A Visit to Passages in Valencia

Passages Bible Museum, Valencia, CA [http://www.explorepassages.com/]

Museum is moving to Washington DC in 2017, a new 7-floor building will have 40,000 artifacts. Current Valencia location is showing just 1% of artifacts. The entire collection of artifacts is owned by Hobby Lobby’s controversial David Green.

There is recent controversy over alleged smuggling of hundreds of ancient cuneiform tablets to the US in violation of customs laws. This priceless acquisition was described as “hand-made clay tiles” with a declared value of $300.

The museum has an arrangement with the Israel Antiquities Authority to display archaeological finds in its future museum.


The collection of 400 ancient Biblical artifacts is extensive and the museum uses state-of-the-art technology to exhibit various features, settings, and videos. The organization of the collection is confusing in places where you would expect the display to be chronological (see website for description) and the exhibit descriptions in some cases are very basic. The focus naturally is on the Bible, but the Jewish Biblical artifacts displayed simply as artifacts exposes a weakness (from the POV of Judaic studies). In Judaism, the Torah is inextricably linked to the Jewish people living in the Land of Israel: any exhibit that ignores the context of the Jews living in Biblical times misses the heart of the connection between the Torah and the Jews.

Some very interesting multimedia exhibits, recreating a conversation/debate on the Protestant Reformation and another on whether it is heretical for the Bible to be translated to English. However, although artifacts are clearly labeled as connected to the Inquisition where applicable, there is no multimedia exhibit of the Inquisition or the Crusades. In fairness this may be planned for the much larger planned Washington venue.

In the one area where I have some knowledge, including first-hand visits with professional guides, I noticed a couple of serious deficiencies in the museum’s Lithuanian Holocaust exhibit:

1. The number of people murdered during WWII at the forest of Ponary outside of Vilna/Vilnius is stated as 40,000. The actual number is 80,000 to 100,000.

2. The Lithuanian genocide is stated as perpetrated by “German Nazis”. In fact, the perpetrators also included a large number of local Lithuanian collaborators. By 2012 when I visited Lithuania, the signage had been corrected.

A relevant CNN piece:

Again, hopefully this will be corrected in the museum’s permanent locale.

Museum Exhibits:

*Torah scroll in ark from Turkey or Greece, 19th or 20th century
*Hebrew Tanach published Hartford, CT 1887
*Daniel Bomberg Rabbinic Bible, labeled “Old Testament”, Italy 1525, open to page “B’Midbar” in Hebrew, and a Rashi commentary
*Inquisition Era Torah scroll from Spain 15th century, Hebrew, 3 ft high
*Several other Torah scrolls from Iraq, Romania, Lithuania (17th century)
*Jewish Practices exhibits: Torah scrolls, Jewish silver Lamella (amulet) inscribed text including the Shema, from Israel 4th – 7th century, seder plates, silver spice boxes (descriptions are VERY basic)
*Cairo Genizah room reproduced from Ben Ezra synagogue, including Karaite Hebrew prayer book pages, circa 1300. Mention of Solomon Schechter who bought 193,000 manuscripts, collection now at Cambridge University
*Pope Paul III Papal Bull from Rome, 1543
*Pope Leo X “Bull Against the Errors of Martin Luther”, Bavaria, 1520
*Erasmus Notes, illuminated frontispiece, Basel 1519
*Reformation theatre with holographic Erasmus, Martin Luther and Eck debating the Protestant Reformation
*Jerome’s Cave with animatronic Jerome speaking
*Translations from the first Greek, Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian
*Book of Psalms with commentary by Tanhum ben Yosef in Judeo-Arabic, Egypt circa 13th century
*Coverdale Bible, 1st English translation, 1535
*King James Great “HE” Bible 1st edition, London 1611, illuminated frontispiece “newly translated out of the Originall Tongues”
*Early Writing exhibit: Cuneiform tablets S. Iraq circa 2500 BC, early scribes, papyrus
*Dead Sea Scrolls: reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, 24 ft long exact repro of the original in Jerusalem, Israel. There are 3 original fragments from Cave 4 (Ketuvim)
*Moon Room with Apollo 14 microfilm page containing the entire “Moon Bible”, 1971

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