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A non-believer's look at the spectacle of Passages

Strip-mall scripture



The first time I saw a billboard with the words, "Passages: Experience the Bible Like Never Before," I chuckled a little. How does one "experience" the Bible? Are there rides?

I imagined Burning Bush Bumper Cars, allowed myself a guilty smile, and realized: This non-Christian probably should see what Passages actually has to offer.

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green owns the exhibit, which until next February sprawls through 40,000 square feet of a Palmer Park Boulevard building whose façade has been redesigned to recall ancient Roman ruins. It's part of his Green Collection, the largest private compilation of rare biblical texts and artifacts in the world.

"It took Mr. Green just under four years to collect," explains Jon Peterson, Passages community relations specialist. "It is the passion of the Green family to help people understand the history of the Bible — the most debated, most banned, and most read book of all time."

On the day of my visit, I parked next to a Baptist church bus from Denver, and sauntered over ... to the Bargain Mart next door. I wasn't ready yet. (Have I mentioned that the evangelical scene isn't exactly me?)

But eventually, I went in and got my ticket and iPod-based audio. I was told to plan on at least three hours for touring, and that there's an additional eight hours of material on the iPod.

That's a whole lot of Bible for one afternoon.

Before you start looking around, a short film plays that highlights some of the exhibits within. The top five are: portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Martin Luther's letter, King James and his translators, the impact of the Gutenberg Press, and the relics of ancient peoples.

It's arranged mostly chronologically, beginning with cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, and ending with the Lunar Bible that traveled to the moon with the 1971 Apollo 14 mission. There are about 30 areas to wander through, which may or may not include holograms, paintings that come alive, and a talking lion.

Yes, I rounded a corner, and there was Louie the Lion, talking about the "secret" paw prints located throughout the exhibit just for kids, containing interesting things to help them understand it all, and leading the way to the "Kid's Experience." This is where I was able to play a video game about Moses and the Red Sea, play with Bible character puppets, and learn about a video series (available in the gift shop, natch!).

I did get to feed my love of literature. Passages is a feast of illuminated texts, cuneiform and scrolls. There's even an entire area of Torahs rescued from the Holocaust, along with some items of Nazi desecration.

What is conspicuously absent is any positive reference to Abrahamic religions outside of Christianity and Judaism. According to Peterson, "The Green family has a particular affinity for the Bible."

Turns out there's a little proselytizing here, but not as much as I expected, and the time went quickly. I spent a full three hours at Passages, and I could go back. They have full- and multi-day passes for that sort of thing.

A non-Christian can visit and come away with something, because even though we don't share the same beliefs, the history of the Bible is the evolution of written English.

Green really should consider those bumper cars, though.

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