In Which We Visit the Musuem of the Bible

In Which We Visit the Musuem of the Bible July 12, 2018

The children are beginning to haul themselves into consciousness—a long day of wandering around the Museum of the Bible and then many hours in an enticing swimming pool has exhausted them—and I should leap up and throw all our stuff into the car so that we can once more return to “ordinary life” for a moment or two before carrying on to the next exciting episode.

But before I do that let me pour myself another cup of oolong and say two or three things about the museum of the Bible.

The first thing to say, as you might imagine, is that two hours, especially backing up against lunchtime, was deeply inadequate for the task of actually seeing all the museum has to offer. After a while I found myself drifting along, children in tow, gazing at beautiful manuscripts and ancient texts without any sense of where I was or what I was looking at. More time was required.

The second thing—and this is the one I was most, how shall I say it, anxious about—was that, by and large, the whole project was in excellent taste. Go back and read everything I said yesterday about the Museum of Natural History and know that this was not that. Though not exactly spare, whoever designed each section managed to achieve a sense of grace and wonder. And (know what a big concession this must surely be for me) the interactive touch screen quizzes and maps were a, cough, Godsend. While Matt poured relentlessly over every single bible in each section, the children tested their Bible knowledge and tried to figure out how many books were in the Samaritan canon. It kept things moving. It’s like the curators wanted both adults and children to be there and made it possible for both to exist harmoniously and without deep irritation to the one or the other.

The third thing is that, and this is a relief to say, the life of Jesus section was super cheesy, especially with the actors and plastic food, and the children loved it. Realized, of course, that this being so, they would really hate having to go to actual Galilee because it is hot and there are no water fountains strategically placed and you can’t just go in and sprawl all over the ruins of the synagogue like it’s your own living room.

But the fourth thing is that I found this—

the New Testament in Senefou, which, believe it or not, I have never actually gotten to touch with my own hands because I was long gone from my true home by the time it came into print. It is beautifully bound and stuffed with lovely pictures and maps and I was quite amazed to find it there. Never thought I’d wake up one morning in the nation’s capital and trot down so many wide avenues and suddenly lay my own hands and own eyes on something so precious.

Also, marvelously, got to see the Bibles of Elvis and Donald Trump. Cue jokes about how if you’ve put something in a museum it means you’re not using it anymore. And that’s been my quibble about this project from the moment I heard about it. Museums by nature indicate a sense of the thing’s being obsolete. You look at it in wonder and then wander back to your own way of life where you don’t see it and don’t use it and down need it. And that is surely true of the Bible in so much of everyday life. Even though it is on the phone and tablet and on the shelf, biblical illiteracy is a crisis level epidemic.

If you go to that beautiful building and wander around and come away refreshed and renewed in your desire to open up and read your own copy, I will be the happiest person alive. But if you go and think it doesn’t matter, scrolling past your bible app to get to Facebook, I will be mournful and sad.

Would that I had time to mention the incredible coolness of there being actual Jewish scribes mending actual Torah scrolls, and the crumpling of one of my little girls before the replica of burned bibles, her wonder and horror that such a thing could ever be done, and all the other moments as we went along. But I don’t. I must arise and move us along.

If you happen to be in DC, skip the museum of natural history and divide your day between the national gallery and the museum of the Bible, that’s my advice.

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