On November 12, 2023, the São Paulo Adventist University Engenheiro Coelho campus inaugurated the Museum of Biblical Archaeology, fulfilling a 20-year dream. Rodrigo Silva, a pastor and archaeologist in charge of the new institution, describes it as a modern facility occupying approximately 1,200 square meters. Its aim, Silva said, is to preserve and display 2,850 replicated and original artifacts in order to “present the Bible in 3D.”
The museum cost between $11 and $12 million Real ($2.5 million USD) to build.
Since 2013, when the museum’s foundation stone was placed, the Adventist Church held many initiatives to publicize the project and fundraise. The bulk of the fundraising came not through grants or large donations, but through Pastor Silva’s online courses, which attracted some 37 thousand students since the 2020 Covid pandemic. According to São Paulo Adventist University director Martin Kuhn, before Silva’s contributions, fundraising was flat.
The museum’s inauguration attracted around 2 thousand people. There were many guided tours scheduled throughout the day, and tickets sold out in four minutes. The opening-day crowds included political figures from São Paulo, religious leaders, businessmen and persons of influence—many of them donors or VIP guests.
Gilberto Kassab, secretary of government and institutional relations for the State of São Paulo, said of the museum’s opening,
“The museum opening its doors today represents for the Brazilian community an opportunity of taking the biblical text to every corner of the country once again. In order for us to have a better humankind, we need to spread the biblical text. We must show that there is a path for a better world. And the biblical text is our major reference for building this better world.”
Martin Kuhn stressed the museum’s importance for relations between São Paulo Adventist University and the Brazilian state. “Since 1983,” Kuhn said, “this campus has existed to serve God and the state. We have always had state representatives here,” he said. “That is because we work with commitment; no matter what is the political philosophy, we will remain partners to the state in what is good, in education.”
The old museum facility, housed in a tiny 45 square meter building, was already highly regarded for its the “largest and only” museum of biblical archaeology in Latin America.
The old facility, inaugurated in 2000, displayed pieces primarily donated by Pastor Paulo Bork, Pastor Siegfried Schwantes and businessman Milton Afonso. At the time, the small building was run by the Ellen G. White Research Center, represented by Pr. Alberto Timm and his associates, including Rodrigo Silva.
Silva’s involvement with the museum increased over the years thanks to his dedicated work. The museum’s fame transcended institutional boundaries and received attention from secular media outlets, which partly explains Silva’s influence among evangelicals. In particular, Silva has many allies on the far right of the political spectrum.
The Adventist Church understands that the significance of the museum is mostly evangelistic. The grand opening was filled with discussion of archaeology as a tool that proves the Bible’s credibility. The museum has adhered to its apologetic approach since its founding, an approach reinforced by Rodrigo Silva through books, articles and the television show Evidências, produced and broadcasted by Novo Tempo, Brazil’s Hope Channel. The museum also promises significant income to the university with its recent history of financial difficulties, charging the equivalent of $4 for tickets. It continues to solicit donations as well.
For Adventist World Church president Ted Wilson, the museum will be especially useful in his ongoing fight against exegetical methods that challenge traditional Adventist biblical study methods. During his inauguration, General Conference communication director Williams Costa Jr. publicly read a letter by Wilson that said:
“Today, more than before, the Bible is under attack. Many strange ways to understand and interpret the Holy Scriptures have created doubt and insecurity in people’s hearts. The [biblical] archeological museum was created to help understand the biblical text, illuminating the pages of the Holy Scriptures and fostering research of the Bible as it is.”
Title Image: Museum Opening Ceremony – AICOM