New York, New York
The American Bible Society is a non-denominational organization with the mission to publish and distribute Bibles and related materials in the United States. For nearly two centuries they have maintained their headquarters in New York City. For years they also ran a gallery of religious artwork and artifacts in the headquarters building. In 2005 the large collection was spun off as an independent entity and moved to a new location as the Museum of Biblical Art. Together these two institutions are among New York’s finest Judeo-Christian academic facilities, and the latter is becoming a popular midtown museum attraction.
The American Bible Society was founded in 1816. It was primarily dedicated to spreading the Word of God, but was also a powerful supporter of abolitionism as well. Its founder, Elias Boudinot, also served briefly as President of the Continental Congress. Other early leaders of the ABS included Supreme Court Justice John Jay and national anthem writer Francis Scott Key.
Throughout the 19th century, the American Bible Society reached out to millions of families as a quasi-missionary society and provided countless Bibles to poor families. They were the first organization credit with placing Bibles in hotel rooms, and provided Bibles to soldiers during the American Civil War. They also sponsored and published Bibles translated into Native American languages. The ABS was also active in missionary work in China and other places at the turn of the century.
Over the course of its history, the ABS has collected many Bibles and religious artifacts, and by the 21st century had one of the world’s largest collections of religious objects. The main collection is the Bible collection, with over forty thousand Bibles and other writings covering centuries of Christian and Jewish history.
The ABS also collected thousands of pieces of religious art and artifacts, many of which were displayed in a gallery in the organization headquarters. In 2005, a new organization was formed, the Museum of Biblical Art, to house and display the amazing collection. Since its inception this museum has become one of the most popular mid-sized art galleries in Manhattan.
The American Bible Society Headquarters is located on Broadway in Midtown Manhattan and is currently housed in a modern 13-story building. Most of the building consists of offices. The highlight, from a visitor perspective, is the library and Bible collection which is partly accessible to the public. At last count the library was home to 45,000 volumes, including Bibles in every language and from every era, including pages of an original Gutenberg edition. It is claimed that this is the second largest such collection in the world outside of the Vatican.
The Museum of Biblical Art, which was once an exhibit of the American Bible Society, is now an independent entity with galleries displaying the society’s vast collection of art and artifacts. Although the collection is large, the exhibition space is limited, and the exhibits are constantly being rotated. Past exhibits have included Biblical art from the American South, Oil Lamps from the Holy Land and Contemporary Christian Art. As of this writing, the museum was displaying exhibits connected to the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
The American Bible Society Headquarters and the Museum of Biblical Art are located right next door to each other in Midtown Manhattan, immediately between Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the American Bible Society. The Museum of Biblical Art is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:00am-6:00pm. There is no charge for admission. Web: www.americanbible.org (official website of the American Bible Society); www.mobia.org (official website of the Museum of Biblical Art).
For visitors to New York who can’t get enough of historic Bibles, New York City boasts not one, but two copies of original Gutenbergs. An incomplete copy can be seen on display at the New York Public Library. For a complete edition, check out the Morgan Library and Museum. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America also has an excellent collection of Hebrew Bibles and related texts.