The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. is open for business and is a great experience for all who visit. The museum is just about a year old, having opened in November 2017.
In one exhibit on the third floor, “The Hebrew Bible Experience,” audience-viewers enter into a theater to hear about the first stories of the Bible. This exhibit is interactive insofar as there is a wind machine, and sound seems to sweep from the sides and the ceilings. Likewise, audience members are implored to move to the next section of the theater, tunnel-like in a tactile metaphor of the way the Israelite’s moved throughout Egypt. The series of theatrical pieces includes different cartoon illustration styles from different points of the Bible and also includes puppetry of the Burning Bush, and even an interactive sculpture illuminated with different colors depending on the narration from the speaker amplifier system.
On another level – literally – the fourth floor talked about the material history, as opposed to the symbolic history of the Bible, from humanity’s beginnings in the Fertile Crescent all the way up to the Middle Ages and the proliferation of reading due to the Guttenberg Press. An astute and fun delivery of this part of the museum was of the videos using a documentary where the host drives fun cars in the relevant countries, such as Israel, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany and talks about the Bible’s significance throughout history in each country.
In the museum’s fifth-floor galleries, the ancient history was revealed behind the Bible using ancient artifacts. No complaints from a discerning art critic about this exhibit. This part of the museum was factual, intelligent, and respectful of the thousands and thousands of archaeologists, anthropologists, and theologians working on world religious history. And, in fact, the Bible is central to world history, and it does unite Judeo-Christians worldwide. A changing exhibit of Preacher Billy Graham is encouraging and probably a huge gift to the museum’s churchgoing visitors.
When faced with the problems of the realities in the Bible, people in the 21st-century at least know it’s impolite to ask others what they think of these things. Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, perhaps hurt by frequent attacks on his education as an evolutionary biologist, goes on a vicious screed against all religions. The conservative here might not have much philosophical recourse, so much as an intuitive hunch that her ancestors weren’t as stupid as Dawkins and the New Atheism School makes them out to be. On the other hand, there is a strange set of contradictions that are still perplexing. Supposing the Bible is inspiring, how should it be read and used? Supposing the cherished differences between Protestant and Catholic categories are worth dying for, which thousands and thousands of people did in fact do, well, what then? The Museum of the Bible sidesteps these rightly, and chooses its battles. The Museum does concede the mistreatment of Native Americans in Colonial America, and they do a good job here, skating a line consciously and good enough. And no one can take away the fact Reverend Martin Luther King Junior lead the American Civil Rights Movement. These issues, among quite a few others, are very much important and by no means settled.
In Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve from 2011, the author describes the Dark Ages just before the advent of the Gutenberg Press. In Greenblatt’s telling, which was granted both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, there was a time when Christians burned books of Pagans, such as the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and renounced all book learning as examples of Philistines and barbarians. Much later, it was the Humanists of the Renaissance, including Petrarch and Greenblatt’s hero of his book Poggio Bracciolini, who were able to use the existing bureaucratic structures of the Church to their advantage for intelligent discourse about books and studying. As Americans read less and less physical books and go to religious institutions less often, the Museum is right to say the Bible is foundational for civilization. The Museum of the Bible cherishes its place in world history. One hopes this museum finds many years of success in its mission.