|The Museum of the Bible entrance doors|
This winter, during a long stay in Washington, DC, I had the chance to visit the new Museum of the Bible, just off the National Mall. While free timed entry tickets were assigned online, those times were not being observed at the museum. Instead, people lined up outside in the cold and simply waited, sometimes for over an hour, to be allowed in. This was very poorly done, as only one of the security entrances was being utilized.
However, after a long, cold wait, we finally were allowed inside, and our explorations began. There weren't any signs saying, "Historical artifacts, this way!," or, "This way to see the Bible collection," so we decided to start at the top floor and work our way down. This resulted in us not actually seeing the collection of old Bibles till our second visit, the next day. (We actually left the first time believing the museum didn't have any Bibles!)
|Pickled lemons and single-texture food, anyone?|
The views from the rooftop promenade are beautiful, and the Manna restaurant offers additional seating in an outdoor rooftop garden. The food at the restaurant left much to be desired, though. It wasn't that great, and the titles of the entrees tried too hard to be relevant to the museum's theme (I mean, honestly, who wants to eat a "Scholar's Initiative?") The cafe, Milk + Honey + Coffee + Tea, on a lower floor, offers snacks and coffee, and is more reasonably priced.
There's a ride visitors must pay extra to enjoy, the Washington Revelations Flyboard Ride. It's $8, plus tax, per rider. I was the only guest on the ride when I went. Riders stand on a platform, leaning on supports, while the platform moves, simulating the feeling of flying. On the screen, a computer simulated video plays, making one feel like she's flying over the National Mall, looking at spots where Scripture is written or has brought inspiration. Wind blows and water droplets mist the riders' faces. The flyover is dizzy, and the film is disappointingly reminiscent of a computer generated Sims game, with very few of the shots being actual photographic film. Not worth the 8 dollars, in my opinion.
But the Bible room is amazing. THIS is what it's all about. Throughout, instead of background music, there are people's voices reading snippets of the Bible in different languages. Some parts of the exhibit, on the fourth floor, are like walking into a Renaissance church, with medievally garbed interpreters telling stories from large screens. There's a large display about the King James Bible, complete with different copies of many of the editions, as well as a page from the Gutenberg Bible, and an edition of Luther's Bible.
The second floor, the Impact of the Bible, has a lot of displays that highlighted ways the Bible has been influential through history, from a replica of the printing press, to fashion, to colloquial sayings we use. This exhibit is large, and one could spend hours in here.
|This is all the Bibles on sale. That's it.|
Overall, I enjoyed our visit, but the overwhelming feeling I had was that the museum is very schizophrenic, not unified. The main theme is Bible, but there's not much else to link each exhibit. When taken one floor at a time, it's not as overwhelming, but who has time, when on a short visit to DC, to return to the Museum of the Bible four or five times? It's almost too much for one museum. The styles of the different exhibits and floors vary widely, and it's obvious different people designed and curated throughout, since the experience changes so dramatically from exhibit to exhibit. There isn't one style used throughout, and it kind of makes me think if one single font were used, it would have a massive impact on the unity of the place. As it is, each floor is like a single self-contained museum, with it's own artistic style, font, and feel.
I'd like to see self-guided journeys offered. For instance, if you're there specifically because you want to see old Bibles, being pointed primarily to that section of the museum makes sense. If you're interested in being immersed in the stories of the Bible, being directed to the Old Testament and village of Nazareth experiences would be best. If you're visiting with young children, being informed about the Children's Experience should be paramount, especially if timed entry of that space does eventually get established, like at the Building Museum's popular play area.
I'll definitely visit again, and I hope that, over time, the hiccups in timed entry and museum visitor flow will be smoothed over. If not, then maybe by then the cafe will offer fine Israeli wines to calm the stress of getting in!