Bi­ble mu­seum opens soon

Ed­i­fice ded­i­cated to book takes vis­i­tors this week in D.C.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - FRANK E. LOCKWOOD

WASH­ING­TON — Chris­tian broad­caster James Dob­son smiled in amaze­ment Tues­day as he glanced around the new Mu­seum of the Bi­ble for the first time.

“This is the most in­cred­i­ble thing I have ever seen in my life,” he told the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. “I hope everybody will come here.”

Big­ger than some of the Smith­so­nian mu­se­ums, cost­ing more than a half-bil­lion dol­lars, it is to open Fri­day just three blocks from the U.S. Capi­tol.

Amer­ica has other mu­se­ums fo­cus­ing on the Holy Land or the Holy Scrip­tures.

Eureka Springs, for ex­am­ple, has a Bi­ble mu­seum.

Hard­ing Univer­sity in Searcy has the Linda Byrd Smith Mu­seum of Bi­b­li­cal Ar­chae­ol­ogy.

But no one has ever built some­thing on quite this scale.

“It’s 400,000 square feet and eight sto­ries,” Dob­son said. “You could spend a year or two or three here just see­ing what is here one time.”

The mu­seum is the brain­child of Hobby Lobby Pres­i­dent Steve Green.

The Oklahoma City busi­ness­man considered build­ing it in Dal­las or New York City but ul­ti­mately opted for Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

He set­tled for a spot in south­west Wash­ing­ton that was long on gov­ern­ment build­ings and short on tourist at­trac­tions.

In hind­sight, it was a good choice, Dob­son said.

“This was just kind of a ware­house and they’ve turned it into this mar­velous struc­ture,” he said. “It’s some­thing to be­hold.”

Green’s vi­sion for the mu­seum un­folded quickly.

It was in­cor­po­rated as a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2010. The fol­low­ing year, he un­veiled plans for a mu­seum dur­ing an event at the Vat­i­can Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton.

The prop­erty was pur­chased for $50 mil­lion in July

2012.

In a prior life, the build­ing had housed the Ter­mi­nal Re­frig­er­at­ing and Ware­hous­ing Co., an ice man­u­fac­tur­ing plant and ware­house that bor­ders a busy rail­road track.

His­toric preser­va­tion­ists even­tu­ally de­cided that the orig­i­nal struc­ture, built in 1923, was el­i­gi­ble for list­ing on the Na­tional Regis­ter of His­toric Places.

Plans for the Bi­ble mu­seum had to be re­viewed by the U.S. Com­mis­sion of Fine Arts and var­i­ous other gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties.

Fi­nally, in De­cem­ber 2014, work­ers be­gan gut­ting the build­ing’s in­te­rior. A cou­ple of months later, ma­jor con­struc­tion fi­nally started.

Hard hats were plen­ti­ful — as many as 600 work­ers a day swarmed the site.

The fin­ished build­ing is 430,000 square feet, in­clud­ing a 472-seat per­form­ing arts hall, a 630-seat ball­room and three cen­tral ex­hibit floors.

There’s a Dis­ney-style ride that sim­u­lates a flight over the city and a rooftop gar­den where plants from the Holy Land will even­tu­ally flour­ish.

Todd and Ellen Kas­soff Gray, Wash­ing­ton restau­ra­teurs and the au­thors of a pop­u­lar Jewish cook­book, are over­see­ing Manna, the mu­seum’s new res­tau­rant.

In one area, vis­i­tors can hold 900-year-old Bi­ble manuscripts and dis­cuss their con­tents with Ox­ford Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Dirk Ob­bink or other aca­demics.

In an­other, they can learn about ef­forts to trans­late the Bi­ble into languages where it doesn’t yet ex­ist.

Speak­ing with re­porters, Green said the pur­pose of the mu­seum is ed­u­ca­tion, not evan­ge­lism.

“It’s non­sec­tar­ian. It’s not about es­pous­ing our faith. It’s sim­ply ed­u­cat­ing on this book and we’ll let the vis­i­tors see if we’ve done that well,” he said.

Steve Bick­ley, the mu­seum’s vice pres­i­dent, em­pha­sized that point.

“There’s mul­ti­ple de­nom­i­na­tions and faiths that call this book their own, so we re­spect that,” he said.

Tues­day, as work­ers rushed to fin­ish the fi­nal de­tails, for­mer Ohio Sec­re­tary of State and Trea­surer Ken Black­well ad­mired the cap­i­tal’s new­est land­mark.

“It is just a mag­nif­i­cent blend of tech­nol­ogy and spirit. The tech­nol­ogy has made the Bi­ble just come to life,” he said.

The project grabbed Black­well’s in­ter­est from the get-go and he’s fol­lowed its progress, he said.

“I’ve watched it from the first ground­break­ing ‘til the build­ing today. What has been built ex­ceeds my imag­i­na­tion and my ex­pec­ta­tions,” he said.

One floor tells the “His­tory of the Bi­ble.” An­other fo­cuses on the “Sto­ries of the Bi­ble.” A third highlights the “Im­pact of the Bi­ble.”

Vis­i­tors can see a replica of the Lib­erty Bell, a replica of Guten­berg’s print­ing press or an orig­i­nal manuscript of “The Bat­tle Hymn of the Repub­lic.”

There are also special ex­hibits.

One con­tains items from the Vat­i­can mu­se­ums and li­brary; an­other houses items on loan from the Is­rael An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity.

A sep­a­rate gallery con­tains paint­ings from the 16th, 17th and 18th cen­turies.

“These are loans from some of the best in­sti­tu­tions in Europe,” said Karen York, di­rec­tor of the mu­seum’s cu­ra­to­rial depart­ment.

Green said he’s glad that the mu­seum will fi­nally be able to wel­come the pub­lic.

“There’s been a lot of work, a lot of ded­i­ca­tion, a lot of late nights mak­ing this come alive, and we’re very ex­cited about be­ing open here in just a few days,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of work, a lot of ded­i­ca­tion, a lot of late nights mak­ing this come alive, and we’re very ex­cited about be­ing open here in just a few days.” — Steve Green

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