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Hobby Lobby’s DC Bible Museum to display ancient artifacts and manuscripts

In November 2009, Steve Green purchased his family's first biblical artifact. Today, The Green Collection consists of more than 40,000 rare biblical texts and artifacts, including this copy of the first printed English Bible in America, the Aitken Bible.
Photo courtesy of The Green Collection

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green is in talks to open a new Bible museum in Washington, DC. The museum will be located two blocks from the National Mall and is scheduled to open in 2017, reports Newsweek. The evangelical Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby made history recently when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor and overturned the mandate that family-owned companies must provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.

Mr. Green plans for the museum began in 2009 with the purchase of his family's first biblical artifact. Historian and archaeologist, Scott Carroll, helped Green further the collection of ancient religious manuscripts, Torahs, Bibles and papyrus scrolls. According to Carroll, Green initially spent about $30 million purchasing the artifacts, but the value of the pieces is now considered to be worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Green Collection is considered one of the world's largest private assemblages of rare Biblical texts and artifacts. The collection includes the second largest private accumulation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and one of the largest holdings of unpublished Biblical papyri in the world. It also includes a near-complete book of Psalms on papyrus. From a collection of more than 40,000 landmark biblical antiquities, a personal favorite of Mr. Green's is the first printed English Bible in America, the Aitken Bible. A nonprofit organization, the Museum of the Bible, manages the collection.

The museum will be located in the Washington Design Center building and will occupy half a block in southwest Washington, sitting in the shadow of some of the DC’s most prominent institutions. This Renaissance Revival building was purchased by Green in 2012 and is designated as an historic landmark. Green’s proposal for renovation has not been approved by the city yet. The final design will be confirmed by the end of the month, according to State Historic Preservation Officer David Maloney.

The Green family’s project is raising some concern that the museum may blur the lines between educating and evangelizing. Son of Hobby Lobby’s founder and current company President, Steve Green, calls the Bible a reliable historical document. As part of his Bible museum project, Green desires to develop an educational curriculum which will reintroduce the Bible to the nation.

The Green family has decided to launch an elective Bible curriculum for America's public school system as well. Currently only the Mustang, OK, school district has opted to implement the curriculum. Jerry Pattengale, editor of the high school level curriculum, feels that creating a Bible-themed program was a natural progression after the DC museum came to life saying, "The curriculum is a logical extension of our museum and parallels its design, which will have one floor dedicated to each of the following, the history of the Bible, its narrative and its impact."

The Green family’s religious faith is intertwined with its business practices. The company store, Hobby Lobby, is closed on Sundays and the background music playing is monitored for content. During a 2013 speech Green spoke about his passion for the Bible saying, “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison, Wisconsin–based Freedom from Religion Foundation fears the museum poses a threat to the separation of church and state saying, “They have a theocratic agenda and an awful lot of money to play with. It’s going to be an institute of religious fundamentalism. How can it not be sending a message to our congressional leaders?” Adding, “The Bible’s literature is one thing, but Genesis is not history. I’m all for religious freedom, but they are forcing it upon us.” Ms. Gaylor continued, “I think they are a great threat. My instincts would tell me that they are choosing Washington, D.C., because they intend to influence Congress.”

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