This week my daughter and I had an opportunity to spend several hours at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Wow were we ever impressed! I can’t wait to go back with other members of our family and spend a LOT more time taking in the exhibits as well as the special events and media “extras.” In this post I’ll share a few highlights.
There were many standouts from our visit, but the biggest one was an experience which we couldn’t video or document. It’s the “Hebrew Bible Experience.” This was, without a doubt, the most media-intensive museum experience I’ve ever had. It reminded me of the initial modules of “The Bethel Series” Bible study which we took a number of years ago at our church in Lubbock, Texas, except it was exceptionally media intense. The Pentateuch is the collection of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible in the Torah, and is featured in this 30 minute museum experience taking visitors from the first chapter of Genesis through the reign of King David and King Solomon. The creation, Adam and Eve in the garden, Noah and the Flood, the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob/Israel and his sons, Joseph in Egypt, David and Goliath, David and Bathsheba, the reign of Solomon, the fall of the temple, the division of Israel into the northern and southern kingdoms, the exile of the Jews to Babylon and the return to Israel… All of these events are portrayed with a stunning combination of videos, lights, sculptures, and multiple rooms which visitors journey through in different segments. A room of white filled with rainbows after the flood, a dramatic burning bush and the voice of the Lord speaking to Moses, a room surrounded with blue water as visitors metaphorically pass through the waters of the Red Sea escaping Egypt… all of these are masterfully stitched together in a powerful experience that was both engaging and emotional (for me) to experience. Wow. This history and these stories are incredibly powerful without any media, but it was even more inspiring to experience them again through the media of cutting-edge digital storytellers in 2018. This is an experience at the Museum of the Bible which should not be missed!
Backing up a little bit, the entrance doors to the museum are really impressive. The main idea and focus of the Museum of the Bible is to encourage and support members of the public to interact with and experience the Bible, and this is obvious as soon as you walk into the building.
I really loved the way the museum’s digital storytellers creatively employed media to tell the story of “the Great Awakening” in the United States, in the second floor exhibit “The Bible in America.” The screen in one area is a wrap-around design, and has black outlines of colonial village buildings and trees. On top of that background, images of people and scenes are displayed with voice narration, creating an extremely unique interactive experience. Photos of that era are not available, but these techniques overlaying silhouette images with music and voice narration was extremely immersive and effective in telling the story of this time.
I also loved how, in this section of the museum, different actors interactively read letters between different founding luminaries of the United States, bringing their ideas and contrasting views to life. Subtitles on the videos show who the actor was portraying, and subtitles help emphasize the words and message of the letters being read. This is masterful museum storytelling! So engaging, and much more inviting than simply printing the words of these letters on displays to be read by visitors.
Live museum docents narrate and bring to life other elements of the Bible’s story, like the section about Gutenberg’s printing press and moveable type. Although we saw the traveling Bible artifact display in Oklahoma City several years ago which included elements that have become part of the Museum of the Bible collection in Washington D.C., it was great to see some of these elements again and experience the ways museum creators encourage visitors to interact with the. One small story which I don’t remember learning about previously was how Gutenberg was unable to pay back the financial loans which had permitted him to build his printing press, and as a result his press and all the materials he’d created were repossessed in a bankruptcy legal proceeding. A sad footnote to the man who had ushered in a huge revolution in communication and information sharing on our planet.
In the museum’s third floor exhibit, “World of Jesus of Nazareth,” realistic homes and village areas are re-created. In the synagogue area, a docent shared about how the village synagogue was a place of gathering and teaching, but not of worship: Worship happened several times a year in the Temple in Jerusalem. This was a clarification which was also new to me. I thought of the village synagogue during Jesus’ time as a place of worship, but I learned that was not the case. Overall, this was a very immersive, powerful way to get a better understanding of the world, rituals, customs, and life experiences of Jesus and those with whom he lived 2000+ years ago.
The elevators at the Museum of the Bible is remarkable because they include video LCD screens on three sides, showing vistas of Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. The projected stained glass and paintings on the ceilings of the museum, and these elevator video experiences, serve to further immerse visitors in the world of the Bible and Holy Land where the Bible has its origins.
The food on the sixth floor of the museum is also exceptional. We had two different plates which included various types of Middle Eastern food, with lots of vegetables as well as meats. Sarah had chicken and I had lamb. Yum! Definitely plan to eat at the museum when you visit. The view of the U.S. Capitol and other areas on the mall from the 6th floor of the museum is also impressive.
I loved the section of the museum which included short video clip testimonies from a wide variety of people, both celebrities and “regular folks.” People shared how they came to know God, how the Bible is a vital part of their daily routine and walk with the Lord, and how God has supported them during difficult times of their lives. Of course, this made me think of my book and project, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.” As Christians we are each called to tell our story, and it was inspiring to see digital storytelling used in such effective and inspiring ways at the Museum of the Bible to share the Good News of the Gospel.
I could write more about the exhibits and experience, but I think I’ll close for now so I can share this before we board our Southwest Airlines flight back to Oklahoma City tonight. Most of my photos from our trip this week, including many from the Museum of the Bible, are included in this Flickr set.
If your travels take you to the Washington D.C. area, I strongly encourage you to make plans to spend several hours or several days at the Museum of the Bible! You will be so glad you did! The story of God’s continuing love and relationship with humankind is the most important of all stories… and it’s wonderful to experience it in new ways with rich multimedia as well as a wealth of artifacts from the Bible’s history.
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