Thursday, August 2, 2012

Laus Deo--Bible Museum to Be in DC

[L] Curator Dr. Scott Carroll [R] Steve Green

The Museum of the Bible, a non-governmental not-for-profit organization, has secured a site two blocks from the National Mall to open a large scale national, non sectarian gallery  to display sacred texts by 2016.

Steve Green, the heir to the the Hobby Lobby craft chain (and current President) began collecting bible artifacts in 2009.  In collaboration with his “Indiana Jones” manuscript expert Dr. Scott Carroll, Green estimates that he spends half of his time now amassing 40,000 biblical antiquities which comprise the Green Collection. Currently, the collection includes Torahs, papyri along with illuminated or decorated manuscripts which are valued at between $20 million to $40 million.  The antiquities world marveled at the rapid acquisition rate of the Green Collection.

 Traveling as part of the Passages exhibition, 400 pieces of the Green Collection is touring the world, with stops at the Atlanta and soon Charlotte, NC.  A smaller portion of the Green Collection traveled to the Vatican during Lent for a Verbum Domini, a exhibition celebrating interfaith contributions to the Bible.

The Green Collection will find a permanent home in Washington, DC at 300 D St. SW in a $50 million deal for a building which was previously  a home design center. The spokesman for the yet to be named biblical museum observed that Washington, DC was chosen over Dallas and New York City due to the ten hour driving proximity to over half of the United States.

Steve Green effuses over engaging people in Scripture.  While there are other Bible Collections in America, like Manhattan’s American Bible Society, the aim to the yet to be named Bible Museum will be to inspire people with the story of the Bible and its history. Green notes that the “[Bible] has been banned and burned more than any other book. It has over 40 writers over  a 1,500 year period.  That in itself is an incredible story.”

The average household in America owns seven Bibles and it has become somewhat common place. Yet Green feels that we have become ignorant of the Bible as it is no longer taught in the schools. The aim of making the Green Collection accessible to the public is to re-engage them with scripture and become acquainted with the God of the Bible.

Although Steven Green is evangelical and his family comes from a Southern Baptist tradition, the Bible Museum is intended to be non-sectarian.  In fact, Green hopes that atheists and skeptics of the Bible will tour the Collection and recognize that it is the most documented book from antiquity for which so many people have given their lives so there may be something to it.

When the Bible Museum is slated to open in 2016, it does plan to charge admission.  In the Nation’s Capital, paid admissions are the exception and not the rule, due to taxpayer largess with the Smithsonian Museums and the National Gallery of Art.  In the past decade, there have been a couple of successful private museums which charge admission, like the International Spy Museum and the Newseum.  Both of those ventures have dynamic and interactive presentations and somewhat specialized subject matter.

Washington's Carnegie Library
There have been two spectacular failures of paid admission museums between-the-beltways.  The City Museum in Washington in the historic Carnegie Library across the street from the Washington Convention Center, opened in 2003 to great fanfare and a Disney-like attraction.  But it closed in 2005 due to financial difficulties.
John Paul II Cultural Center

More on point was the John Paul II Cultural Center, a 130,000 square foot museum  near Catholic University in Brookland, DC sought to explore faith in the world, opened in March 2001 at a reported cost of $75 million.  It is speculated that the downturn in tourism after the September 2001 terrorist attack and economic recession doomed the project.  That may be true but personally I felt that there was not much to the collection for the proffered entry fee and it was far from typical tourist sections of the Nation’s Capital.  The JPII CC has now closed and the monumental building was sold to the Knights of Columbus for a reported $22.5  million in 2011.

While Steve Green reverse the majesty of the King James Bible, it would behoove the Bible Museum to augment the scriptural story beyond the Authorized Version, which just celebrated its quadricentenary in 2011.  Even though The Voice translation of the Bible may not work, it is an example of contemporary efforts to engage readers with scripture and should be recognized.

During the recent Restoring Love Rally in Dallas, Glenn Beck showed one of the eight surviving copies of a Bible commissioned by the Continental Congress after the American Revolutionary War that was given to soldiers as a token of gratitude, as King George had prohibited Americans from publishing their own Bibles.  Perhaps the Bible Museum could consult with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to rediscover God in America to make connections between the Federal City and how scripture shaped the formation of the nation.

h/t: Philanthropy Roundtable

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