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Monument to myth or history? Museum of the Bible to open in Washington, D.C.

Tracie Mauriello, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Travel News

WASHINGTON -- Three blocks from Smithsonian exhibits depicting the Big Bang and evolution, Washington's newest museum will tell a different story of the creation of the universe.

The Museum of the Bible will showcase the impact of the Old and New Testaments using ancient artifacts and examples of ways the holy book has influenced the modern world.

The museum welcomes everyone from atheists to true believers to explore its eight-story, high-tech museum that uses modern technology to present ancient parables.

"No other book has had such a great impact on society, particularly Western culture," said museum executive director Tony Zeiss. "It's had an impact on literature, on art, on fashion, on politics. You name it."

Opening in November, the nonprofit museum is the brain child of Steve Green, the evangelical president of Hobby Lobby who has been at the crux of two church-and-state controversies. One involves his efforts to bring biblical teachings into public schools through a series of four secondary school courses. The other was Hobby Lobby's win in a landmark case in 2009 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that companies owned by deeply religious families can use faith-based objections to sidestep the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate.

Around the same time, the Green family began acquiring biblical artifacts a few at a time until members had amassed tens of thousands, which they displayed in traveling exhibits. Some of the acquisitions caught the attention of federal prosecutors who charged that the antiquities may have been looted from modern-day Iraq. The case ended in a $3 million settlement and the forfeiture of 5,000 artifacts.

None of those artifacts were headed to the Museum of the Bible, Zeiss said.

There will be plenty else in the enormous museum. At 430,000 square feet, it's bigger than the Smithsonian Museum of African American History. And although it's dedicated to one solitary book, the museum occupies one-fifth the space of the Library of Congress, which has a world record 164 million holdings.

Among the museum's relics are first editions of the King James Bible, fragments of the Dead Sea Scroll, the first Bible to travel to the moon, the largest collection of Torah scrolls and Bibles that belonged to celebrities including Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley. Some items will be on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Rome State Archive and the Vatican.

Some religious scholars are concerned more about what isn't in the museum than what is.

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