Jeremy Burton, Director of Communications at the Museum of the Bible, discusses the background story, mission, and amenities of the new Museum of the Bible located in Washington D.C..
Thank you for joining us for this week’s special Focus on Faith edition of Family Policy Matters. Today, I am excited to talk about a new national treasure we have so close to us in Washington, D.C. I’m speaking, of course, about the Museum of the Bible. Just this past November, after nearly ten years of work and prayer, the 430,000 square foot museum, dedicated to inviting all people to engage with the Bible, opened just three blocks from the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
And we have with us today Mr. Jeremy Burton who is the Director of Communications for the Museum of the Bible and he will be speaking with us and taking some questions and giving us an insider’s view of what you can expect as a visitor when you visit the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Jeremy Burton, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
JEREMY BURTON: Hey, great to be here. Great to tell you that great things are happening in our Washington D.C. museum.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Wonderful. Jeremy, tell us first of all how the idea of a museum exclusively dedicated to the Bible came to be? Who had the idea? What was the logistical process to make this a reality? How long has it been in the works? Is it ten years?
JEREMY BURTON: Actually, a little less than that. Our founder and Board chair is a gentleman named Steve Green, who is the president of Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City. They had purchased the biblical artifacts and they had opportunities to buy some more things. Eventually the idea—They didn’t want those to just sit in the closet. They wanted the world to be able to see these rare treasures—So the idea of the Museum of the Bible came about. It was 2010, we actually incorporated as a nonprofit. So you could say it’s about a five-year process for exhibit design, purchasing the property, doing the renovation. It actually is in an historic building just two blocks south of the National Mall, about three blocks south of the U.S. Capitol, really an outstanding location. Just to give you an idea on museums, five years is actually pretty quick. The new National Museum of African American History and Culture that just opened in 2016, it was a ten-year process to get that museum online. So five years for a museum of this size and scope is pretty amazing. So it’s 430 thousand square feet, dedicated to the history narrative and impact of the Bible. The museum itself cost about $500 million for the construction: getting it all up to speed and ready to open for the public. To give you an idea on size, 430 thousand square feet is about the size of the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Wow, that’s amazing. And the reason behind choosing the location as close to the Capitol, right in the heart of Washington, D.C., was that deliberate or was that just something that came along and made possible a wonderful opportunity?
JEREMY BURTON: We studied on where we would get the most visitors to a museum like this. They were looking at a number of locations and the data came back pretty strong that the best place would be in Washington, D.C. And then we were just fortunate to get this location that was so close to the National Mall. Really, where we are is—if you know Washington, D.C.—that area of Washington, D.C. is where all the museums are. It really is just a fantastic location. We were really, really blessed.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Amen. Jeremy what kind of experience can visitors expect to have when they come?
JEREMY BURTON: It’s just stunning when you walk in. I think that’s the one thing, I think your jaw will drop a little bit. That’s what we hope as visitors come in. You walk into the front of the museum to two 40 foot bronze panels on the right and left side, we call them the Gutenberg Gates, and they look like Latin Gutenberg printing press plates. And it’s Genesis 1-30, and you’re walking into a stained glass piece that’s one of the oldest known fragments of Psalm 19 from the Greeks, so you’re literally walking into the Bible. And as you get into the lobby the first thing you’re going to see is our 140-foot digital canvas. So, it’s one big screen and there’s just all this biblical art that’s rolling as you go through. It’s a great experience. A lot of stuff is hands on. We use technology in such a way where you really get immersed in what’s going on. I think visitors just love going through it. We have so much stuff that you could come multiple days and not be bored.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Yes, I was going to ask you that. What would it typically require of a visitor if you wanted to get the full scope of everything that’s available in the museum? Would a day be adequate, or would it be better to break that into say one, two or three days?
JEREMY BURTON: You definitely want multiple days there. It depends on your family, a lot of people coming to D.C. maybe they’ve got a half-day to do it. You can get a lot in in 3 to 4 hours. But if you’re in D.C. for multiple days, I would try and hit it a couple of different times. And again, depending on who you are and what you like is where you’ll go. Our kids love to be wowed, they like rides, we like amusement parks as a family, and so we have a ride inside of the museum. So that was important to them. It’s really cool. You feel like you’re flying around Washington, D.C. seeing where the Bible’s hidden in plain sight. It’s outstanding.
THOMAS GRAHAM: That just sounds amazing. Hey Jeremy, someone who may not be a Christian, or interested at all in the Bible, what might you offer those individuals if they happen to listening today to this program about coming to the museum? I guess simply the question may be, why should someone who’s not a Christian or not interested in the Bible, why should they visit the museum?
JEREMY BURTON: We actually built this museum with that idea in mind. This is not a Christian museum; it’s not a Jewish museum; it’s not a Catholic museum. It’s a museum on the history and impact of the Bible. And so, anyone of any faith can walk in and feel comfortable in the museum. We just take you through what history is saying about the Bible. We don’t every say you should believe this or that. We don’t force that on anyone. What we do talk about are how the Bible’s been translated and transmitted over the years, and then what kind of impact it’s had. We walk through the main stories so people can just understand it. We love this approach, and we’ve had people in the doors—someone just mentioned the other day, said they were touring and they ran into a person that said they were an Atheist. And I saw a guy the other day who was obviously Buddhist, and we welcome all those people in. It’s not a threatening environment. At the end of the day our visitors get to choose what they took away from their experience.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Jeremy, outside of the permanent exhibits, what other programs or opportunities does the museum offer?
JEREMY BURTON: We do have a number of temporary exhibits that people can go through. We have a few now and that will change out. Every six months to a year, we will have new ones that come in. There is kind of a semi-permanent space with the Israel Antiquities Authority and they bring things in and out. It’s really a neat place. They’re bringing treasures from Israel—that have not been seen by the public—into our space, and that’s really a neat experience. The other thing we have… We do have a number of lectures that people can go to, and those are always ongoing and you can check our website. Another one is we have a theatre, a performing arts theatre. This is not running now but actually the first three months we had Amazing Grace, the Broadway musical was there. There’s a lot of Bible ties with that, so we constantly have things in the theatre that people can connect with.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Great. I should let you in on a little secret Jeremy, I actually visited the museum back in early December, in fact. We had a group of about 50 or so people leave the Raleigh area, come from North Carolina and go to Washington, D.C., and we took a small portion of the day to come and visit your wonderful museum there. I would have loved to have spent more time. In fact, I was tempted to maybe book a hotel room just so I could stay over. It was just great. But two things really leaped out at me—which was all that I really had time to see—and that was the village of Nazareth with the olive trees. I was just taken back by how stunningly real it all felt to be in that part of the exhibit. Can you comment on that for just a moment?
JEREMY BURTON: Oh yes, we love the World of Jesus of Nazareth! It’s a special place to a lot of people. We actually have live character actors that are showcasing what it would have been like to be in first century Nazareth. That area was created by a guy named Jonathan Martin who is actually out of Nashville. It all looks real but it is all handmade. It is amazing what that gentleman was able to do. There are 14,000 hand-painted rocks to make it look like a working Nazareth village. Those trees that you referred to… so we had all these columns inside of the museum, it’s like, “What do you do with a column?” Well what this artist did was said, “We’re going to make them into olive trees.” Actually those trees are modeled after rubbings of trees that are in the Garden of Gethsemane.
THOMAS GRAHAM: How about that! Jeremy, that’s amazing! I was very touched when I walked through that village setting. I was very moved by looking around and seeing and thinking that this was a replica of a place that our Savior was born into this world and lived and ministered and gave up His life so well to so many. I was just very move by that. The other thing that I was blessed by was the Guttenberg printing press. I don’t remember what floor that was on but I do remember walking in and seeing that printing press and just marveling at the technology and how all that was produced and created hundreds of years ago. The greatest book every produced, the Bible, came off of that press, and I was just so touched by all of that.
JEREMY BURTON: Yes, that was on the Impact Floor. We have this area where we talk about the impact of the Bible in America, and then the impact of the Bible on the World. And the Guttenberg Press is a great example of how technology really was progressed because of the Bible. The Guttenberg Press was really first invented to print the Bible in mass numbers. The Bible has been at the forefront of technology. They used to have scrolls and then they went from scrolls to the big academic word, they went to a codex, which we all know as a book. They went to this codex format, then they went to the Guttenberg Press, which is arguably one of the greatest inventions in human history. And now, we’re seeing technology where you can look at the Bible on your phone at any point in time. It actually is ironic that we started with scrolls and now we’re just scrolling on our phones.
THOMAS GRAHAM: That’s well put, Jeremy. Hey, any insider logistical tips for listeners who may be planning a visit to the Museum of the Bible anytime soon?
JEREMY BURTON: Just plan your trip well in advance. It’s good to get hotels really early. Washington, D.C., if you can stay in the city, it’s the way to go, I believe. It costs a little more, so if you plan far enough in advance you can get it well. For the museum, you can actually book timed-entry online. So you can go straight to our website and you can say this is the day I want to come, this is the time I want to come, and you can see what our availability is like. And that way, you can check out any shows that are going on. You may have some people listening that would want to bring a group. A group is a great way to go because you can get in before the general public does. Also if you become a member of the Museum of the Bible, you get to get in early as well. So some people look at it and go: For their family, it may be worth getting a membership so they can get in early and spend as much time as they want.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Well Jeremy, you mentioned a website. So in response to my last question here, where can our listeners go to learn more about the Museum of the Bible? I bet you’re going to give us a web address aren’t you!
JEREMY BURTON: I am: museumofthebible.org is the central hub of information and the information on all of our lectures, all of our shows in the theatre, and information on memberships and time entry. You can get it all there. I also encourage people, if you’re interested in the Bible and want to learn something every day, our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts have that information every day. We’ve got some really great resources for families who just want to learn more about the history of the Bible.
THOMAS GRAHAM: Wonderful. Jeremy, that’s great news. I can’t thank you enough for being with us on Family Policy Mattersfor today. I’m afraid our time has run out. God bless you, and God bless everybody that’s associated with that fantastic gift, that offering of a museum to the people of this nation and the world.
JEREMY BURTON: Thank you very much. We hope to see all of you in Washington, D.C. very soon.
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