Inside D.C.'s controversial new Museum of the Bible

Museum of the Bible
Museum of the Bible 03:27

Last Updated Dec 25, 2017 7:18 AM EST

This piece originally aired Nov. 16, 2017. 

The $500 million Museum of the Bible opens Saturday in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the Capitol. The 430,000-square-foot museum is the largest privately-funded museum in the city.

A big part of that money comes from the conservative Christian family-run company, Hobby Lobby. They say it's one of the most complicated jobs they've ever done and Washington politics made it even more so.

In this city of museums, it's one of the biggest – even larger than the National Air and Space Museum, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid. 
At 140 feet long and 40 feet high, the museum's digital ceiling makes for a spectacular entrance. First, visitors will pass through a pair of 16-ton, 37-foot-tall bronze doors with text from the book of Genesis.

With eight levels and 22-foot-high ceilings, the museum's height is the equivalent of a 17-story building.

"We wanted something close to the [National] Mall," said the museum's president, Cary Summers. "We didn't pick this building, unlike some have said, because we're close to the Capitol."

Museum of the Bible CBS News

Some 51,000 donors contributed to the construction of the museum, but the largest and most controversial donor is Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts chain founded by the conservative Christian Green family.
Hobby Lobby president Steve Green says the museum does not approach the Bible from a particular viewpoint.

"I think there is a separate role for the church and the state and it's not the state's role to espouse a faith," Green said. 

Hobby Lobby has amassed more than 40,000 ancient biblical artifacts, one of the largest private biblical collections in the world. About 1,000 of the items, from Dead Sea scrolls to Bibles over 1,000 years old, will be on display.
The collection itself has been the subject of controversy. This summer, Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit thousands of pieces from its collection and pay a $3 million fine after it was discovered that artifacts had been smuggled into the U.S. from the Middle East.

"Obviously mistakes happened and we were willing to pay the fine," said Green. 

One of the high-tech exhibits inside the Museum of the Bible CBS News

He believes Americans are more ignorant about the Bible than ever.

"I think primarily because we don't teach it in our schools as we once did," Green said.
The museum features cutting-edge technology and special effects. Hop aboard the Flyboard Theater and experience the sensation of flying through Washington, D.C. and seeing the scripture passages inscribed on federal buildings.

"It's awesome to see the influence that Christianity has had in this country," one man said.

The museum invites you to walk through the history of the Bible. Olive trees in its Village of Nazareth are modeled after the biblical garden of Gethsemane.
"It's the good, the bad, and the ugly and then you make up your own mind," Summers said.

Some critics on the left fear this museum will be full of evangelical propaganda, but some evangelicals say there's not enough about Jesus in the museum. The people behind the museum say if they're getting criticized by both sides they must be right in the middle – right where they want to be.