The Museum of the Bible
During a recent business trip to the US, I managed to grab a couple of hours at the recently opened Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. Although I had read excellent reviews, I was not prepared for what was to come. In short, it is a masterpiece. And so, I thought it might be useful to share some of my experiences here.
To begin, a couple of caveats. I didn't have enough time available to visit the whole museum, and so I cannot offer a complete review. However, I did visit the main exhibits, and so the scope of this review should be helpful. Also, my visit and review is no endorsement of all the content. There were some exhibits that I would prefer weren't there, but then as one of the curators informed me, it isn't intended to be an exclusively Protestant or Evangelical museum.
Entrance to the museum is efficient–it is run on a batched ticket system, making it best to order them in advance–and secure–security guards take their job very seriously. They scan everything and everyone in, and although this might sound onerous, it doesn't take too long. The average airport could learn a thing or two! On the main floor is the shop, which seemed fairly expensive, and set on a mezzanine floor above the main entrance was the delightfully named 'Milk + Honey Café.'
I ignored the temporary exhibition (Stations of the Cross sculptures) on floor B1 and made my way straight to the Impact of the Bible floor (2). Here there was an exhibit explaining the impact of the Bible on American culture, covering the Pilgrim Fathers, the Founding Fathers, the Great Awakening, the abolition of Slavery and other key historical events. The film on George Whitefield was worth the 5 minute investment, and the curators seemed to be particularly proud of Elvis Presley's Bible, which looked as if it was newly out of the box. From there I moved into a section outlining the impact of the Bible on world history, mainly focused on science. While I found this interesting (and helpful), it wasn't what I came for, and so I moved on to the next floor.
Floor 3 is the Stories of the Bible exhibition. It was split into Old and New Testament and was designed to make you interact with the Bible stories. There were actors on hand dressed in customary garb, charged with retelling the stories. A particular highlight for me was sitting perched on Mount Arbel overlooking the Sea of Galilee towards Bethsaida and Capernaum, and hearing an actor retell some of the gospel stories that took place there. Something of an immersive Sunday school for adults!
The History of the Bible exhibition on floor 4 was what I really came for, and so that was where I duly spent the majority of my time. To be frank, this is worth the entry donation in itself. Regardless of your knowledge level, you will find something for you. It can be as detailed as you like–Codex Valmadonna I and Ashkenazic Scroll–or as simple as you like–Drive Thru History of the Bible, which if you have limited knowledge of how we got the Bible, this is a great place to start. The section on Translating the Bible is superb, and so is the exhibition on the King James Bible and the Reformation. My advice is, if you can make it to the museum in person, do not leave without visiting this floor! For me, a particularly poignant point was seeing in a graphical format just how many people in the world do not have access to a Bible in their language (115 million). Much work to do!
I didn't bother with floors 5 and 6, the former being mainly made up of a theatre and some temporary exhibits, and the latter a restaurant, although kudos for the name; 'Manna restaurant.'
In summary, this museum is worthy of its position on Museum Row in Washington DC. It is a quality effort, not only in appearance but also in substance. If you are travelling from the UK, it is not too much of a journey by train to get there from New York or Philadelphia. You will not be disappointed. It is free of charge for admission, although technically it is 'donate what you like.' If travelling by car, plan where you intend to park. The garages fill quickly and on the road parking is scarce.