The Museum of the Bible has officially opened its doors, flanked by two giant golden tablets of scripture. The building stands just blocks from the National Mall and offices of the House of Representatives; the top floor offers a spectacular view of the Capitol nearby. Unlike the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian, the museum is privately owned. Even so, it has been positioned by its creators as a national museum, physically placing America’s religious history at its political center.
Other private institutions—the Newseum, Madame Tussauds, the Spy Museum—also dot downtown Washington, but the best comparison points for the Museum of the Bible are actually thousands of miles away. The Israel Museum, along with its next-door neighbor, the Bible Lands Museum, are both strategically positioned in Jerusalem’s central hub of universities, government buildings, libraries, and banks. They both use ancient artifacts to tell a story about national identity and to emphasize religious history. And like the Museum of the Bible, their claims to authority are contested.
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