WASHINGTON — Carol Haun has waited years for a museum dedicated to the Bible. On Friday, her prayers were answered.
Ms. Haun, a Bible study teacher from Charlotte, N.C., was among the first visitors to the Museum of the Bible, which opens to the public this weekend. It houses more than 500 biblical artifacts and texts and the world’s largest private collection of retired Torah scrolls.
Critics say the museum, a nearly $500 million endeavor located a few blocks from the National Mall, represents only a Judeo-Christian perspective, and omits other religions like Islam that draw from the Bible. It is largely funded by Steve Green, the evangelical billionaire and owner of Hobby Lobby, the business name that has become shorthand for the 2014 Supreme Court ruling that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of some contraception.
“This will come under attack, and people’s agendas will clash,” Ms. Haun said. “But let this place speak for itself.”
“Really, I’m all about the Word, and for this museum to be here for people to see the beauty, it’s wonderful,” she said.
The museum showcases a variety of Christian and Hebrew biblical artifacts, including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a Bible brought on the Mayflower. It also features exhibits on the Bible’s influence on society, including media, fashion and events in American and world history.
Tony Zeiss, the museum’s executive director, said concerns about favoring certain interpretations of the text had not daunted the museum’s aim to educate people about the Bible and to show the history and influence of what he called the world’s most influential text.
“Things are divisive, but we will not get into any of the cultural or social debates if possible,” Mr. Zeiss said. “We just want to present the Bible as it is, and let people make up their own minds.” He said more than 100 biblical scholars helped advise the museum to steer clear of favoring any religion or appearing partisan.
But some biblical scholars have said the museum’s exhibits focus too narrowly on American Protestantism, and have omitted parts of the Bible’s history.
“There are a number of prominent omissions that make it clear that it’s not a museum of the Bible as one might imagine it from a secular perspective,” said Joel S. Baden, a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Yale University and author of “Bible Nation,” a book about Hobby Lobby and its investment in Christian projects.
“They don’t do a good job of talking about whether parts of the Bible are historically accurate,” Mr. Baden said. He has researched the museum but has not yet visited in person, and he questioned the lack of representation of other religions and sects, including Mormonism and Islam.
Museum officials estimate that it would take more than a week of daily eight-hour visits to fully absorb all of the exhibits. It is the largest privately funded museum in the nation’s capital.
Outside the museum, a group of Chinese tourists held banners with Mandarin writing, showing solidarity for Christians they said were being persecuted in China, a country notoriously harsh in regulating worship and activism.
“We pray with you,” one woman told museum donors as they entered.
Mr. Green and his wife, Jackie, began formally pursuing their vision of a museum focused on the Bible seven years ago. It was complicated by additional scrutiny, conducted by an outside company, to ensure that none of the exhibits were part of an estimated 5,500 artifacts that were smuggled out of Iraq and acquired by Hobby Lobby. The arts and craft supplier agreed to forfeit the artifacts earlier this year following a federal investigation.
Secular groups have also opposed the museum out of fear that its main mission is politically motivated.
A dedication gala hosted by the museum on Wednesday night, at Trump International Hotel in Washington, was attended by the president’s son, Eric Trump and his wife, Lara, as well as Betsy DeVos, the education secretary. And at Friday’s opening, a statement was read from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who applauded the museum for showcasing “shared values” between the United States and Israel.
“None of us have this book figured out,” Mr. Green said at the dedication ceremony on Friday. “We will never fully delve into the depths into this book, and that’s an amazing thing.”
Read more at Years in the Making, Bible Museum Opens in Washington.