Review: Museum of the Bible

By Martin Morse Wooster. Continuing my reports on museums that might be of interest to Filers coming to Washington for DisCon III, I offer a report on the Museum of the Bible, which I visited recently.  (I had a Groupon!)

The Museum of the Bible is located near the Federal Center Metro stop.  Don’t get on the escalators; go to the elevator, which gets you to within half a block of the museum’s entrance.  I spent four hours there and could have used an extra half an hour.   The museum is about two-thirds as large as a Smithsonian museum.

I didn’t pay extra for any of the rides and I didn’t get to the living history section representing Nazareth in Jesus’s time until after the re-enactors had left for the day.

I also glossed over the section with artifacts from Biblical times because this is where the museum has gotten into trouble by buying artifacts that had been stolen from the Middle East.  In September 2021, the museum returned a tablet with the epic of Gilgamesh which had been stolen from the Iraqi national museum in 2007.

I also do not recommend the Milk and Honey Café which sells overpriced prepackaged sandwiches.  Several chain fast food places have branches within a few blocks of the museum.

Is the Museum of the Bible worth seeing?  Yes, if you are interested enough in Biblical history to pay $20 admission.  It is a real museum, and its treatment of Biblical history is straightforward and fair.  But the museum would do better if they offered amenities usually found in museums of its size.

The museum has three floors.  The first floor is divided into exhibits about the bible in American history and civil society and the Bible.  There’s quite a lot here and the museum did a good job in describing what significant Americans thought about the Bible’s role in governing our country.  The section includes quotations from significant Black thinkers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass.  The civil society section tells about Christian poverty-fighting organizations such as Compassion International and Habitat for Humanity, and there’s also a section on the “restorative justice” movement.   

 There’s also a brief section about the Bible in movies which includes the scene from History Of The World, Part 1 where Mel Brooks, playing Moses, announces that he has come down from the mountaintop with 15 commandments.  But one of the tablets falls and breaks!  “Oy!” Mel says, reducing the number to a more manageable ten.

The second floor has the section where the story of the Hebrew Bible is told in a half-hour animated film. You travel from room to room, and there’s plenty of time to tell the exciting parts of the Old Testament (Samson!  David!  Moses!) and at least mention the slower parts (Ummm…who were the Judges?). This was very popular with families, and one woman who was in our group announced that she had seen it 12 times.  I was happy to see it once.

The third floor has the museum’s extensive collection of Bibles.  But here the Museum of the Bible would do a better job if it were more like normal museums.  There is a “virtual docent” on weekends, but they should have real docents.  The Udvar-Hazy Museum, the Air and Space Museum’s annex[1],  has retired military people volunteer as docents; I’m sure there are plenty of retired ministers and rabbis in the Washington area who could share their Bible knowledge.  The museum should also have a guidebook.

Finally, the gift shop is stuffed with Biblical tchotchkes but they get credit with me for selling refrigerator magnets with one letter from one of their illuminated Bibles.  I bought a red-and-blue “w”.  I thought this was an imaginative idea.

The Museum of the Bible is worth seeing, and its exhibits range from a little weird to quite good.   But is it worth $20?  If you’re really interested in the Bible, yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it for fans with a more casual interest in its subject, particularly if there are Smithsonian museums[2] you haven’t seen.

[1] A brief review:  Udvar-Hazy is where the Air and Space Museum keeps the really big aircraft.  It’s well worth seeing but it’s 15 miles away from downtown Washington and you should allow a day if you plan to go.

[2] Including the National Gallery of Art, which is associated with the Smithsonian but is legally separate from the Smithsonian.

8 thoughts on “Review: Museum of the Bible

  1. You can get all the way from the Mall (where most of the Smithsonian museums are) to the Udvar-Hazy (out by Dulles airport) via public transport (Metro and bus). It takes an hour or so, but is cheap.

    “you should allow a day if you plan to go.” — Honestly, you could spend a productive full day at any of the Smithsonian museums. I spent several weeks detailed to DC early in my career, and that’s what I did with weekends. And even then, every time I went to DC and had an afternoon to kill before my flight home, I’d take the Metro to the Mall and find a current exhibition I hadn’t seen. Always something new.

  2. My favorite Smithsonian museum is the Renwick, located on 17th Street near the New Executive Office Building. It’s focus is on contemporary arts and crafts, and yesterday on Nicki’s and my first trip down to DC since the pandemic happened it was our destination.

  3. Excellent share, Martin!

    On a personal note, I now feel prepared for when my mother inevitably drags me and our children to visit this place as she’s wont to do whenever we’re in the Capital region.

  4. Andrew Porter:

    What? No exhibits with people living among dinosaurs?

    I guess the Creation Museum people (Answers in Genesis) wouldn’t share with the Museum of the Bible people (Hobby Lobby).

    I’ll credit Hobby Lobby with at least making a half-hearted effort at doing a real museum, unlike AIG. But it’s still their view of the Bible, not an all-encompassing one.

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  6. I will leave my viewing of portions of the Gilgamesh Epic to visiting the British Museum. I wonder what the providence on those pieces is?

  7. When I went to the restored National Portrait Gallery I spent seven blissful hours. This is a museum that so much art that their fifth floor is a sort of attic which had a Rubens staashed away because it didn’t fit with their collections.

    Bill: I went to the Udvar-Hazy Center before the silver Line opened. Wthat you do now is take the Silver Line to Wiehle-Reston East and look for Fairfax Connector 983 which takes you to the center. The Smithsonian says to allow 90 minutes from L’Enfant Plaza and I think allowing an equivalent amount of time from Woodley Park makes sense. Fares are probably around four dollars during off-peak hours (9.30-3) and two dollars more during peak hours, There’s a $1.50 trasnfer coming out.

    On weekends Metro slashed its fares to $2 but they don’t run as many trains and you may have to change at Ballston.

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