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An artist’s rendering of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Flanking the entrance are 12-metre-tall bronze panels recreating the printing bed of the first page of Genesis from the Gutenberg Bible. Artist rendering courtesy of the Museum of the Bible

New museum for an old story

Washington, D.C., has no shortage of museums. But its latest addition aims to stand out. Opening this month, the new Museum of the Bible has an ambitious goal: to be the most technologically advanced museum in the world.

By Sheima Benembarek

Ancient texts, modern tech

Spanning 40,000 square metres, the eight-storey building boasts three main exhibit floors dedicated to the Bible’s history, narrative and impact, as well as a rooftop biblical garden with vegetation indigenous to Israel.

An estimated $42 million has been poured into the museum’s technology alone. The grand lobby’s expansive LED ceiling screen bears witness to this, as does the immersive panoramic performance theatre, customized digital guides and the “flyboard” — a rotating stage that takes visitors on a virtual reality tour of Washington, highlighting biblical references in the city.

Collection controversy

Steve Green, president of the arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby, founded the $500-million museum to showcase his family’s vast collection of biblical relics and make the Good Book more accessible to the world. Green, an evangelical Christian, is not without controversy. Most recently, his company was fined $3 million for importing 5,500 artifacts that had been smuggled out of Iraq. (None of the artifacts were intended for the museum, a press release stated.) Hobby Lobby also made headlines for its Supreme Court victory on health insurance. Citing religious objections, the company won the right to deny its employees the full range of contraceptive coverage mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

Engage, not proselytize

The controversies have raised questions about the museum for some. Will there be a literal interpretation of the Bible and religious promotion? “Of course not,” says Tony Zeiss, the museum’s executive director. “We present the Bible as the Bible is. We don’t interpret anything. We are not advocating any religion or any doctrine.”

The museum, which will offer free admission, is advertised as an innovative and scholarly organization with a vision to simply engage. Zeiss, who will be leading its daily operations, declares, “We let people get engaged, and then they can come to their own conclusions.” 

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