Somewhere between the surround-screen animation of the New Testament and the backlit glass case containing Elvis Presley’s personal Bible, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed. It was bound to happen; the guide made it clear that the Museum of the Bible was meant to be a highly stimulating experience.
Educational too, of course. The new museum’s purpose, as stated in its promotional materials and in the carefully bland speeches of its largely evangelical Christian board, is to invite all people to “engage” (their preferred word) with the most popular book in the world. There was a lot to see: more than $500 million worth of artifacts, interactive exhibits and performance space in a 430,000-square-foot building three blocks from the Capitol. But actual grappling with the Bible and its implications was an afterthought.
In that way, the Museum of the Bible reflects the discouraging state of Christianity — especially evangelicalism — in the United States today. It is lavishly funded and larger than life to the point of performance, often literally. Yet the approach is strangely superficial given the wealth of complexity inherent to its subject. There are dozens of illuminated manuscripts, but it’s unclear whether they’ve been read.
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