Byline: Chrissie Thompson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Four persons sat outside the traveling exhibit when Cary Summers arrived three hours before it opened. Mr. Summers, the founder of the exhibit, volunteered to open early for them.
"They said, 'We will wait, but we've come a long way,'" Mr. Summers recalled.
The visitors had flown from Montana and California to visit friends and see the exhibit, "From Abraham to Jesus," when it debuted in September in Atlanta, even though the traveling exhibit will arrive on the West Coast later this year.
Mr. Summers said the visitors spent more than three hours in the exhibit and purchased more than $2,000 worth of goods in the gift shop.
Mr. Summers brought the collection of Holy Land artifacts, artwork and multimedia to the United States expressly for people like the four eager visitors. His work with Nazareth Village, a first-century re-enactment village in Israel, helped him realize how few people can leave the U.S. to experience the Holy Land firsthand.
"Let's bring all those elements to the States and let people get as close to Israel as they can," he said.
Mr. Summers said Americans "desperately" want to see the connection between artifacts and biblical history.
"People wanted to be immersed back in time," he said. "They wanted not just to see artifacts. That's very 'museum,' and this is not a museum in that sense at all."
The 30,000-square-foot exhibit displays more than 340 artifacts, some from as early as the time of the patriarch Abraham, in nine thematic sets, each representing a different time period, Mr. Summers said. The sets contain life-size fiberglass figures and original paintings by Thomas Kinkade as well as specially composed music.
A video story line of an archaeologist and his granddaughter leads visitors through the exhibit. "The granddaughter asks all those questions you and I would love to ask, but we're not going to," Mr. Summers said.
At the end of the exhibit, visitors can view the first three-dimensional film shot in Israel, which Mr. Summers said creates an "immersion" experience.
Mr. Summers said the 1,500 to 2,000 daily visitors include Jews, Christians and Muslims. "This is sort of a marketing nightmare because you don't have a real focus group," he said.
Paul Schrodt, research professor of historical theology and director of the library at Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio, viewed the exhibit in Columbus, Ohio. He said it reflects an evangelical perspective.
"The emphasis, obviously, seems to be towards evangelical Christianity, but if a person can overlook that, there are points that would be of obvious interest to the whole story of Judaism," he said. "The exhibit tries to tell a story that is attractive to evangelical Christians, but that is on a popular rather than a scholarly level."
Mr. Schrodt said the exhibit was physically engaging but poor intellectually, compared with other world-class exhibits he has seen.
"I was not overwhelmed by any means by the items exhibited," he said, adding that he had seen "dozens and dozens" of Israeli oil lamps like those on display. …