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D.C. travelblog: The Bible Museum & the National Cathedral

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Kerry Tramel, left, and Terry Tramel stand in front of the National Cathedral. (Photo by Berry Tramel)
Kerry Tramel, left, and Terry Tramel stand in front of the National Cathedral. (Photo by Berry Tramel)


My twin brother, Terry, has a doctorate degree in pentecostal leadership from the Assembly of God Theological Seminary and a master’s in theology from Southern Nazarene. He’s been a Bible professor for 20 years. His knowledge of the scriptures is vast. Terry has memorized the book of Revelations. Seriously. Not kidding.

So when he says he learned a lot after a visit to the Museum of the Bible, I’m impressed.

Our little brother, Kerry, has brought us to Washington, D.C., for a special trip, just the three of us, with the primary goal getting Terry to the Bible Museum, the $500 million jewel funded primarily by Oklahoma City’s Green family of Hobby Lobby fame.

And Saturday morning was our time to tour the museum, which sits a couple of blocks south of the U.S. Capitol and just southeast of the National Mall, in the 1923 building that once was the Terminal Refrigerating and Warehousing Co.

The Bible Museum has been listed as a $400 million to $500 million project, and I would assume it’s on the high end of that range. The Bible Museum is as modern and engaging as the Newseum and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the other contemporary attractions that I rank as the best museums I’ve ever toured.

“I thought it was excellent,” Terry said. “Something scholars and theologians would enjoy as well as newcomers. You wouldn’t even have to be a Christian.”

The Bible Museum has come under criticism for being too evangelical, but those opinions had to be espoused by someone who walked in the door with a 2x4 stuck up their butt. Jesus is prominent in some areas – there’s a special sculpture exhibit on the stations of the cross – but in the history of the Bible and the stories of the Bible galleries, Jesus isn’t paramount. In the Stories of the Bible exhibits, Ruth of the Old Testament gets as much as run as the Crucifixion.

The museum goes heavily into the ancient history of the Bible and Jewish history. Jews, I would think, could enjoy the museum without being offended by the New Testament stuff. As an ode to Jewish visitors, the museum’s restaurant serves kosher food.

Some have criticized the museum for not paying enough homage to Islam and its impact on the Bible. Which is like ripping Cooperstown for not having much on the NFL.

If you like artifacts, the Bible museum has them. A Bible signed by Martin Luther. A 1613 first edition King James Bible. Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.

My favorite gallery was the History of the Bible, in which Bibles and artificats through the ages were interspersed with videos giving history of Bible translations and translators and stories of how some of the greatest minds of human history – Galileo, Gutenberg, Isaac Newton – were impacted by the Bible.

The museum has archetypes of Bible-time villages, both for children and adults. It also has cutting-edge technology – we took a 4-D ride through Washington to see all the landmarks with Biblical inscriptions and we took a virtual reality tour of Biblical sites from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee. The Stories of the Bible exhibits include a walking tour through the Old Testament, with special effects from the burning bush to the crossing of the Red Sea. Kids would love it, and I enjoyed it myself.

The Bible Museum opened in November 2017 with free admission, but a few months ago, the museum adopted a $24 ticket. I hope that’s not a sign the museum is in financial trouble.

The Bible Museum has endured other controversies, including the claim that some of its artifcats were smuggled into the U.S. from the Middle East. The Green family paid a $3 million fine and forfeited some of its collections.

We spent about five hours there and saw most of it. I would recommend it.

After the Bible Museum, we hopped in a cab and hurried over to the Washington National Cathedral. Decided to keep the spiritual nature of the day.

The National Cathedral sits in northwest D.C., just off Massachusetts Avenue, at the end of Embassy Row, where most of the consulates sit, in a regal line of stately structures.

Construction on the National Cathedral started in 1907 as an American version of Westminster Abbey,

The National Cathedral has been the site of state funerals for presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush, as well as memorial services for Warren Harding, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon.

The official name is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It’s an Episcopal Church. The cathedral is modeled on the English Gothic style of the late 1300s. It’s not as fabulous as Westminster Abbey in London, according to Kerry, or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, according to me. But it’s mighty impressive. The second-largest church building in the U.S. and the fourth-tallest structure in D.C.

The stained-glass windows are fabulous. The architectural detail is stunning. The pipe organ is unbelievable.

Presidential prayer services were held at the National Cathedral after the inaugurations of presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan, both George Bushes, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Other special events included the memorial service for Eleanor Roosevelt, the funeral for Washington Post editor Katharine Graham, the memorial service for astronaut Neil Armstrong, memorial service for Nelson Mandela and the funeral for John McCain.

The casket of President Woodrow Wilson sits in the cathedral.

The church draws about 270,000 visitors a year. Security is minimal. We did not go through metal detectors. The security at the Bible Museum was tight. Much tighter than, say, Chesapeake Arena. Which we all can understand. But security at the cathedral was not much. Hope they know what they’re doing.

After the cathedral, we went back to our hotel and relaxed for awhile, then went to dinner at one of Kerry’s favorite places, Del Frisco’s Grille. The casual little brother of Del Frisco’s Steakhouses, this joint gave us a chance to sit around and watch the basketball.

I had fish and chips (outstanding), Terry had a cheeseburger and Kerry had a rib-eyed steak that he said was fabulous even though it was a little overcooked. We watched the Virginia-Auburn game, including the final seconds on a television right by the door. When Kyle Guy’s final shot bounced off, I dashed outside in a bad mood. I wanted the Cavaliers to win. But Terry and Kerry didn’t follow, so I turned around to see what was their holdup, only to see the replay and the referee’s hand go up with the foul call. We watched Guy make the foul shots and didn’t realize the double dribble controversy until we got back to our hotel.

So I’m no better than all the Auburn fans who apparently left the building when the Tigers trailed by 10 with 5-1/2 minutes left.

Back at the Westin, we watched Texas Tech beat Michigan State and then collapsed, a good day complete in our nation’s capital.

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Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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