MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A new museum opened its doors to the public today in Washington, D.C. - the Museum of the Bible.
JUDAH WINEHEART: I'm really excited to see the Gutenberg Bible. They've got a leaf from the first edition.
FLORENTINO JOSAN: I want to see the people of the Bible, how they lived in living color.
MICHAEL LOWE: I'm excited to see the David and Goliath exhibit.
REJOICE TENARIFA: All the Bible characters. You're going to it real - I mean, not real but 3-D, I guess.
OFELIA MOLINA: The Bible is my favorite book. It's so wonderful if you read and then you can see.
JONATHAN GRAY: I mean, Washington, D.C., is the seat of government, and we work very hard to separate the two, religion and government. So to see it in the seat of government is a testimony to how important the Bible is. It's part of our landscape as a culture.
MARTIN: That was Judah Wineheart (ph), Florentino Josan (ph), Michael Lowe (ph), Rejoice Tenarifa (ph), Ofelia Molina (ph) and Jonathan Gray (ph). They were all among the Museum of the Bible's first visitors today. The $500 million project is unlike most of the other famous museums in Washington, D.C, you've probably heard about such at the Smithsonian. One thing - it's privately funded by the conservative Christian CEO of Hobby Lobby, David Green. To tell us more, we visited the museum's executive director, Tony Zeiss, in his office above the exhibit floors. I started by asking him to describe the museum's mission.
TONY ZEISS: It's very simple. Our purpose is to engage all people - all faiths, all people - or faith - if they don't have faith, it's fine - engage all people with the Bible, its history, its narrative and the impact. No other book has had the impact on civilization, especially Western civilization, as this book.
MARTIN: The original charter called for a different mission. It was explicitly evangelical, which is a particular perspective of Christianity, a perspective - a particular point of view. The original charter stated that the mission was to inspire confidence and the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible. So two questions to that. When did that mission change to broaden the perspective of the mission?
ZEISS: You know, I have to tell you, I really don't know. It was very early on, I'm told. But I've only been here since January of this year. I think they came up with that because the Green family, they happen to be evangelicals, and that's certainly their choice. And so they wanted to do what they thought fit within their own belief system. But they very quickly figured out, wait a minute, this Bible is the foundation for many faith traditions and many religions so we need to broaden that. And that's what they did.
MARTIN: There is the suggestion by some - in fact, I saw one interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, for example, that seemed to intimate some disappointment that it wasn't evangelical enough. And I wonder how you respond to that.
ZEISS: Oh, you're right. Well, in fact, several journalists have written articles and said, you know, we're not sure there's enough Jesus here. And then we have - the very same day, there might be an opposing argument that says there's too much Jesus here. So we think we probably have it pretty much right.
MARTIN: Is there something you learned about the Bible that you did not know?
ZEISS: Yes. We have a hundred different scholars from around the world - Hebrew scholars, Catholic scholars, Protestant scholars, scholars with no faith. They vet everything you read in this museum or every video that you see. They try to make it as authentic and accurate as possible, particularly to the early books of the Bible. So they will read them in Greek or Aramaic or Hebrew. And I've learned a lot about that process and the fact that this Bible, it was put together over 2,000 years with 40 writers. Can you imagine? It's certainly become the most-known book and used book in the history of the Western world.
MARTIN: This is Tony Zeiss. He's the executive director of the Museum of the Bible. It opens to the public today in Washington, D.C. Tony Zeiss, you so much for speaking with us. Congratulations.
ZEISS: Thank you, Michel. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.