After being told that one of its items might be fake, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, quickly replaced it. Now the museum is testing some other artifacts, too, in an effort to ensure their authenticity.
The Green family, evangelical Christian billionaires who run the Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, largely funded the $500 million museum. The Museum of the Bible opened in November 2017.
The questioned museum item was a tiny microfilm Bible. The museum labeled it as one that a NASA astronaut had carried to the moon in 1971. But Tulsa author Carol Mersch raised concerns about its authenticity. She had written a book about the Apollo Prayer League, which arranged for Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell to carry tiny microfilm Bibles to the moon.
Mersch had received 10 lunar Bibles from then-NASA chaplain John Stout, a co-founder of the Apollo Prayer League. She says the museum’s lunar Bible had a three-digit serial number but that Stout engraved the authentic Bibles with five-digit numbers.
“We know for sure that one on display right now went to the moon, but we could not verify for sure that the one we had originally on display had gone to the moon,” spokeswoman Heather Cirmo says. “We couldn’t disprove it [either], it just wasn’t certain.”
Some wondered why the museum didn’t announce that it was replacing the lunar Bible. “It’s pretty ridiculous to think that any museum, that every time you switch something out you’re going to announce it on plaques,” Cirmo says. “Collectors make mistakes all the time. . . . This is not something that is unique to Steve Green.”
She’s right. The Vatican in Rome displayed the “fake” lunar Bible, too, before Green bought it.
A month before the Museum of the Bible’s opening, Green acknowledged the museum had made some mistakes early on. “There’s a lot of complexities in areas that I’m still a novice at,” Green says. “But we are engaging the best experts we can to advise and help us in that process.”
(Left: A photo of the lunar Bible on display at the museum. Right: Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell studies a map while walking on the Moon, February 6, 1971. Museum of the Bible Collection, AP)