WASHINGTON — As the new Museum of the Bible is set to open on Saturday in the nation's capital, journalists and donors were invited to take a sneak peak of the new $500 million institution on Tuesday.
The 430,000-square foot museum has hundreds of artifacts, centuries-old pieces of translated scriptures, and Bibles owned by historic religious and political leaders, and offers real-life illustrations, programs and experiences that will give visitors a taste of what it was like in Israel during the time of Christ.
The Christian Post toured the facility and also spoke with William Lazenby, the director of research for the Virginia-based museum consulting firm The PRD Group, about a number of the Bibles and ancient scriptures on display.
Here are 10 interesting things to see and do at the new Museum of the Bible. (Click arrow above image)
1. Dead Sea Scrolls?
The museum's "History of the Bible" exhibit takes visitors through the earliest days of Scripture all the way up to the King James Bible.
On display in this exhibit are a collection of fragments that purport to be a part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are believed to be the oldest surviving fragments of biblical accounts.
The fragments were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in a series of 11 caves in the Judean Desert.
The museum does make sure to note that there is some question to the authenticity of the fragments in the museum's collection as research continues.
"There is lots of research still going on. The museum has done a great deal of research and last year published a volume on the initial findings on them. There are diverse opinions on the authenticity of those pieces," Lazenby told CP. "Some scholars feel they are [authentic] and some scholars feel there is evidence that at least some of them are not real."
2. Bodmer's Psalms
The "History of the Bible" exhibit takes visitors through the years of the earliest Bible translations with a combination of genuine artifacts and facsimiles of the New Testament that was translated into other languages on very early papyrus pieces.
The museum is home to one of the earliest and most complete biblical manuscripts — the Bodmer Papyri. Named after collector Martin Bodmer, the Bodmer Papyri includes about 20 early codices that were discovered in Egypt in 1952 that date back to the third or fourth century.
According to the museum, about 10 codices contain Coptic translations of Old and New Testament books, while the other codices were translated into Greek.
According to Lazenby, the collection is mostly complete and the museum possesses over 90 leaves of the collection.
On display currently are a handful of pages from the book of Psalms.
"It represents that transition from a period of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the early papyrus fragments to the complete manuscripts that survived," Lazenby explained.
"It is the earliest, largely complete example of a Psalms codex. I know they have more than 90 leaves of it. It is something like 90 percent complete. There are about a dozen pages at the beginning and end that are missing and I think there are two or three pages in the middle that are missing but other than that, it is a complete manuscript and it is very comparable to some of the great manuscripts in terms of its content. It is a fantastic witness to the text of the Psalms for that period, particularly in a Christian context how it is being transmitted."
3. A page from a first edition Gutenberg Bible
German Johannes Gutenberg changed the world when he introduced Europe to the movable-type printing press in the 15th century.
Gutenberg began printing the Bible in 1452 and produced about 185 Bibles by the time the first edition was completed in 1454, according to the museum.
The "History of the Bible" exhibit features a page from a first edition Gutenberg Bible. The museum notes that the first edition Gutenberg is "the first printed edition of the Bible."
"The text is two columns of 42 lines, with colored initials in red and blue, added by hand," a placard states.
4. Martin Luther Bibles
Arguably, no one played a bigger role in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century than Martin Luther.
The museum's "History of the Bible" exhibit has four Bibles on display in its Luther section.
Not only does the Luther display include a 1542 Latin Bible signed and inscribed by Luther himself, it also features the 1544 personal Bible used by Luther's pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen.
The museum placard notes that along with ministering to Luther, Bugenhagen worked with Luther's collaborator, Philip Melanchthon. A handwritten note in the Bugenhagen Bible is initialed P.M.
Additionally, the Luther display features a first edition of Luther's Pentateuch, which represents "the beginning of Luther's translation of the Old Testament" and dates back to 1524. Also shown is a 1524 copy of Luther's popular New Testament translation.
5. First edition King James Bible
The Museum of the Bible is home to one of two first edition King James Bible New Testaments known to have survived.
The Bible, which is bound together with the Book of Common Prayer, dates back to 1611.
According to the Museum, the only other surviving copy of the first edition King James Bible is owned by The British Library.
6. Pilgrim's Bible
The "Impact of the Bible" exhibit aims to show visitors just how much of an impact the Word of God and Christian principles have had in not only founding the United States but also throughout its history as well.
On display in this exhibit is a 1592 Bible owned by William Bradford, the 2nd governor of the Plymouth Colony who traveled aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and was a signatory of the Mayflower Compact.
"In 1560, English Protestants living in exile published the English-language Geneva Bible, one of the most popular Bibles of its time. It is believed that the pilgrims brought the Geneva Bible with them on board the Mayflower," a Museum placard states. "It was the Bible of choice in New England until the King James Bible became more widely available."
7. Lincoln's Bible
One of the treasures people will find in this "Impact of the Bible" section is a Bible and a bookmark that were given to the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln in 1864 by a delegation of African Americans from Baltimore, Maryland, who were looking to thank the 16th president for freeing the slaves and for allowing African-American soldiers to serve in the Union Army.
"More than five hundred African-American Baltimoreans donated money to purchase the Bible, which cost about $580 (today's equivalent of more than $8,000)," a placard at the museum states. "Upon receiving it, Lincoln reportedly said: 'In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man.' In 1916, Robert Todd Lincoln donated the Bible to Fist University."
8. Whitefield and Edwards' sermons
The Museum's "Impact of the Bible" exhibit also includes published sermons from leaders of the Great Awakening, such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards.
Whitefield was an Anglican priest from England who traveled to America during the 18th century and encouraged people to seek salvation through Christ.
One published sermon on display at the museum is Whitefield's "The Marks of the New Birth," which was preached at the Parish Church of St. Mary, White-Chapel in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1739, according to the museum.
"This is considered one of Whitefield's greatest and most successful sermons. During his revivalist career, he delivered it many times. Whitefield focused on spiritual conversion rather than righteous works, so 'that your Sins may be blotted out.'"
The exhibit also includes a published version of Edwards' 1741 sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
According to the museum, the sermon is Edwards' best known sermon and "describes in vivid detail the tortures of hell that await unrepentant people."
9. Elvis' Bible
While many museum visitors might not know who historical figures like Whitefield and Edwards even are, there is no denying that almost everybody has heard of "The King," Elvis Presley.
The museum's "Impact of the Bible" exhibit features the rock-and-roll icon's 1970 King James Version Bible that has his name "Elvis Aron Presley" in a debossed gold foil imprint on the cover.
The museum's Elvis display also features a copy of a 1966 Elvis record that Included the song "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho."
10. The World of Jesus of Nazareth
Artifacts and Bibles aren't the only things to see at the Museum of the Bible. The museum also offers plenty of interactive experiences, videos and exhibits.
The museum's "Stories of the Bible" section allows visitors to walk through somewhat of a mock Christ-era Israeli village in an exhibit titled "The World of Jesus of Nazareth."
Three staged guides in the exhibit will explain what life was like for a synagogue leader, a builder or a woman during that time period.
The staged village has various sections that include a synagogue, a construction area, a hall for spiritual cleansing and a dining area.
At the entrance to the village, the words of Luke 8:1 are written: "Jesus went through cities and villages proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God."