Visit the Museum of the Bible in DC for Families
Massive, 40 ft tall Gutenberg Gates greet you at the entrance. 43 feet wide, weighing 16 tons, they dwarf adults, so kids will be especially impressed.
banned, burned, beloved.
More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history.
Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it,
dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it.
Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it more powerful than their weapons.
Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints,”
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Museums in DC set the bar high as some of the best in the country, renowned throughout the world. Opened in 2017, the Museum of the Bible represents well, standing in that elite group of archives just fine. It has one of the largest collections of biblical artifacts in the world. While most museums exhibit decades or centuries-old pieces, their collection goes back thousands. Packed with more than 600 rare world treasures, it spans 3,500 years of history. Like other DC museums, this 430,000 sq ft museum is massive. It encompasses 6 main exhibit floors, plus a basement level exhibit. You really need a day or more to truly go through it, but, at very least, spend a ½ day here to hit some of the highlights. It can be overwhelming to whittle down these museums, but choose & plan out your family’s must-see points & anything else you fit in is bonus. It’s also a private (nonprofit) museum and not free, so you want to fit in your money’s worth.
What it is & What it's not:
The Museum of the Bible is not the light-hearted, wax-figured version of Jesus & Christianity that many expect. It’s not evangelical, preaching or teaching the faith or the stories. It truly is a Museum of the Bible, itself, and does not linger on Jesus’s story or the tenets of faith, or even God. The museum is more of an academic look at 3 main themes regarding the physical Bible as a book:
But that’s not to say it’s boring or bland. Everything is world-class from their movies to their exhibits to their architecture- beautifully, thoughtfully, extremely well done. The tech is advanced & engaging at a level you normally only see at top theme parks. They used award winning, Oscar-nominated tech & exhibit designers who create for Universal Studios, Cirque du Soleil, Disney, Steven Spielberg, the Smithsonians, the Met, Presidential libraries, & more. Top notch, choosing the best for their museum & exhibit design and it absolutely shows. They consulted with leading biblical scholars throughout the world. They also partner with Israel Antiquities & the Vatican to show rarely seen world treasures. The more you’ve studied the Bible or biblical history, the more you’ll appreciate it. My family & I are Christians, but followers & scholars of multiple faiths visit the museum. An extremely broad range of conflicting expectations & criticisms comes with the territory of a site such as this. They tip-toe a line that tries to be unbiased & non-affiliated. Christians & Jews will think ‘not enough’ & seculars will say ‘too much’. But, it’s well worth seeing for Christians, Jews, and anyone interested in the Bible, its history, or the priceless, ancient artifacts here.
For little ones, they have a play room with entertaining arcade/ carnival-type games. The movies & interactive experiences are relatively short, interesting and well-paced. Many exhibits are high tech, immersive & really engaging. However, kids may be a bit bored with all of the ‘old books’ and ancient artifacts. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. We take our kids to all kinds of places, even if they’re bored for awhile and they always end up learning interesting things along the way. It’s okay for kids to be bored and something many aren’t skilled in, today, but it’s something you should be aware of before, since they won’t be actively entertained in a number of exhibits. If they’re old enough to read, they’ll end up reading and learning something, though. However, if you have a gaggle of toddlers, go through the highlights as long as you can, and either try to stick with the more interactive sections, or do a parent swap. One parent can stay with the littles in the kid’s area while the other makes quick trips to highlights that are important to them, then swap. There are also lounge areas on each main floor for teens to rest, too.
My 5 Family Highlights Are: (Further details in Sections Below)
- The 3rd Floor- Stories of the Bible has The Hebrew Bible experience, an attraction that the whole family can enjoy (* see note under 3rd floor below). Head here 1st while others start on the lower floors.
- Same floor, next door, make a quick trip through the village of Nazareth in The World of Jesus of Nazareth.
- Head to the 6th Floor for an above the skyline view of DC on the Promenade
- Take a look at the History of the Bible on the 4th floor with ancient Bibles, scrolls & artifacts. Notable items in the section below.
- Next, 2nd Floor for Impact of the Bible will probably be the family favorite. Engaging tech, famous names, light, interesting & fun.
The continually changing LED ceiling, 40 feet high & 140 feet long, is mesmerizing in the Grand Hall entrance.
Smaller, temporary exhibits rotate in the basement (B1) level. A quick trip, the beautiful Tapestry of Light exhibit has giant, glow in the dark tapestries of scenes from the book of Revelations. It’s there until May 2020 & kids would enjoy the colorful, glowing tapestries.
- The bronze Gutenberg Gates are inscribed in Latin with the 1st 80 lines of Genesis, as printed in the Gutenberg Bible. It’s inscribed in reverse, so you can create a souvenir rubbing. The Gutenberg Bible is the earliest Bible in print (1455) with the invention of the printing press. Mass production of books made Bibles available to lower classes for the 1st time. Increasing literacy changed the state & future of mankind. A replica of the printing press is on the 2nd floor.
- The Grand Hall & LED ceiling- Jerusalem stone columns line the hall which features images from manuscripts, nature, art, and architecture on the vivid ceiling.
- Courageous Pages (kids area)– Low tech by design, this kids’ space encourages creative, physical play. Kids will have a blast and even teens & parents will have fun playing the interactive games with younger ones. Tip- This can eat up time & you’re already short on it, so let the kids know they’ve got 15 minutes here, up front. Or, parent swap from here during some of the less exciting exhibits.
- There’s also a 9 minute Virtual Reality tour of Explore: Lands of the Bible where you can ‘visit’ 34 famous biblical sites. It costs $9.99 each.
- A small exhibit, Treasures of the Vatican Museums and Vatican Library are mostly reproductions, but still an interesting & beautiful glimpse into the Vatican’s private stores in Italy.
- Gift Shop Tip– They have a large gift shop with a wide range of merchandise. It closes at the same time as the museum, so hit it before all closes, if it’s important to you. You can also shop it online, instead, and save your limited time for museum exhibits. The Milk + Honey Café & coffee shop is across the hall.
Courageous Pages Kids Area- 1st Floor
Bible in America– Artifacts & Exhibits from:
- Early colonial times- including the Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers & Jewish settlers
- Revolutionary times, the founding fathers & the American presidency
- Civil War & abolition
- Women’s suffrage & the Civil Rights movements, and in judicial & legal cases
A few of the notable, original pieces are:
- Stunning 254 ft tapestry illustrating key moments. You won’t know it’s a tapestry until you get close.
- Old World Bibles: King James, Geneva and Douay-Rheims
- 1592 Geneva Bible owned by Pilgrim- William Bradford, believed to come over on the Mayflower
- Original Manuscript of Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”
- Original photograph of Abe Lincoln the year before he became president
- 1st edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- Billy Graham personal items
Bible in the World– Highly interactive, high tech exhibit on culture & society. Older kids will especially like this exhibit. Daily influences you may not realize. Some highlights include:
- Station where you can type in your name & birth date and it prints a bookmark with how many days, months & years you were born after the birth of Jesus.
- ‘Magic mirror’ to design a biblical-inspired t shirt look.
- Music studio-like sound ‘booth’ with playlists of songs with biblical lyrics.
- The ‘Banned & Burned’ exhibit discusses conflicts throughout history where the Bible was viewed as a threat & attacked, outlawed & banned. It discusses the Nazi, 1960s/ 70s China, & various social movement burnings (Today China allows Bibles & is a leading Bible producer). The Nazis use of sacred, parchment Torah scrolls as shoe liners, book covers & wallets. Has a picture of a ‘scripture balloon’ that sends gospels into North Korean air space with gospel tracts. Talks about Jews & Christians smuggling Bibles into a Cold War Soviet Union.
The Bible Now– Older kids & teens will really appreciate this high tech, fast-moving exhibit.
Some highlights include:
- Oversized, curved screens surround you in a 360* view of real-time, live feeds from the web and people, media, & places around the world, showing the Bible’s up-to-the-minute impact.
- Includes live guest engagement through exhibits; and a panoramic time-lapse of Jerusalem.
- Video recording station where you can share your personal testimony of how the Bible has impacted you.
- Explore the current, most commonly searched keywords and most shared verses by country or globally.
- Make a Meme table & your creations will be displayed on panorama screens.
The 2nd floor also includes another paid experience, Washington Revelations. A 6 minute, simulated ‘flying experience’ similar to Disney Park’s Soarin’ attraction. It ‘takes’ you to major sites to show the Bible’s strong presence throughout DC in inscriptions, statues, place names & monuments. The cost is $4.99 + tax, each.
The Hebrew Bible Experience– This is high tech & super cool with potential for the whole family to really enjoy it. However, it is loud, intense &, at times, dark, so it may be a bit much for little ones afraid of noise, dark or with sensory issues. Also, go early before kids wear out because most is standing & the occasional seating is very limited. A 30 minute experience walking through major stories of the Old Testament Bible, including Noah’s ark, the burning bush, and the Passover.
The World of Jesus of Nazareth– Recreation of 1st century Nazareth that explores the daily life, economy, politics, culture, social and religious practices of Jesus’s village. Olive trees are modeled after the ones in the garden of Gethsemane. There is a small amphitheater with an interesting presentation on Jesus.
12 minute film in the large screened New Testament theatre is interesting, well done, & a good rest spot, but evaluate whether you have time to devote here.
Themes include: Written traditions. Translating- more than 2000 languages. Books in Different Editions. Spread of the Bible. Conservation & Research. The King James Bible.
Some notable pieces are:
- Codex Climaci Rescriptus, manuscript includes a 6th century Aramaic translation of the Gospels
- Bohun book of ‘Hours and Psalter’ c1330 AD medieval manuscript from a Countess ancestor of the British royals
- Codex Valmadonna I, dated 1189 A.D., the earliest surviving Hebrew manuscript copied in England
- Samaritan Torah scroll dating from the 12th century A.D.
- P (Papyrus) 39– One of the oldest papyrus fragments of the Gospel of John; from the 2nd to possibly 4th century
- A “Noble Fragment” of the 1st edition of the Gutenberg Bible (c 1455 AD)
- Tyndale’s New Testament (1552 AD)- 1st edition of the New Testament in English
- 1611 first edition of the King James Bible New Testament—1 of only 2 known to survive
- 200 Torah scrolls from the 17th– 19th centuries, and a live demo by a Jewish scribe working to copy a complete Torah by hand.
- Fragment of Dead See Scrolls (still testing for authenticity)
Drive Thru History of the Bible Theater– Visiting places of the Bible, well paced and short.
New Discoveries Gallery – new Archeological discoveries, artifacts such as 1st period glass, tools, weapons, architecture
1- Bodmer Psalms– Psalms written on papyrus in years 225- 325 AD; 2- Impact of the Bible in the World exhibit;
3- An 1800s Torah Scroll cut down & used for the parchment as shoe liners by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust; 4- Sephardic Torah Scroll partly from the 1200s joined with a scroll from the 1800s
Lower level of a 2 story glass atrium
The People of the Land of Israel- History & Archaeology of life in Ancient Israel- ancient coins, glass, weapons, housewares, etc…
There are daily public readings of Scripture in the World Stage Theater with 3D mappings, 17 projectors & a giant screen for the background scenes & landscape. Temporary rotating exhibits are also on this floor.
- Manna a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant with views of DC’s skyline.
- Just 3 blocks from the US Capitol, the upper level of a glass promenade provides above the skyline views of D.C, the Capitol, & Washington Monument. (Do this for sure!)
- Rooftop Garden– herbs & plants mentioned in the Bible
Good to Know:
- Metro train station is on the same block, at the end of the building- Federal Center SW Station
- Clean, new er building, fully accessible with bathrooms on every level.
- Tickets are cheaper online with discounts for kids, members, seniors, military, first responders and students. Ages 6 & under are free.
- We used this as 1 of our 5 included sites with our Washington Go Pass card, which worked out to be a really good deal for us.
- A Bible that our kids have & enjoy is the Adventure Bible
400 4th St SW, Washington DC
10-5 daily; except major holidays
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