As President of Museum of the Bible, I read Eric Cortellessa’s article on our project with great fascination. Unfortunately, many of the central allegations the story makes are simply untrue.
Museum of the Bible, which will open next year just two blocks from the National Mall and three blocks from the nation’s Capitol, is dedicated to the impact, history, and narrative of the Bible. It’s a non-sectarian institution. It is not political, and it will not proselytize.
To build Museum of the Bible, we have convened an exemplary external board of advisors, and we are constantly working with Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and other religious and secular institutions to solicit the input of the best scholars and curators in the world.
The curator of our own 40,000-item collection, Dr. David J. Trobisch, is not an evangelical. We selected him for one simple reason: He was extraordinarily qualified.
Mr. Cortellessa says that the people we’ve hired to create the display are the same folks who designed a different museum in Kentucky. This is simply not true. The teams that are designing and building our five stories of exhibits have done design work for some of the best-known theme parks in America and dozens of museums around the world (including exhibits focused on Jewish heritage and the Holocaust).
Of course, those of us involved with the Museum who are evangelicals are not ashamed of our own faith, but long ago the decision was made to not limit the experience of the Museum to that of any one tradition.
Our collection — and our philosophy — is not new. We have earned our reputable and non-sectarian reputation.
Well before we began construction on our 430,000 square foot facility in Washington, D.C., we began to tour our collection around the world. It was through this experience that we started our relationship with the Israeli Antiquities Authority; our collection was on display in Jerusalem for an entire year, and it drew the appreciation of myriad visitors for the quality of our collection and our sensitivity in presenting it.
When we decided to construct a museum in Washington, we offered the Israeli Antiquities Authority a portion of an entire floor. We have given them no instructions and no guidelines on what artifacts to display, but simply offered them something they had never had: real estate in the United States’ capital.
That touring collection also continued around the world, including two events at The Vatican within eyeshot of the Papal residence. It was also twice in Cuba, Buenos Aires Catholic University, across the United States, and currently it is in Ulm, Germany, at the Ulmer Museum.
In my own trips to Israel — I’ve now made more than 100 of them — I’ve looked in awe at the roots of the Torah’s words reaching deep into thousands of years of Israeli history, and in other parts of the world I’ve witnessed the influence of those same words in the foundations of western civilization.
The works of Shakespeare would be indiscernible if you removed his 1200 Bible references, and so many of the world’s great works of art might not have even existed had they not found their inspiration in the stories of scripture. Even Richard Dawkins, the revered atheist, acknowledges that the Bible is among the greatest works of English literature, and he even once quipped that “a native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the Barbarian.”
The museum will show, among other things, why the Bible has played such an important role in history — for good and for ill — and we’ve spared no expense in making sure that the experience is educational, entertaining, and reputable.
Our goal is straightforward: reacquaint the world with the book that helped make it, and let the visitor come to their own conclusions.
The Museum of the Bible is a global education institution that invites all people to engage in the Bible. We don’t exist to tell people what to believe about it.
Cary Summers is President of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. He came to the Museum after a celebrated business career across the tourism and retail sectors.