Museum of the Bible: A Treasure Trove for Religious Scholars

Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Showcase Imaging,
Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Showcase Imaging,

The Museum of the Bible, one of the world’s few institutions dedicated to the divinely inspired scripture contained in the world’s first printed book, is an astonishing treasure trove of religious manuscripts and artifacts located in the heart of Washington, D.C.

When Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist and scholar of religion, recently visited the sprawling five-story building, he found that it takes hours, if not days, to adequately comprehend the magnitude and beauty of the full range of permanent and temporary exhibits.

The museum, which opened its doors to the public in November 2017, with the blessing of Pope Francis and other Christian leaders, guides visitors through thousands of state-of-the-art displays of millennia-old documents and objets d’art.

“They range from the archaeology of ancient Israel to the ethnography of the Middle Eastern peoples, from philology [the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language] to hermeneutics [establishment of the principles by which a sacred text is to be interpreted], from traductology [theory and practice of translating and interpreting, especially in an academic context, combining elements of social science and the humanities] to the political history of peoples, societies, and nations affected by the Bible,” writes Respinti in a July 30 article in Bitter Winter. The magazine is based in Turin, Italy, and published in eight languages by the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), a nonprofit international research organization that also publishes its own academic journal.

The Bible, Respinti tells us, is probably the world’s most widely read—and quoted—book. It is of course holy scripture for billions of Jews and Christians, but its sheer global importance can be grasped from the fact that several religions subsequent to Christianity also revere it.

“Islam maintains that it contains the true revelation from God, even if distorted by human authors, and it is respected by many other creeds, spiritual movements, and moral schools,” writes Respinti, who is director-in-charge of Bitter Winter and CESNUR. “It is also highly respected as an immortal piece of world literature by several brands of secular thought.” 

As Respinti’s trip through the museum reveals, the Bible’s storied history is documented with the early redactions of the text in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek (the Greek language as it was popularly used during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire and the early Byzantine Empire).

From there, the holy book’s journey continues through medieval and modern times, climaxing in a room in the museum focused on the spiritual upheaval created by German inventor and goldsmith Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (ca.1400–1468) when he published the first Bible.

Gutenberg’s printing press had a huge impact on the Christian Reformation, as “the direct and personal reading of that holy text” was “among its most important tenets,” Respinti points out. 

He adds that the printing press also satisfied the desires of the Dutch Catholic humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, better known as Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536).

“He wished to see the Bible translated in all possible languages and printed as a ready-to-use personal tool, so that everyone could (and can) access it directly, even the peasants in the fields,” Respinti writes.

Some of the rooms are a testament to the Bible’s enormous impact on nearly every domain of human activity, from art, music, epistemology and labor, to politics and beyond.

One section that stands out is dedicated to the Bible’s influence in the United States, where religious liberty is asserted more forcefully than anywhere else as a fundamental right.

The museum is located at 400 4th St. SW, Washington, D.C. Tickets can be purchased online at a discounted price. It is open seven days a week except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.


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Bible Bitter Winter CESNUR Museum of the Bible Marco Respinti