Eight years ago, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green found a new way to express his Christian faith. His family's $4 billion arts and craft chain was already known for closing stores on Sundays, waging a Supreme Court fight over birth control and donating tens of millions of dollars to religious groups.
Now, Green would begin collecting biblical artifacts that he hoped could become the starting point for a museum.
On Friday, that vision will be realized when the 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible opens three blocks from the U.S. Capitol in what marks the most prominent public display of the family's deep religious commitment. The $500 million museum includes pieces from the family's collection from the Dead Sea Scrolls, towering bronze gates inscribed with text from the Gutenberg Bible and a soundscape of the 10 plagues, enhanced by smog and a glowing red light to symbolize the Nile turned to blood.
It is an ambitious attempt to appeal simultaneously to people of deep faith and no faith, and to stand out amid the impressive constellation of museums in Washington. The Bible exhibits are so extensive, administrators say it would take days to see everything.
Green says the institution he largely funded is meant to educate, not evangelize, though critics are dubious. Museum administrators have taken pains to hire a broad group of scholars as advisers. Lawrence Schiffman, a New York University Jewish studies professor and Dead Sea Scrolls expert, called the museum a "monument" to interfaith cooperation. Exhibits are planned from the Vatican Museum and the Israel Antiquities Authority.