By Dominique McKay
Roll Call Staff

For the simple cost of transit, tourists flock year-round to the National Mall to view historical artifacts -- from presidential portraits to the legendary Hope Diamond -- making the free Smithsonian museums among the District's most popular attractions.

But private museums charging admission have made some headway, including the International Spy Museum, which opened in July 2002 and charges $19.95 for adult general admission, and the Newseum, which opened at its current location in April 2008 and charges $21.95 for adult general admission.

Soon to join that list is a national Bible museum, just south of the National Mall.

The current Washington Design Center will soon showcase the Green Collection, a compilation of more than 40,000 biblical antiquities, following the recent $50 million purchase of the building by the nonprofit organization the Museum of the Bible.

Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts retailers in Oklahoma City, bought his first biblical artifact in November 2009. As his collection grew, the Museum of the Bible was created to oversee not only the collection, but also its traveling exhibition, the "Passages Exhibit."

"The Green family does have a personal passion and affinity for the Bible, but with the over 40,000 items that they've collected, they didn't want to just put them away," said Chandler Epp, spokesman for the Museum of the Bible. "They wanted to share them with the future generations."

The collection was launched formally to the public in 2011 with its debut opening at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Following that event, parts of the collection were taken overseas and presented at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. The collection now includes the world's largest private collection of Jewish scrolls, the second-largest private collection of Dead Sea Scrolls and the largest collection of Cuneiform tablets.

Washington was chosen after an 18-month search to find a location. Among the other cities the nation's capital beat out were Dallas and New York City.

"Washington, D.C., is a destination known for its world-class museums, whether they're about politics or society," Epp said. "D.C. seemed like an ideal place to have what will constitute as a national Bible museum."

The new museum will be located at 300 D St. SW and is also set to house the Green Scholars Initiative, which allows scholars to engage in biblical research.

The purchase of the building was finalized in June, and no concrete design plans or completion dates have been determined. The opening is several years away.

Epp said that while the details of the layout and functions of each room are still being worked out, there are plans to showcase three main subjects, including the telling of how the Bible came to be, its effect on the world and depictions of the story it tells.

Epp also confirmed that a large part of the museum will be modeled after the traveling "Passages Exhibit." The exhibit recently completed a six-month run in Atlanta, with Charlotte, N.C., up next. It includes rooms that highlight the early stages of the Old Testament compilation by Jewish scribes as well as rooms highlighting various Bible translations.

"Although the museum has yet to take full shape, the items will continue to be on display through the traveling exhibitions," Epp said.

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