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, 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 you haven’t seen.
 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.
 Including the National Gallery of Art, which is associated with the Smithsonian but is legally separate from the Smithsonian.