“It’s like Chuck E. Cheese and the Bible had a baby,” the guide told the visitors at the entrance of the Museum of the Bible.
And the visitors, 17 supporters of an Israeli hospital about to begin a private tour of the latest attraction on the National Mall, saw that it was very good.
Inside the six-story, 430,000-square-foot, $500 million museum that opens to the public on Nov. 17, the group entered a dimly lit room, its walls covered with biblical images. Carlos Gruzman, CEO of Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, approached what looked like pillars. Standing between them, he pushed them apart, as the hero Samson did in the book of Judges, when he made the walls of the Philistine temple come tumbling down.
Gruzman and the others had no words to describe their inner child’s joy in finding themselves in the museum’s children’s exhibit.
One man stared intently at a sculpture of the Bible that was open to Psalm 119 (“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord”). Another worked an arcade game, trying to flick a ball with a toy slingshot and hit a target on the wall as if he were David battling Goliath in the Book of Samuel.
“Right in the forehead,” he said.
“For a lot of children coming in here, this may be their first brush with the Bible,” said the group’s guide, Dale Brantner.
The museum’s founder is Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby chain and a prominent Christian conservative. Green has said that the museum’s mission is not evangelism. Rather, it is to teach about Bible’s impact throughout history from a nonsectarian perspective.
Brantner reiterated this point during the tour.
“This is not a theological project,” he said. “This is a museum built around one artifact that is the most banned, burned, manipulated, impactful book in human history, regardless of whether you believe the religious aspects of it or not.”
As the group moved farther into the building, they entered a glass-enclosed atrium on the north side with a panoramic view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
They saw the ballroom, a 470-seat theater and a café offering Israeli food. By this point, Stephen Shapiro, a Washington resident and co-founder of the Israeli health incubator eHealth was speechless.
“It’s hard to express in words,” he said.
In the rooms above were manuscripts of the Bible from the Middle Ages and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A collection of more than 200 Torah scrolls filled glass cases lined along the one wall — the world’s largest private collection of Torah scrolls, according to The Washington Post.
When the museum opens, Rabbi Eliezer Adam, a scribe from Jerusalem, will sit nearby and demonstrate how a Torah scroll is written. Adam will spend a year as the museum’s scribe-in-residence.
This appealed to Joe Brodecki, a Washington financial adviser and former national campaign director for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“The fact that every day there’s going to be a scribe there, I like that,” he said. “And I like the fact that there is a section on the Hebrew Scriptures.”
The members of the tour were taking a day off from the Israeli American Council’s conference nearby. It was organized by the American Friends of Kaplan Medical Center, the hospital’s advocacy network in the United States. The Friends of Kaplan had been to the museum before. The group was introduced to the museum’s communications director, Shannon Bennett, last year by Bill Sutter, who had once been executive director of the evangelical Christian organization Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.
A hardhat tour of the rising museum followed.
This time, the visit concluded in a dark, circular room, in which messages from social media were projected on the wall: “Let’s pray together” and “#endbiblepoverty.” A booth called the Joshua Machine stood in the center of the room. Visitors can step inside and make a recording about how the Bible affects their lives — like a Story Corps about the Good Book.
But no one in the group last week could muster the words to describe the Bible or its museum in Washington. Jerome Baxley, a Christian member of the American Friends of Kaplan Medical Center’s board from Dothan, Ala., said he wished this story was being written in Hebrew instead of English.
“I didn’t know any English words that could possibly come close to describing the Bible museum,” he said. “This place should be on the bucket list of everyone in the world that can possibly come and see it.”