Steve Green's collection includes more than 44,000 pieces, including cuneiform tablet, pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls and rare illuminated manuscripts. "Scroll" through for more images.
If Steven Green’s prayers are answered, a new museum will take its place three years from now in Washington, alongside such venerable repositories of art and artifacts as the Smithsonian and the Air and Space and U.S. Holocaust Memorial museums.
Green, the billionaire founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, has both the bankroll and the exhibits to make his dream, “Museum of the Bible,” a reality. Construction on the eight-floor, 430,000-square-foot building, which could cost an estimated $800 million, is slated to begin within weeks at a location three blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
“We bought it because we have a love for the bible and we want to share its story with as many people as we can,” Green, a Southern Baptist whose company’s clash with the Obama administration over heath care mandates made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, told FoxNews.com.
Green’s collection is well known, and includes such priceless prizes as several Dead Sea Scrolls, a portion of the Gutenberg Bible, the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, the largest portion of scripture in Palestinian Aramaic and the so-called “Aitken Bible,” the first ever printed in the U.S. The 40,000-piece collection is now mainly kept in Oklahoma City, although Green has exhibited some of it around the world, including at the Vatican.
The collection, all of which Green acquired over the last five years, also includes first editions of the King James Bible, several previously unpublished New Testament fragments on papyrus and some of the earliest known Jewish prayer books.
The museum is set to open in fall of 2017, two blocks away from the National Mall. Green initially envisioned opening his museum in Dallas, but ultimately decided Washington, considered by many to be the museum capital of the world, might draw more visitors. He has set up a nonprofit corporation to plan, publicize and eventually operate the museum and believes getting the word out now could enhance what is already considered the world’s largest and most valuable collection of biblical artifacts in private hands.
“We have more opportunities then we ever had because people are interested in what our plans are,” Green said. “There is interest in providing the items they have to be put on display in the museum.”
Like most modern museums, Museum of the Bible will have interactive theaters and handheld devices that can create a personal tour for visitors. Elements from a traveling display called "Passages," now in Springfield, Mo., including a "special Noah's Ark experience" for children and holograms and video screens that re-enact historical scenes related to the Bible, could be part of the museum, according to the show's website.
“I think it will be extremely engaging and interactive," Green said. "We want to help tell that story so that it will be exciting for everyone that comes.”
There will also be a space for rotating short term exhibits to change over time. Green has been having discussions with museums that have exhibits they would be interested in having at Museum of the Bible.
Green's collection is vast, but Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeological Review, said it may be missing some elements that would make the museum more compelling.
“His collection has enormous significance and I don’t want to belittle that in any way," Shanks told FoxNews.com. "We should all be thankful for Steve Green for bringing it to the public’s attention and for scholars to study it.
"But from a lay perspective, it’s not stunning stuff," he said. "It’s gorgeous scrolls and manuscripts but it’s just one book after another.”
Shanks said the Bible museum would benefit from archeological discoveries and artifacts.
"In the public’s point of view, how can you ignore all these insights into the biblical world that archaeology provides," he said. "You have to show the public some of these extraordinarily exciting artifacts.”
Green has his own ideas of what people will come to see, guessing that it might be something out of the ordinary. Noting that the ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" are the biggest attraction at the Smithsonian, he speculated that Elvis Presley's Bible could be a draw.
"I would imagine we will be able to have several famous people’s Bibles on display and rotate some in and out from time to time,” he said. “Our goal is to invite all people to engage with the Bible.”
So far, only site preparation has begun.