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Museum of the Bible with Kids (Preview)

I was thrilled to attend a preview day for the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and check it out weeks before they open to the general public. The day my family went, only some of the exhibits were ready, but from what we saw, it is an exciting, beautiful, huge (430k sf) museum. 

Museum of the Bible As excited as I was to go, my fears going in were that this museum would take a side on one interpretation of Scripture over another, pit one denomination against another in some way, have a heavy focus on conversion, or be cheesy. Not one of those fears came true.

Most of what I saw was about history: the history of the transmission of the Bible, the history of Bible translations, the role of Christianity in American history, what history was like when Jesus walked the earth. None of the areas that we went in were preachy. They were educational, historical, thought-provoking, etc. but not proselytizing, and for that reason I could see people of diverse faith backgrounds enjoying the museum for its historical and cultural elements.

On the first floor, look up when you come in! The ceiling above the entrance features a 140-foot digital canvas that changes from moment-to-moment and day-to-day. Also near the entrance there will be digital docent technology that is coordinated from the desk and nearby table-sized touch screens. I look forward to returning and checking out that feature. This museum was built to be technologically cutting-edge and evidences of that were plentiful. Museum of the Bible Around the corner from the entrance there is a great kids’ area called Courageous Pages with a large climbing structure (think Chick-Fil-A play area) and games. One wall has a video game on tablets about knocking out Goliath, but everything else is similarly cleverly themed and gloriously low-tech: toss balls to fill up baskets of loaves and fish, move a magnetic ball “spy” through the walls of Jericho, test your strength by moving columns like Sampson. It is all of the fun of a kid-arcade minus incessant bleeping, dinging, score-keeping, and token-feeding. My kids could have spent the whole time in there! Each element of the room has a placard that ties to a Bible story with Scripture references.

Museum of the Bible

Yes, it actually moves if you push really hard!

Museum of the Bible On Floor 4: The History of the Bible, I was thrilled to meet Rabbi Adams from Israel who is the scribe-in-residence at the museum. Over the next year he will copy the text of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible in Christianity, the Torah in Judaism) on scrolls by-hand like it would have been done in ancient times. Stop by his public-work space and say hello.

In addition to many artifacts, there are touch-table screens throughout to try your hand at things like matching up pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, writing in ancient languages, and naming which books are part of which Biblical traditions. There are life-size video encounters with actors portraying key figures talking about their role in the history of the Bible (e.g., Martin Luther).

One surprise was the deceptively simple-looking illumiNations installation that shows a Bible for every language. They are grouped by translated, partially translated, and not at all translated. It is a powerful visual when you realize what it is. I had to stop and look specifically for a Bemba Bible because my friend and favorite blogger, Bethany at Choshen Farm, lives in a Bemba-speaking part of Zambia . They had a “fully translated” sleeve for Bemba, but it was a place-holder book because they do not have an actual copy of one yet. 

Museum of the Bible

“There’s Bemba! (If I’d known I was going to blog about this, I would have taken a broader shot of the exhibit. It is a great visual. )

It was so neat to look through other Bibles on the shelves and see how different languages look. Each one represents tremendous work. For example, the Bible has lots of sheep and shepherd imagery. If you are translating the Bible for a people who have never seen sheep, do you make up a new word, do you write it in adjectives, do you change the word to another animal that elicits similar imagery in that culture?

 There are several opportunities to watch short films during your time at the museum including a series of Drive Through History episodes in a dedicated theatre and throughout the History of the Bible floor. We also watched a live-action film on John the Baptist and an animated film on The New Testament. Both toed-the-line well in communicating the violence that is a reality of those storylines without actually depicting it. The New Testament Theater is in an amazing space with a wrap-around screen and feel-the-big-moments-surround-sound. My 99% screen-free kids did well with every film we watched, even the highly sensitive one kiddo.

My favorite place in the museum is Nazareth Village (called The World of Jesus of Nazareth on the online map) on Floor 3. In this exhibit, you can go in room-sized buildings and touch everything. There is a house, synagogue, olive oil press, and more. Details are enhanced by gentle sound effects like the sound of crackling from the fire and water in the well. Costumed actors invite you into the rooms tell you about the time of Jesus. Museum of the Bible Museum of the Bible On Floor 2: The Impact of the Bible, one employee told my kids she thought they would really love the media elements in the exhibits. Alas, much was still being put together. One thing we really wanted to experience was the small sound studio (“the pumpkin” as the 2 year old called it) where you can listen to snippets of popular music that reference Scripture or Bible themes. Across the way is a mini-theater to watch snippets of movies that do the same.

One of my worries about Christian histories is presenting a white-washed, white-savior view of the faith,  so I went into the Bible in America section on that floor holding my breath a bit. We had been at the museum four hours by that point and the kids were losing steam, so I had to breeze through this part. But, I did see multiple elements that reflected the struggle of Blacks in American Christianity as well as women.  I look forward to going back and reading things closely to make sure my initial positive impressions are correct.

Museum of the Bible is similar in stimulation to most museums (i.e., lots of reading and looking at old things) but with the addition of well-done technology scattered throughout. To be honest, I usually loathe anything with screens in museums because my kids get hung up on that and then miss the actual point. But, here they responded well. The technology was enhancing not distracting. Many of the table-sized touch screens could handle multiple users which quelled fighting. And, if your kids need to blow off steam, there are always the Courageous Pages kids area or films to check out.

What else? The top floor of the museum gives broad views of the city. It is so neat up there. It also features an outdoor garden. In promotional materials it sounds like this will someday be populated with plants referred to in the Bible, which is pretty cool. It is off to a lovely start. The museum also features an incredible performing arts space, a large banquet and meeting room, and several eateries.

Museum of the Bible If none of that has you excited, check out this video that got me pumped about what a special book the Bible is historically!  

The Museum of the Bible is free, but timed tickets are required for admission. It opens to the public November 17, 2017. Members can begin visiting sooner. I look forward  to going back and checking out the full museum (building map) in the future! Museum of the Bible


About More Green for Less Green

Hi, I’m Pamm. Welcome to my little slice of the web! As a progressive Evangelical female pastor and crunchy homeschooling mom, I’m never quite what anyone expects of me. But, hey, that’s what makes blogging interesting, right? Join me as I try to wholeheartedly parent my three little boys, slowly fix up the trashed foreclosure we bought in 2009, and live simply.

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