ELVIS 3:16

The star of a new bi­ble mu­seum isn’t just The Word, it’s The King,



De­spite the ar­ray of his­toric items, mu­seum pres­i­dent Cory Sum­mers says what ex­cited peo­ple most dur­ing tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tions was a Bi­ble once owned by Elvis Pres­ley. “It sounds funny but it’s true,” he says. That Bi­ble, which con­tained hand­writ­ten notes, isn’t part of the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion but it does have an­other Elvis Bi­ble. Sum­mers said the mu­seum also has a signed Babe Ruth Bi­ble — “With his life­style, you’d never guess he had a Bi­ble” — and the orig­i­nal manuscript on which Ju­lia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to "Bat­tle Hymn of the Repub­lic."


The pas­sion be­hind the pro­ject be­longs to Steve Green, an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian from Ok­la­homa City. Green is pres­i­dent of Hobby Lobby, an Amer­i­can arts and crafts re­tailer that boasts $4 bil­lion in an­nual sales. Green has amassed one of the most com­pre­hen­sive pri­vate col­lec­tions of Bib­li­cal ar­ti­facts. Green — who has writ­ten re­li­gious books, in­clud­ing The

Bi­ble in Amer­ica — viewed the mu­seum as not only an op­por­tu­nity to dis­play his his­toric pieces, but also as a chance to ex­pose more peo­ple to the Bi­ble. The mu­seum will hold about 40,000 his­tor­i­cal pieces, in­clud­ing 13 frag­ments of Dead Sea Scrolls do­nated by Green.


Oc­cu­py­ing a dra­mat­i­cally ren­o­vated ware­house two blocks from the Na­tional Mall, the mu­seum prom­ises vis­i­tors an “im­mer­sive and per­son­al­ized ex­pe­ri­ence as they ex­plore the his­tory, nar­ra­tive and im­pact of the Bi­ble.” The floor de­voted to nar­ra­tives, for ex­am­ple, will fea­ture the recre­ation of the vil­lage of Nazareth, in­clud­ing homes and a syn­a­gogue to rep­re­sent how peo­ple lived in the first cen­tury. The mu­seum will likely have about 1,000 ar­ti­facts on dis­play, but the plan is to use mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to make it less stodgy than it sounds. A pre­loaded, hand-held mo­bile de­vice will guide vis­i­tors, who can per­son­al­ize the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided.


Green ac­quired so many ar­ti­facts in a short pe­riod of time — re­port­edly ac­quir­ing 10,000 items since the mu­seum was es­tab­lished as a non-profit in 2010 — that some aca­demics ques­tioned whether each piece was au­then­tic and how they were ac­quired. To al­le­vi­ate con­cerns, the mu­seum hired bib­li­cal scholar David Tro­bisch to over­see the col­lec­tion and work with a team of 30 re­searchers and curators to vet each piece. He told the Wash­ing­ton Post that “we will not dis­play any items found in the col­lec­tion where we have no prove­nance records.”


Sum­mers says the goal of the mu­seum is straight­for­ward. “It’s to en­gage peo­ple in the Bi­ble. That’s it. It’s real sim­ple,” he says. “How you take it and how you run with it, that’s up to you. We’re not try­ing to tell you what to do with what you see, but we at least want you to find it in­ter­est­ing, ed­u­ca­tional, en­gag­ing, and then where it goes from there is your call, not ours.”


When the mu­seum was pro­posed, some ob­servers be­lieved it would es­pouse fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian be­liefs un­der the guise of his­tor­i­cal study. At the out­set, Green said the mu­seum was to “bring to life the liv­ing word of God . . . and to in­spire con­fi­dence in the ab­so­lute au­thor­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of the Bi­ble.” The mu­seum backed off that mis­sion and Sum­mers now says the mu­seum is strictly an aca­demic un­der­tak­ing. “This is about the Bi­ble, it’s not about faith tra­di­tion,” he says. “None of this gets into apolo­get­ics at all. We re­ally try to avoid that.”


The mu­seum pos­sesses the sec­ond-largest col­lec­tion of Dead Sea Scroll frag­ments, the largest col­lec­tion of To­rah scrolls (in­clud­ing some that sur­vived the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion and scrolls con­fis­cated in Nazi Ger­many), bib­li­cal texts on pa­pyrus and me­dieval manuscripts. The mu­seum will also dis­play rare printed Bi­bles in­clud­ing frag­ments from the Guten­berg Bi­ble. It has items from sev­eral pri­vate col­lec­tions as well as arche­o­log­i­cal ar­ti­facts on loan from the Lou­vre and the Is­rael An­tiq­ui­ties Au­thor­ity. About one-third of the col­lec­tion will be cen­tred in Ju­daism and the Old Tes­ta­ment.


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