Washington, D.C.'s New Biblical Museum Is a Winner for Jews and Christians

About a year ago, a sparkling new addition to the museums of the Washington, D.C. area opened to the public — and to rave reviews for the most part, quickly being named one of the top ten museums in the greater Washington area. The Biblical Museum was built in large part through a generous donation from the well-known philanthropic Green family, supporters of many evangelical causes. According to one of the early reviewers (Yonit Shimron, quoted by John Ellis in his recent retrospective in PJ Media), the Greens and those whom they picked to curate the exhibits in the museum sought to create an “inclusive” Biblical museum.

I must hasten to add that I have not personally visited the museum as yet, though it is definitely on my bucket list the next time I find myself in the D.C. area. But after scanning all the video walkthroughs available on YouTube, I believe that the Greens and the museum management are to be applauded for having done just that, and have avoided producing the sort of three-dimensional missionary tract that Mr. Ellis was apparently expecting when he went through the museum.

It is, after all, not the Museum of Protestant Theology, but rather the Museum of the Bible, and the Bible is hardly the sole preserve of the evangelical right.

I do find myself in agreement with one statement Mr. Ellis makes in his piece: Judaism is not a “stepping stone” to Christianity or anything else, despite the apparently benighted opinions of certain Christian theologians. It is a civilization in its own right, the national culture of the nation of Israel (which includes, but is definitely not limited to, the small republic established 70 years ago in part of what Christians and Jews alike call the Holy Land).

As I have written elsewhere, Judaism and Christianity are two distinctly different religions divided over a common Book; that Book is what Jews reverently call the Tanach, and what the Christians call meaningfully but erroneously the “Old Testament.” Contrary to Mr. Ellis’ assertion, the “entire story” does not necessarily point to a Galilaean carpenter executed by the Romans for high treason a bit less than 2,000 years ago.

Mr. Ellis bellyaches that “the story of the Old Testament … is told from the theological viewpoint of Judaism.” I don’t wish to shatter all of his illusions, but it is, after all, the Jewish people and their prophets who produced the Tanach, and preserved and transmitted it through the Hebrew language (with some help from Aramaic in a few books). It therefore only makes sense that the Tanach is presented in view of the people who preserved it and the culture that grew out of it.

It is hardly the case that the “New Testament” and subsequent Christian civilization are ignored in the rest of the museum. A perusal of those video walkthroughs mentioned above reveals an extensive “Nazareth” exhibit that purports to present a picture of life in First Century Roman Judaea, for instance. The “Impact” floor contains numerous Christian exhibits, in particular registering the impact of the Bible on colonial and early American culture, which is entirely appropriate and was primarily, though not exclusively, mediated by Christianity. (There were already substantial Jewish settlements in Connecticut and Philadelphia at the time of the War of Independence, in which such figures as Haym Solomon played a role.)

From what I can see, the Museum of the Bible is largely successful in its attempt to cover the length and breadth of Biblical culture as reflected in both the Jewish and Christian civilizations. It avoids the sort of particularist parochialism that Mr. Ellis appears to champion, and which would cause me, for one, to avoid it like the plague.