New Museum of Bible offers artifacts, biblical visuals for Washington visitors

Posted April 29, 2018


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Susan Grazzini and her friend Michelle Roddie stood in the grand lobby of the Museum of the Bible here as the museum was closing for the day. The pair were gazing up in awe at the 140-foot LED ceiling with changing biblical visuals.

“I thought it was amazing, the artifacts, just the stuff that you saw on Israeli history alone, stuff I’ve never seen or heard before. It is amazingly put together . . . . We have only been here an hour, we did not get to see everything, but from what we saw, we were like ‘We definitely want to come back!’” said Grazzini.

Click on the video above to see a multimedia story about the Museum of the Bible prepared by reporter Kate Johnson.

“It is jaw-dropping,” added Roddie.

The Museum of the Bible invites all visitors to engage with the Bible through exhibits and attractions that document the history, narrative, and impact of the Bible.

“Our mission is to help all people engage with the Bible and that wording is very specific, all people. We are not trying to speak to one tradition, but every person in the world about the Bible, this book. It is specifically about this book and not necessarily about a specific tradition. But, it is a book that is loved by all those traditions so we are honoring it in light of its impact on the world, impact on America, its incredible history and the stories that have changed lives,” said Danielle Smith, social media manager for the museum.

The museum, which is three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, is 430,000 square feet and contains more than 40,000 objects and artifacts.

The museum’s founder and primary funder, Steve Green, who is also the president of Hobby Lobby, owns one of the world’s largest private collections of biblical artifacts. Much of Green’s collection is on display in the museum, including 13 rare Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

The museum is a converted refrigeration warehouse and cost more than $500 million to build. On a high day, the museum hosts more than 13,000 visitors.

“We have a very generous founding family that helped us get off to where we are and in the midst of that, we have also had over 50,000 people donate to the museum, really to help us to operate. We will continue to fundraise as any nonprofit would be doing,” said Smith.

The majority of funding for the museum goes to museum operations, such as staff salaries, and paying the electricity and water bills. Any excess funding is used for the museum’s education department as well as the potential for traveling exhibits.

“We have a development department that is working with an ongoing effort to raise money for the museum. [They work] with people across the world that are passionate about the Bible and want to see the Bible talked about. They want to see the Bible enter into conversation and global perspective so they care about the Museum of the Bible because of their own love of the Bible,” said Smith.

The entrance to the museum is a nearly 40-foot-tall replica of the Gutenberg Gates made of bronze and inscribed with the words of Genesis. Each gate weighs nearly seven and nine tons, respectively.

The first floor houses temporary exhibits, such as “Treasures of the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library.” There is also a children’s gallery, the gift shop and a café.

The second floor is the “Impact of the Bible” gallery. This floor focuses on the Bible’s impact on the world, early American life and current culture and society. There are displays of Bibles from early American history and a replica of the Liberty Bell as well as a Gutenberg printing press.

“[The content] needed to be thrilling and enjoyable and relevant to today, as well as being inclusive and respectful of the different people who hold the Bible as their sacred text. And it needed to be authentic. So, those were the qualities we were looking for as we went through the different exhibits,” said Ilena Madraso, content coordinator for the museum.

A collection of antique gospel records on display (Photo by Kate Johnson).

Museum patrons walk through separate sections showing the impact of the Bible on science, justice, freedom, fashion, music and popular culture.

For an additional $8 fee, visitors can experience “Washington Revelations,” a stand-up-style flying theater simulation that takes visitors on a “flight” throughout Washington, D.C. The ride shows the Bible’s impact and inscriptions on various monuments in the nation’s capital.

“When you go to a lot of museums, it is very fact based, like you would expect a history book to be. We wanted to take a little bit of different approach and we wanted things to be more narrative, story based, because people relate to stories better than they can relate to a dry fact. So, we wanted there to be a narrative appeal,” said Madraso.

The Museum of the Bible set out to be the most technologically advanced museum in the world. Visitors interact with the exhibits throughout the museum using jumbo touch screen tables, motion capture technology, tablet guides, and electronic graphics that move across the walls.

“I really enjoyed it. It has been very interactive. I think it brings the Bible to life in a really cool and enjoyable way. It just lets you interact with all the different parts of the Bible and see how it effects modern life and life throughout history. It is a really great museum. It is beautiful,” said museum visitor Chinazo Okpalnma.

The third floor of the museum is the “Narrative of the Bible” gallery. This floor has three interactive experiences for visitors on the “World of Jesus of Nazareth,” the “Old Testament,” and the “New Testament.”

The “World of Jesus of Nazareth,” recreates the first century village where Jesus began his ministry. Actors interact with museum patrons at various points, whether teaching about the food at a feast table or portraying a Rabbi inside a model synagogue.

“The stories of the Bible, the films and the World of Jesus of Nazareth, that was fabulous! That was the best experience. I really enjoyed it,” said museum visitor Sara Weitzel.

The “Hebrew Bible”is a walk-through immersive theater experience. There are five automated shows that use state-of-the-art technology to take visitors on a journey through the stories of the Old Testament.

“I found it to be very enlightening. I think the Old Testament experience was wonderful. They put all of the Old Testament books into a 30-minute show. I thought that was pretty amazing. I am excited to see how they piece the New Testament show together. I think the amount of effort put into the museum here, and bringing the Bible to life for believers or nonbelievers, to come in and show that God’s Word, not only is historical and empirical, but it is also enlightening. It has been a blessing to us,” said Danny Pac, a pastor from Frederick, Md. visiting the museum.

The “New Testament” experience is a surround-screen film that tells the narrative of the New Testament. The animation is by the Oscar-nominated BRC Imagination Arts firm, and the panoramic screen is ultra-high definition with cutting-edge 4K laser projection and 36 channels of audio.

The fourth floor is the “History of the Bible” gallery. This floor displays more than 600 biblical artifacts and archelogy as well as 50 interactive media programs.

The rare Dead Sea Scroll fragments are exhibited on this floor. Some of the other biblical artifacts on display include: a palimpsest manuscript with a sixth century Aramaic translation of the Gospels, a psalter belonging to the British royal family from 1330 A.D., the earliest surviving Hebrew manuscript copied in English, a Samaritan Torah scroll from the 12thcentury A.D., a fragment of the first edition of the Gutenberg Bible, William Tyndale’s first edition of the New Testament in English, and a 1611 first edition of the King James Bible New Testament (one of only two known to have survived).

Visitors viewing ancient Bibles inside the “History of the Bible” gallery (Photo by Kate Johnson).

“I am a student at a college in Virginia studying biblical language, so I am in Hebrew and Greek right now. I am comparing what I learned to what is presented here, and it is an experience. So, this can be useful for a great many people,” said museum visitor Brian Fredrick.

At the end of the floor, there is the “IllumiNations” gallery, which demonstrates the past and present effort of translating the Bible into the different languages of the world. The gallery displays Bibles or partial Bibles in more than 2,000 languages.

“We went through the floor with the different books of the Bible. It was a good experience because we speak one of the languages represented, the Ethiopian language. So, it is pretty cool to see different artifacts from that time era and how it had an important role in spreading the Gospel,” said museum visitor Yonas Michael.

The fifth level of the museum has a long-term exhibition space with displays from the Israel Antiquities Authority. On this level is also a 472-seat performing arts amphitheater with daily presentations of biblical narratives and performances.

The sixth floor has a biblical garden with many of the plants discussed in the Bible as well as a restaurant, ballroom, and a glass enclosed promenade overlooking the National Mall and the U.S. Capitol.

“The Bible, the Word of God, is the core of everything that I am. Since I heard of the Museum of the Bible, I have had great anticipation of coming to see the history of the Bible and all of the details that I can find about the Bible. It has super-seceded all of my expectations. It is awesome,” said museum visitor Beverly Livingstoen.

Museum of the Bible Visitor Information

  • Address: 400 Fourth St. SW., Washington, D.C. 20024
  • Hours: The museum is open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Price: The Museum of the Bible is a free or “pay-what-you-wish” museum with a suggested donation of $15 for adults and $10 for children. Additional attractions and viewing of special exhibits inside the museum to enhance your experience cost $8.
  • Phone: 866-430-6682