor fueled by reformers like William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and Martin Luther. True to its mission, the museum describes the sometimes ugly consequences of the Bible’s presence in history.

“With the Protestant Reformation, rival interpretations of the Bible fueled militant partisanship and religious wars,” one sign reads. “Across Europe, Catholic monarchs executed Protestants, and Protestant rulers killed Catholics. The religious conflicts lasted for more than a century and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Yet in a room full of richly illustrated psalters and Bibles handwritten in elaborate Gothic script, it’s hard to focus on the harsh historical context. The museum’s impressive collection has early additions of the Wycliffe New Testament, Luther’s German New Testament and Tyndale Bibles, as well as Renaissance-era Bibles in Swiss German, Spanish, Czech and Danish. Museum curators are currently working on processing a Russian Bible.

The creators of the Museum of the Bible hope that visitors will be inspired to continue exploring the Bible after they leave.

“There is no building that can contain this story,” said Green. “We just scratch the surface.”

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Museum of the Bible educates and entertains

By Cathryn Lien, Features Editor

Our nation’s capital has become home to a museum on the book that shaped our nation: the Bible. The Museum of the Bible, located in Washington D.C., is an interactive educational center that promises to engage novice and scholar, devoted readers and new discoverers.

Chairman Steve Green emphasized that the museum strives to be a learning tool to the context of the Bible being fundamental to the American government, economic system and values.

“Our intent is to be an educational space for people of faith or no faith,” Green said.

The Museum of the Bible, which is free to the public, uses multimedia video, artifact galleries, live theater performances, art exhibits, ethnic foods and a fly-board ride to tell the story of the Bible.

“It takes 72 hours to see everything in the museum. The museum guide is your lifesaver,” said museum president Cary Summers.

Each floor is dedicated to one of the many facets of the Bible’s influence, including the exhibit “The Impact of the Bible,” which demonstrates its influence on everyday American culture; “Stories of the Bible,” which explores understanding the Bible’s message; and “History of the Bible,” which discusses how technology has transformed the Bible from an oral tradition to a mass-produced bestseller.

Each of these exhibits delivers a fair representation of the Bible’s use in the country’s—and the world’s—tumultuous history.

The museum also highlights how Scripture has influenced American leaders. President Lincoln, though he did not belong to a church, often quoted the Bible and used it to express the Union’s moral reasons for fighting in the Civil War. In his second inaugural address, he spoke on slavery as a moral offense, quoting Matthew 18:7.

The Bible has impacted literary movements since 1524, and the museum traces America’s finest universities and institutions back to the Bible’s influence. Protestant communities in Massachusetts taught their children to read by using the Bible, believing literacy to be a sacred skill. In 1636, Protestant clergy established Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and developed a robust curriculum consisting of classical languages, theology, science and law, with the Bible considered basic to education.

Much of America’s laws and code of ethics were adopted from the Bible also. The United States Constitution contains language that echoes passages of Scripture, such as its focus on establishing justice, promoting general welfare and “securing the blessings of liberty.” Then, in 1830, American educational reformer Horace Mann created a curriculum for teaching moral character, values and virtuous citizenship based on the teachings of Scripture.

“The History of the Bible” showcases the Bible’s journey through print. The most notable displays are a page from a Gutenberg Bible and pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Bibles in multiple translations, languages and faith traditions are included, alongside scholarly commentary. On this same floor, a section is reserved for a Jewish scholar, known as a “sofer,” to scribe a Torah scroll in-house. Visitors are encouraged to watch the scribe and ask questions about the scribing process, which requires strict standards regarding lettering style and layout.

In addition to providing an extensive history lesson, the museum knows how to have a fun. The museum’s “Stories of the Bible” theaters show animated films that tell the stories of both the New and Old Testaments. Washington Revelations, a motion fly-board ride, takes guests on a virtual tour through the capital, pausing on the many monuments inscribed with Biblical passages. The museum’s dining hall, “Manna,” creates a cross-cultural experience by serving ethnic dishes from the Middle East.

With input from 100 scholars of various religious backgrounds and with 150 trained docents on staff, the museum makes a conscious effort to remain nonsectarian. The artifacts and information presented in each gallery highlight Judeo-Christian culture’s shared allies and beliefs over the centuries.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, representing the Jewish Federations of North America, said this in a blessing over the opening of the museum: “May this be a place where people from all over the world come to study.”

The Museum of the Bible intends to educate, entertain and enlighten, but not necessarily evangelize, according to the museum’s leaders and founders.

Green said, “We will never fully delve the depths of this book. The Bible has changed the world and impacted lives, and that’s what we want to celebrate in this facility.”

Washington Revelations at the Museum of the Bible from Collegian Video on Vimeo.