Demolition work has begun to lay the ground for an $800 million Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which is expected to display ancient Torah scrolls, including one dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, a 1,200-year-old prayer book and fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The museum will be filled with many of the 40,000 biblical artifacts of the Green Collection, owned by the family that founded Hobby Lobby. The museum’s board chairman, Steve Green, is president of the retail chain that successfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to exempt closely held private companies from having to provide coverage for contraceptives for its employees if doing so violates the company’s religious beliefs.
The museum “is about the Bible, in the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant tradition,” Green said of the 430,000-square-foot, eight-story structure that is expected to be completed in 2017. It will be located at 300 D St., S.W., three blocks from the U.S. Capitol at the former site of the Washington Design Center.
“Our family has a love of the Bible,” said Green, a Southern Baptist.
The museum’s board is filled with religious Christians who “lean more toward those who have an evangelical bent,” and includes no Jewish people, Green said in an interview with Washington Jewish Week. Evangelical Christian Pastor Rick Warren is a board member as is Mary Banks, founder of Bible Teachers International and Gregory Baylor, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.
But Green said, “The museum itself is going to be scholarly. We love this book. We follow this book.” Some of the scholars helping to write descriptions for the museum items are Israeli, he added.
“Our intent is to invite all people to engage in the Bible,” adding that the Bible was “predominantly written by Jewish people,” and would not still be around today if the Jews hadn’t carried it wherever they went.
“When we tell the story, we will start with creation. The Bible starts with creation,” Green said, adding that the display will run from Genesis to Revelations, “not dwelling” on any one topic.
Several items from the Green Collection are on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The exhibit, which has been up for one year but closes Oct. 18 following an extension, was very
popular, said Amanda Weiss, director of Bible Lands.
Weiss said she has “utmost respect” for Green, who “deeply loves the Bible. He is truly an evangelical Christian.”
The Green family shows a “great honor and respect to the Jewish roots of Christianity,” Weiss said. Her original fear that Green would want his works presented “in a very Christian way” didn’t come true, she said.
The display in her museum included an Egyptian translation of the Bible and Torah scrolls from all over the world. Some of the items on display “date back thousands of years,” including original pages from the Gutenberg Bible, she said.
The exhibit features a 1,200 year old Jewish prayer book, which was first unveiled to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month in his office. He called it “an important find,” according to a press release from the Green Collection. “It is written in Hebrew and contains the prayers that the people of Israel say to this very day. It is a connection between our past and our present, and that is something of great value,” Netanyahu said at the time.
The Proto prayer book is about 50 pages long and remains in its original binding. It contains the morning service, liturgical poems and the Haggadah, the book of the Pesach ritual. This book will be permanently housed at the Museum of the Bible.
The museum also will include a walk-through replica of Nazareth during the first century when Jesus lived, and a “drive-through history” on a high-definition sensory ride featuring encounters with some of the people, places and events featured in the Bible.
There will be a floor-to-ceiling interactive media wall, a performing arts theater and a children’s area. The museum’s general contractor is Clark Construction, which is building the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.
Green said his family has been collecting these religious artifacts since November 2009, and many of their objects were purchased from other collectors.
The decision to place the museum in the nation’s capital was made primarily because “it is a town of museums. People come here for the museums,” he said. Dallas and New York also were considered, he noted.
While Green spoke passionately about his new museum, he was more restrained about the Supreme Court’s recent health care decision that exempts his company from paying for contraceptives as part of their medical insurance.
“It felt like if we had won, it would be kind of like business as usual, nothing changed,” he said, explaining that his company is continuing as before, offering health insurance under Hobby Lobby’s “own criteria.”
Still, he added, “I knew it was a significant ruling” and was not surprised by all the attention the ruling received.
Devout Evangelical Protestant Stephen Green is planning to spend $800 million to built the world’s largest Bible museum, on the Mall no less
(“Hobby Lobby chief to build Bible museum near Capitol,” 16 October).
That amount of money would go very, very far, indeed, in feeding the hungry, tending to the sick and clothing the naked.
WWJD: What would Jesus do? For that matter, what would Jesus’ fellow Jews, the rabbis, say?
Bibliolatry can constitute its own form of idolatry. In privileging concrete and mortar over flesh and blood, Mr. Green’s is demonstrating a profound lack of understanding of the meaning of the message of the Hebrew prophets, let alone the nature of authentic Christian discipleship (cf. Lk 6:46!).