- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Thousands of people have come from far and wide — sometimes two by two — to visit the red-brick, ark-shaped building in Southwest.

The Museum of the Bible, on the 400 block of 4th Street SW, has received nearly 603,000 visitors (about 100,000 a month) since its 2-ton, 40-foot-tall bronze doors opened in November.

Those visitor figures place the Museum of the Bible among some of the most popular repositories in the city: The Smithsonian Institution’s newest attraction — the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September 2016 — has received more than 842,000 visitors this year, and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center has had more than 648,000 so far in 2018.

“Crowd control was the biggest challenge right off the bat,” museum President Cary Summers told The Washington Times. “We did not anticipate people wrapping around the block. It was a pleasant surprise, but it did create frustration.”

As Washington’s largest privately funded museum, the Bible museum thrives on contributions from some 51,000 donors. Its largest donor is Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based arts-and-crafts chain owned by the family of founder David Green.

With some 40,000 ancient artifacts, the Green family has amassed one of the largest private biblical collections in the world.

Next month, the museum will open new exhibits, including one focuses on women’s roles in artifact collecting.

Women comprise the majority of the museum’s visitors, and the “Noblewomen and the Bible” exhibit will tell the story of women from Germany’s House of Stolberg who amassed a collection of manuscripts and books, many of which were stolen by the Soviets during World War II. Some stolen artifacts have since been recovered.

In another case involving stolen artifacts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently returned to Iraq some 3,800 ancient artifacts that had been smuggled into the U.S. and purchased by Hobby Lobby for the museum.

“That was not us,” Mr. Summers said, emphasizing the difference between the Museum of the Bible, which displays about 1,000 items from the Green Collection, and Hobby Lobby, its biggest benefactor. “Those items that were returned — we never saw them, we never dealt with them and they were never in the museum.”

The 430,000-square-foot museum occupies the space formerly used by the Washington Design Center — the old Terminal Refrigerating and Warehousing Co. building, which stands a few blocks from the Capitol.

The museum’s proximity to the Capitol caused a stir before its opening, with concerns that the Museum of the Bible could be used to influence Congress.

But Mr. Summers said the location was chosen because it was the only building available that was large enough to display the artifacts, dismissing criticism over the museum’s mission.

“Everywhere we turn we’ve got people wanting to be critical,” he said. “We’ve been criticized that we have too much Jesus. We’ve been criticized that we don’t have enough Jesus. We’ve been criticized that we’re too Jewish, that we’re not Jewish enough. The latest has been that we are not Catholic enough.”

Though the museum provides areas for quiet reflection, it has no chapel, non-denominational or otherwise. No crosses or crucifixes hang on the walls. Mr. Summers said that’s intentional.

“Sometimes our symbols that we use are still highly divisional. We’re highly sensitive to that,” he said.

On a recent visit, Lisa McMullin of St. Louis saw Mr. Summers badge identifying him as a museum official and pulled him aside.

“I know that along the way there was some criticisms, so I just wanted to be a voice in saying, ‘Well done and thank you,’” said Ms. McMullin, who was visiting for the first time with a friend and two 8-year-old boys.

According to post-visit surveys, more than 90 percent of the Museum of the Bible’s visitors have rated their experience as excellent or good, and most would recommend the experience to a friend or family member.

“What we said we would do is exactly what we did do. We’re just showing the Bible,” Mr. Summers said.

Like the Smithsonian museums, admission is free to the Museum of the Bible, but a donation of about $15 per adult and $10 per child is requested.

It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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