WASHINGTON – The new Museum of the Bible is on track to open in mid-November, the newest addition to a spate of world-class museums in the nation's capital.
A month ahead of its public debut, museum officials addressed their procedures to secure, authenticate, and display content at the 430,000 square foot facility just three blocks from the US Capitol. It is a process that has drawn scrutiny after a company owned by the museum's chairman, Hobby Lobby, illegally acquired black market artifacts smuggled out of Iraq.
In July, Steve Green's family-owned craft store chain agreed to pay a $3 million settlement and to forfeit the stolen objects to the US government after dealers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates falsely labeled the shipments as "ceramics tiles" or "clay tiles."
Although the museum was not a party to the case, David Trobisch, director of collections with the Museum of the Bible, said the case prompted policy changes. "We are not using anything where it's not clear where it's coming from," Trobisch said at a press conference.
Experts advising the museum said their mission is to provide a "safe place" for learning about the Bible and its impact on history and culture.
"I think there's an assumption that this museum is an unthinking celebration of the Bible as a wonderful impact on everything," explained Timothy Shah, director of the Religious Freedom Institute and a museum consultant. "Anyone who actually looks at the exhibits will see that that's not the case."
"The 'Bible in America' exhibit tells the complicated story about the fact that people who read the Bible were persecuted but also persecuted [others]," he said. "People who read the Bible opposed slavery but also read the Bible to support slavery."
Dr. Gordon Campbell, another museum expert and a professor of renaissance studies at the University of Leicester in England, told journalists he has another goal: to teach people the Bible much like he teaches his students.
"Every year, I taught the 37 plays of Shakespeare," Campbell explained. "The object of what I was doing was to trick the students into reading them. And this job is exactly the same. Our purpose is to trick people into reading the Bible for the same reasons they should read Shakespeare: it'll be good for them!"
The museum will open November 17 with free admission; however, it will suggest a donation of $15. For more information about admissions and ticket reservations or membership plans, visit the Museum of the Bible's website.