RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And in Washington D.C., a new museum is going up - this one all about the Bible. The Museum of the Bible is a huge undertaking - eight stories, a $400 million price tag funded by the president of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green. He is a Pentecostal known for donating to conservative evangelical universities and also for developing a public school curriculum based on the Bible. Still, as Rebecca Sheir of member station WAMU tells us, organizers behind his latest venture say it won't be a memorial to evangelism.
REBECCA SHEIR, BYLINE: The Museum of the Bible will house the more than 40,000 artifacts in Steve Green's personal collection, including Jewish Torah scrolls and papyrus fragments of the New Testament. But the museum won't just put relics on display. As museum president Cary Summers explains, visitors can stroll through the biblical garden...
CARY SUMMERS: So people can actually see what a Rose of Sharon is. And what does a hyssop bush look like?
SHEIR: They can visit the cafe for flatbread, date honey and other biblical foods. It's a part of what Summers calls an immersive experience.
SUMMERS: We want this to be highly engaging for people of all ages, all cultural backgrounds, all faiths, no faith.
SHEIR: But some people, like Jewish civilization professor Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University, are skeptical.
JACQUES BERLINERBLAU: Oh, those crafty white conservative evangelicals - they're so savvy. They're so politically cunning.
SHEIR: Berlinerblau raises his eyebrows at the museum's location just two blocks south of the National Mall.
BERLINERBLAU: When there's an anti-abortion rally, an anti-gay marriage rally, an anti-Affordable Care Act rally to be had - what a convenient thing to have church groups coming to see the museum and then, while they're at it, next up on their itinerary is to march down to the Mall for a protest.
SHEIR: Cary Summers says that's not the plan. He says they chose the site for its crowd-drawing potential. After all, more than half of the Smithsonian's nineteen museums line the National Mall. But those museums are public. The Museum of the Bible is private. And its president, Cary Summers, consulted for the Creation Museum, which shows humans and dinosaurs coexisting on a 6,000-year-old Earth, which leads some scholars to wonder how the museum will interpret the world's most famous book. Martyn Oliver teaches religious studies at American University. He applauds Steve Green's collection for showing so many facets of the Bible.
MARTYN OLIVER: The texts and artifacts suggest the Bible as a text that has been in dispute, that is always changing, that is open to question. And this contradicts some theological positions that understand the Bible to be static, unchanging and the literal word of God.
SHEIR: Cary Summers says more than 100 scholars and experts of different religious stripes have weighed in as the museum has developed. And guests can choose from five different religious viewpoints on the handheld devices that'll serve as virtual tour guides. I recently met up with a real-life tour guide, D.C. resident Tim Krepp, near the National Mall. Krepp's not a religious guy.
TIM KREPP: I grew up Catholic. It didn't take. I mean, I'm certainly not fundamentalist at all.
SHEIR: And he says he expects bring all kinds of groups to the museum.
KREPP: As a secularist, if you will, I can't be afraid of the marketplace of ideas. And this adds to that marketplace of ideas. So like any other tourist attraction in D.C., other places to visit, I'm going to have to be knowledgeable about it and be ready to share that if guests are so inclined.
SHEIR: He has some time to find out. The Museum of the Bible isn't scheduled to open until November, 2017. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Sheir in Washington.
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