Bi­ble So­ci­ety mu­seum open­ing in Philadel­phia

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - STATE - BY KRISTIN E. HOLMES

One block from In­de­pen­dence Hall, where the found­ing fa­thers met to form a new na­tion, the Amer­i­can Bi­ble So­ci­ety is mak­ing a case for the Good Book’s place in Amer­i­can his­tory.

The mes­sages in scrip­ture about free­dom, truth, and fair­ness were so in­grained in the cul­ture of the new repub­lic that Chris­tian prin­ci­pals must have in­flu­enced the doc­u­ments that form its foun­da­tion, the Bi­ble so­ci­ety’s of­fi­cials ar­gue.

For them, the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Bi­ble are in­ex­tri­ca­bly in­ter­twined.

The Amer­i­can Bi­ble So­ci­ety will make that point in steel, glass and wood in Novem­ber 2020 when it opens its Faith and Lib­erty Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter. The $60 mil­lion cen­ter un­der con­struc­tion at the cor­ner of Fifth and Mar­ket streets, will ex­plore the role of faith and the Bi­ble in Amer­i­can his­tory, a new mis­sion for the 202-year-old or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to in­creas­ing en­gage­ment with the Bi­ble.

“Our chal­lenge is to cre­ate a cen­ter that will ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship be­tween faith and lib­erty in Amer­ica from its found­ing to to­day by il­lu­mi­nat­ing the in­flu­ence of scrip­ture on in­di­vid­u­als,” said Pa­trick Mur­dock, the ini­tia­tive’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

But not all schol­ars agree about the im­pact of re­li­gious be­lief on the na­tion’s found­ing.

“It’s not that [the Bi­ble’s] his­tory isn’t rel­e­vant . ... ” said Marci Hamil­ton, a pro­fes­sor and con­sti­tu­tional scholar at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, but “the Bi­ble did not play the out­size role that they are try­ing to give it.”

The 40,000-square-foot cen­ter will oc­cupy the first floor of the Wells Fargo Build­ing across the street from the Na­tional Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Jewish His­tory. In 2015, ABS moved its head­quar­ters from New York to the build­ing’s eighth and ninth floors where vis­i­tors are greeted with a wall dec­o­rated with quotes from the Bi­ble.

Down­stairs, the Faith and Lib­erty Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter will house gal­leries, a 3D the­ater, and an ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter for an ex­pected 250,000 an­nual vis­i­tors. The cen­ter’s 75-minute im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence will ex­plore themes in­clud­ing faith, unity, hope, lib­erty and jus­tice. It is be­ing fi­nanced by the ABS and pri­vate dona­tions.

Ex­hibits will ex­am­ine the role that faith played in the lives of piv­otal fig­ures such as the Rev. Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Wil­liam Penn. Vis­i­tors will be given a hand-held ba­ton (called a lamp) that will help them in­ter­act with ex­hibits. The dig­i­tal record of their visit will be used to cre­ate per­sonal web­sites re­flect­ing their in­ter­ests and to sug­gest pur­chases at the gift store. Lo­cal Projects, a firm that spear­headed the 9/11 Me­mo­rial Mu­seum in New York, is over­see­ing the cen­ter’s ex­hibits and vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence. Build­ing de­sign is by Ja­cob­sWyper Ar­chi­tects.

The project is just one that ABS is em­bark­ing as it set­tles in its new home. Of­fi­cials are de­vel­op­ing a Faith and Lib­erty Her­itage Trail that will take vis­i­tors on a self­guided walk­ing tour of Philadel­phia’s re­li­gious his­tory, in­clud­ing two con­gre­ga­tion’s whose roots date to the 1700s: Mikveh Is­rael, the first Jewish con­gre­ga­tion in Philadel­phia and sec­ond old­est in the na­tion and Mother Bethel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, the de­nom­i­na­tion’s found­ing con­gre­ga­tion.

Of­fi­cials also have com­mis­sioned play­wright Christo­pher Smith to de­velop a musical about the role that faith played in Wil­liam Penn’s life. Smith, a for­mer Bucks County po­lice of­fi­cer, wrote the score for Amaz­ing Grace, a musical that ran on Broad­way for three months in 2015. The show was based on the life of John New­ton, a slave trader who ex­pe­ri­enced a cri­sis of con­science and be­came an epis­co­pal priest and abo­li­tion­ist.

TOM GRALISH / PHILLY.COM

A video mon­i­tor show­ing ren­der­ings of the Faith and Lib­erty Dis­cov­ery Cen­ter is re­flected in the win­dow of a con­fer­ence room over­look­ing In­de­pen­dence Hall, rear, in­side the of­fices of the Amer­i­can Bi­ble So­ci­ety.

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