Mapping Cultural Philanthropy

Back to Map About To Dumbarton Oaks

Museum of the Bible

The Museum of the Bible, which opened in late 2017, is the brainchild of Steve Green, who believes that the study of the Bible is essential to one’s understanding of the world. Although courting controversy, the museum aims to tell the story of this book in a historical and nonsectarian manner.

The Bible on a shelf is worthless.

Steve Green

Steve Green grew up in Oklahoma City and belonged to a devout Christian family, which was involved in neighborhood churches. Green’s parents, David and Barbara, started a small family business named Hobby Lobby in 1970.“Our Story,” Hobby Lobby, https://www.hobbylobby.com/about-us/our-story.

As children and teenagers, both Steve and his wife, Jackie, attended Christian camps and youth conferences. They initially met as young teenagers at a church camp; only much later did they date and eventually marry. After marriage, Steve and Jackie both joined the Green family business. Their upbringing had instilled in them the values taught by the church, and Steve and Jackie followed the tenet of tithing a tenth of their resources as a matter of religious practice, even during financially tough times.Steve Green, Jackie Green, Rick Warren, and Bill High, This Dangerous Book: How the Bible Has Shaped Our World and Why It Still Matters Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

Development of the Collection

In 2009, John Shipman, a venture capitalist who wanted to collect historical Bibles and open a museum in Dallas, Texas, invited Steve Green on a trip to Turkey to look at a Gospel of John with an ornate silver case.Green et al., This Dangerous Book. In November 2009, they traveled to Turkey to meet with the family who owned this artifact. Due to political reasons, however, the meeting did not happen. Green did have the chance to see some other objects while in Istanbul and came back to the States with a piqued interest in biblical artifacts. Over the next few years, he passionately collected biblical artifacts, first to support his acquaintances in their vision to start a museum of the Bible, and then for sheer excitement and intrigue. He also traveled to Israel and met with many people about Bible-related collections that might be for sale—this got Green very excited to put together a collection of Bibles.

His aim was not to buy as a collector, but to acquire these objects to tell their story.Green et al., This Dangerous Book. The Greens already owned a business of educational Christian books, and Steve’s brother had been very involved in the enterprise from the beginning of his career. It was only natural for the Greens to go into collecting rare biblical artifacts, and they fully embraced this dream.

The next step was to open a traveling exhibit, and they opened their first exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in 2011, on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.“PASSAGES : Experience the Bible Like Never Before,” Oklahoma City Museum of Art, http://www.okcmoa.com/visit/events/passages/. After this, they had national and international exhibitions in places like the Vatican, Jerusalem, Argentina, Germany, and Cuba.“Past Exhibits,” Museum of the Bible, https://www.museumofthebible.org/exhibits/past.

The Greens aimed to generate more curiosity about the Bible, and their determination and eagerness to find various biblical artifacts kept the collection growing. The whole family pitched in, even the children bringing in their contributions.

Donation

Steve Green claims his wife and he “never pictured ourselves as collectors of biblical artifacts.”Green et al., This Dangerous Book. They just wanted to tell the story of the Bible—they had a desire to invite people to come and explore the Bible, and consider the museum a tool in doing that. A museum for the Bible was initially the idea of Green’s acquaintance Shipman, who had introduced him to collecting rare biblical artifacts. However, with his collection growing, Green thought it only right to be part of the construction of the museum himself. They considered ten different locations all over the nation, and it was a hard decision between New York City and Washington, DC. Hobby Lobby commissioned a nationwide survey by phone and over 80 percent of respondents said that it would be a good idea to start the museum. The survey also sealed the fact that DC would be the preferred location.Green et al., This Dangerous Book.

Steve Green wanted a museum with a high standard of excellence. Being with other national museums in Washington, DC, would definitely put the Museum of the Bible on the radar of the museumgoer. The location would also allow for international tourists to experience this unique museum. In 2014, Green acquired the building, and the museum opened in November 2017. Scott Carroll, a former professor of ancient studies who specializes in Biblical manuscripts, serves as the executive director of the museum and as adviser to Green. The late John Shipman was the third member of the Green buying team.Geraldine Fabrikant, “Craft Shop Family Buys Up Ancient Bibles for Museum,” New York Times, June 11, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/12/business/12bibles.html.

The Museum of the Bible has had its fair share of controversies. Even before it opened to the public, news broke of some of its artifacts being illegally imported into the country.Alan Feuer, “Hobby Lobby Agrees to Forfeit 5,500 Artifacts Smuggled Out of Iraq,” New York Times, July 5, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/hobby-lobby-artifacts-smuggle-iraq.html. After opening, the authenticity of five of the museum’s sixteen Dead Sea Scroll fragments was called into question; after third-party testing, these objects were removed from public exhibition.“Third-Party Testing Confirms Significant Doubts About Some Scroll Fragments in Museum’s Collection; Museum Removes Artifacts from Exhibit,” press release, Museum of the Bible, October 22, 2018, https://www.museumofthebible.org/press/press-releases/museum-of-the-bible-releases-research-findings-on-fragments-in-its-dead-sea-scrolls-collection. The Steve Green Foundation–funded Scholars Initiative, which pairs young archaeologists and students with a mentor and provides access to artifacts in the Green Collection, has received criticism for its rigor and objectives.Nina Burleigh, “The Messiah Cometh: Hobby Lobby’s Museum of the Bible Descends on the Nation’s Capital,” Newsweek, April 7, 2016, https://www.newsweek.com/2016/04/15/hobby-lobby-steve-green-bible-museum-washington-dc-444752.html.

Institutional Mission and Programming

Steve Green believes the “Bible can stand on its own—he has not created a place to proselytize, but want to share the Bible’s story in an engaging way.” The main goal of the Museum of the Bible is to “help people understand this amazing book a little better.”Green et al., This Dangerous Book. This has been done in three different ways: by informing the viewer of the history, the narrative, and the impact of the Bible. Green and his team developed a curriculum with these things in mind. They combined the archaeological information with manuscript evidence. Carroll said in an interview, “we want it to be as accurate as possible, as fair as possible, and, if you will, as nonsectarian as possible.”Philip Kennicott, “The New Bible Museum Tells a Clear, Powerful Story. And It Could Change the Museum Business,” Washington Post, November 15, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/the-new-bible-museum-tells-a-clear-powerful-story-and-it-could-change-the-museum-business/2017/11/15/6fc76f40-c98e-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html.

The museum also brings to attention the numerous print and digitized versions of the Bible, and the translations in almost every language of the world. One section of the museum is dedicated to illuminations, which offers us a copy of the Bible in every language into which it has been translated, and also recommends what languages it could be translated into in the future. This exercise indeed makes the Bible a book of the world, irrespective of language and background. The “Stories of the Bible” section, a narrative of the Bible in three layers—Hebrew Bible, World of Jesus of Nazareth, and the New Testament takes visitors through the most important stories of the Bible, and how they shaped the Christian faith. The third section focuses on the impact of the Bible, allowing visitors to engage the story of the Bible in a world they know.

Profile by Vaishnavi Patil, 2019 Wintersession student.