In 2016, I learned about an incredible museum that was being built in Washington DC. What fascinated me was what the museum was going to be about. This was going to be the Museum of the Bible. What also generated immediate interest was the type of museum it was going to be. This would become a building unlike anyone has seen before. Its goal is to become one of the most technologically advanced and engaging museums in the world. It would not be complete and open to the public until November 17, 2017.
While I wanted to go when it opened, I felt the museum would be way too busy to go on opening week. So I delayed my trip almost 6 months later. So why was I going to this museum? Well....because it is the Bible. It is the greatest selling book of all time and many claim it as the most important book for humanity. If there was going to be a place to help address these claims, there may be no greater option than the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. At 430,000 square feet with construction and property costs over $500 million, this is the worlds largest Bible Museum.
This is a gorgeous structure. This building is near 100 years old. They kept the same red brick style but imported new bricks from Denmark. The original building was four floors. Now its height has increased with two more floors along with a complete overhaul on the inside. The entrance greets you with two massive forty foot bronze gates. These gates contain the first lines from Genesis chapter 1 in Latin.If you love taking pictures, either bring a second camera or a battery. You are going to need it. There is so much to take pictures of. I burned through two batteries on the first day.
Once inside the museum, there is a giant 140 foot LED screen that stretches across the grand lobby ceiling. There are several informational kiosks and screens that greet you further along. One of the first things I noticed was how spacious and open everything is. There is so much room to navigate. Even on a busy day, it never felt like there was no space to move around. The staircases are wide and there are several elevators to take. I noticed that most times it was not busy, but there would be the odd wave of people that would come all at once. After a few minutes, that wave of people would move on. If the area was still busy, I would go to a different floor since not all six floors were busy at once. With so many steps and staircases, I was starting to use the elevators to rest my legs and feet. The elevators are spacious and gorgeous on the inside. The surrounding walls are all flat screens with high definition video.
I read reviews online how one day at the museum is not enough. They are right. I mean it is possible to do it all in one day, but I would be scanning through everything fast. Even then, I would still miss out on so much information. One day is too rushed. Two days allows you to look at most artifacts, captions, videos, and theatre experiences at a more leisure pace. To give perspective, if one was to read every single placard, view every artifact, watch every video, and experience every activity, it would take approximately 9 days at 8 hours a day. That is 72 hours! There is too much information for one to consume. I found two full days to be a healthy amount of time to experience the key areas of the museum.
There are plenty of these maps to show what each floor has. For the sake of time, I will give a brief exploration of the key areas of each floor. This will not be a definitive review of this museum as it was not possible to cover everything. Also, this video would be way too long. I started my discover on the 6th floor, and worked my way down.
At the top of the sixth floor there are several metal panes on this wall with patterns. This is the Wall of One Million Names which recognize all the donors of this museum.A closer look shows patterns that consist of names. This is all done in the traditional Jewish art form of micro-calligraphy. It uses custom software that turns names into artistic lines.
Being the top floor, this is the one with a glass ceiling called the promenade. You can see the United States Capitol building in the far off distance. This gives an idea how close this museum is to the rest of all the memorials within the National Mall.The end of the promenade gives access to the balcony of the World Stage Theatre. This is their largest theatre with the highest seating capacity. I did not get to see any showings, but I saw various songs and presentations of biblical narratives.
Outside the promenade is their Manna Restaurant. They kept their menu simple with only a few meals to choose from. There is plenty of seating and right across from the seating is the Biblical Garden. I did not get to experience much of this garden. There was some light rain outside, but pretty much there is some extra seating to enjoy your meal or coffee. Outside of a few plants, it did not seem very large like a legitimate garden would have.When it comes to eating or drinking at their restaurant and coffee shop, I tried to do this at different times. I did this to avoid the rush of people. I would not only dodge long lineups to eat, but I could then explore areas of the museum while everyone was eating.
Floor 6 is not considered a floor with much to offer when it comes to information about the Bible. There is a large gathering room for social events, but it was not in use at the time. Compared to all the other floors, this one offers the least. It is a floor used more to eat, relax, and host social gatherings. Let us check out Floor 5.
Like Floor 6, there is also a promenade as this leads you to the same World Stage Theatre, but now on the main level of it. This theatre contains an 8,000-square-foot hall with 30 rows and 472 seats. There are 17 floor-to-ceiling, state-of-the-art 4K projectors. This turns the entire venue into a stunning dynamic digital canvas. It has an ancient amphitheatre style to improve the visual and acoustic experience. It can host a variety of activities including live performances, lectures, presentations, musicals, and much more. There is a 100-foot ceiling that accommodates grand visuals projected on walls. The oak stage measures at 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep with a 60-foot red velvet curtain.
The main exhibit of Floor 5 was the People of the Land. This contains the history and archaeology of ancient Israel. If you love archaeology, this floor is for you. There was a wide arrange of artifacts from pots, wine storage, and cookware; to tableware, jewellery, coins, and even a coffin. There was plenty to explore in this exhibit. I am not knowledgeable when it comes to archaeology. This was not an exhibit I could grasp a full appreciation for. I am certain this is one of many reasons why the Museum of the Bible has several floors. Not every floor is going to appeal to everyone. Despite that, there should be at least one floor most people can find that matches their area of interest.
We are now getting to the bulk of historical information found on Floor 4. This floor contains the History of the Bible. This is the floor that immerses guests on the Bibles journey through technology and culture. There are more than 500 Biblical texts and artifacts alone. I am certain most peoples brains get overloaded with information. There is too much to consume on this floor. If you want history, this floor delivers. There is a wide variety of past and present Bibles along with its various forms and formats. There was even artifacts of the Dead Sea scrolls. They do admit that there is still continued research to confirm if some of these fragments are real or not.
The area of this floor that captivated me the most was the Illuminations. This area celebrates the accessibility of the Bible. It shows an ever-increasing display of Bible translations. This is an accurate depiction of how accessible the Bible is throughout the world. While there is still much work to do, the encouragement is that the goal is actually within reach. There are 682 languages with a full Bible. There are over 950,000 chapters still to translate before all languages have access to the Bible. The bright yellow books represent the languages that have no translation. The dark yellow books represent languages that are in progress towards a translation.
The last key area of this floor is a theatre that plays a mini feature of the Drive Thru History show. I have never heard about this show before. It is a history show that speeds through various ancient civilizations. This allows viewers to experience the people, places, and events that shaped the world and the Christian faith. I found these mini features to be engaging and educational. Their discoveries point to the evidence of how accurate and reliable the Bible is. There are many more of these videos on their website and Youtube channel.
Floor 3 has the name Stories of the Bible. I would consider this the most interactive floor . You can actually give your brain a rest and take in the theatres and interactive exhibits it offers. There are 3 main features of Stories of the Bible. There is an interactive walk through theatre called the Hebrew Bible Experience. This is a 30-minute event. Viewers would walk through various rooms that display significant narratives from the Hebrew Bible. Noahs Ark, the burning bush, and Passover were some of those narratives. This was one of the few areas where pictures and video were not allowed, so I dont have much to share. I will say that a lot of work went into making this exhibit that both children and adults will enjoy. The visuals are stunning. At six months of being open, their facebook page mentioned that 251,310 guests have walked through this Hebrew Bible Experience.
The second exhibit is The New Testament Theatre. It is a 270-degree display that tells the story of how the followers of Jesus grew into a thriving community. Like the Hebrew Bible Experience, there was a waiting room before entering. This room had movie poster like designs of each notable character of the New Testament. They were very well done. Simple yet profound in symbolism used to describe each character and their importance.I once again do not have any footage of this theatre. You can imagine that 270 degrees is an incredibly wide picture. It curves from the far left of the room to the far right of the room. I could not fit the whole picture inside my peripheral vision.
The third and final exhibit is one an incredible amount of work went into called, The World of Jesus of Nazareth. This is a walk-through exhibit that brings people into the world of Jesus through first-century Nazareth. This exhibit went above and beyond in trying to create the most accurate experience. It tries to make viewers feel like they transformed into the small town of Nazareth. I must say, it was very impressive and they did not use cheap material to make this. From the stone walls, to the trees, to the food, it all looked real. The greatest feature of this area were the live actors. One would invite you into a synagogue to explain the traditions of life in Nazareth. Another would invite you into their home to explain what living, eating, and hospitality looked like. You could talk with them and ask them questions. That to me added the most interactivity.
Floor 2 has two major themes. The first is the influence of the Bible on American History. The other theme is how the Bible has made an impact on culture and the World today. For those who only want to understand how the Bible is relevant today will have an appreciation for this floor. It has so much to share about how the Bible continues to impact our world today. Some of the most important institutions, discoveries, and movements in the world were built on the influence and teachings of the Bible. Whether it be Human rights, Biblical names, Science, Personal Stories, Justice, Film, Media, Persecution, University, Language, Literature, and even fashion; This floor covers all these areas of influence, and much more.
This floor was another favourite of mine as there are many unique stand out displays and artifacts. There are countless interactive kiosks that show how the Bible has influenced countries all over the world. One of the most incredible areas of this floor was the Bible Now display. People can see a live feed of global data showing breaking news, its expanding digital readership and much more. This floor displays the Bible the most in terms relevance in our world today. If people only care how the Bible is still relevant or in recent history, this is the floor to visit.
There is also yet again another theatre, and once again different from all the other ones. The Washington Revelations theatre is a motion based fly-through experience. People will see the historic landmarks of Washington as it reveals the Bibles presence. Viewers actually stand on a fly-board that moves during this presentation. This is the first ever fly-through theatre in any museum in the world. My visit was almost on the exact date of their 6 month anniversary. Their facebook page mentioned that 51,810 guests have participated in this fly-board theater during that time.
Finally there is Floor 1 which is back to where we started upon entering the museum. There was not much exhibits or knowledge of the Bible this floor offers. It is more dedicated for people registering for guided tours or separate events. There are also LED kiosks to preview what each floor offers before exploring. This floor had the most staff on hand to help patrons with any questions or specific needs. While Floor 6 had the Wall of One Million Names, Floor 1 had the Wall of Stone. This wall of Jerusalem stone recognizes donors with gifts of $250,000 and above.
Across from the Wall of Stone is an area dedicated for children called the Childrens Experience. This has a built in jungle gym, interactive games, and Bible stories for children to enjoy. This was an area that also did not feel like a museum and more like an amusement park. But again, this museum is trying to appeal to all ages, including children.
Floor 1 also provides access to their coffee shop. This is like Floor 6 as it is another area where people can rest and take a break. There was plenty of seating along with some informative displays about the museum. It is great coffee can be enjoyed within this museum. As expected, that coffee is restricted within their shop. It would have been perfect to enjoy a coffee while walking throughout the museum. Of course that would cause far more problems.
The only exhibit I found on the first floor was the Treasures from the Vatican Museum and the Vatican Library. This collection tells the history of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, in the age of "rebirth". Some of the standout displays were these two giant volumes of the Urbino Bible from the 14th century with illustrations. Another interesting display was this Sarcophagus dated circa 300 where an artist carved the biblical story of Jonah. There was artwork of various councils and people with Jesus being the central piece. Although it was a relatively small exhibit, those with a Catholic background should find an appreciation for it.
The museum shop is an area I felt conflicted with. There are many great learning resources with a variety of Bibles and artwork. I even appreciated the inspirational artwork. Yet it seems out of place to also have a lot of materialistic items that brand the word of God, to make money. Of course I am very aware that this is not the museums intentions. I also need show grace and remember that this is a non-profit self-funded museum. They technically do not make any money on admissions as it offers free access to this museum. It relies a fair amount on donations. Free admission shows their genuine intentions on wanting people to learn about the Bible. They instead use other ways to pay their staff and maintain regular expenses. Their restaurant, coffee shop, guided tours, fly-board theatre, memberships, and museum shop are some of those ways. These help with financial support, sustainability, and making free admission possible. I was hoping for more of a Bible shop that sold all sorts of Bibles and resources for people to read the Bible further after their visit. Not so much a Museum Shop containing materialistic promotional items.
After completing all six floors, I thought there was nothing else to discover. That was until I encountered their basement level which hosts temporary exhibits. The temporary exhibit I discovered at the time is the Stations of the Cross. This is the work of Gib Singleton portraying 14 stages in the last hours of Jesus' life. What is interesting is this exhibit gave the most attention and portrayal of Jesus in the museum. I have read critics say that this museum does not give much attention or glory to Jesus. I do not think that is a fair accusation. Remember, this is The Museum of the Bible. This is God's love letters to us. If people read and learn the Bible, they read and learn about Jesus. So in no way is this museum suppressing Jesus if its central focus is about the Bible which points directly to Him.
As the Museum of the Bible celebrates their first six months of being open, over 550,000 visitors have experienced the most important book in our worlds existence within this masterpiece of a building. It seems unheard of to have an incredible size of six floors. But there is no question this book of unparalleled importance and history can fill it all. Yet this museum chose not to do that. It's deceiving and unfortunate only three floors contain legitimate information about the Bible. The positive trade-off is that the extra space adds flexibility. Yes, a gathering room, a garden, a large theatre, and a children's play area are all not necessary. But they all add a nice touch towards a well-rounded experience and accessibility. I will say there is still an overwhelming amount of information and content about the Bible. After close to 14 hours of time spent, there was still so much to learn and discover from what this museum had to offer.
Sometimes my experience would have drastic changes. Most of the time, I felt like I was in a world class museum. Other times I felt like I was in a gimmicky amusement park. This place offers a bit of everything at the risk losing some of the traditional museum culture. It remains to be seen if this risk pays off. It may set off a groundbreaking trend for future museums. Regardless, it is difficult for anyone to walk away disappointed from this museum. I did not.
Anyone can and should visit this museum. Not once did I get the feeling I was being preached to. This museum is welcome to all people. The staff are friendly and they let you take pictures in almost all the exhibits as long as the flash is off. With tons of interactive content presented with state of the art technology, this beautiful building is leaps and bounds in a class of its own. The Bible is the most important book of our entire existence. This museum communicates this message in clear convincing and irrefutable ways.
EDITOR NOTE (November 2018): At the time this review was conducted in May of 2018, admission for The Museum of the Bible was free. As of December 10, 2018, admission will only be free for children 6 years or under. Admission for adults will now be $24.99 and $14.99 for children ages 7-17. Tickets are $5 less for adults and children if purchased online. The Museum of the Bible states that, "Despite the excellent attendance and generosity of more than 50,000 donors and more than 20,000 members, experts in market research for cultural attractions recommended that charging admission is the best way to ensure that sustainability. Analysis has shown that donations alone will not ensure a financially sustainable, quality experience for future guests".
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