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Wall painting depicts the purported origin of the Shroud of Turin.
Wall painting depicts the purported origin of the Shroud of Turin.

The Museums at Biblical Times

Field review by the editors.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Belief in resurrection is central to the Christian faith, so it's a cause for celebration that three Christian attractions, formerly closed, have risen from the dead in Pigeon Forge. All three are now conveniently under one roof for a single admission price: the Shroud of Turin Museum, the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and the Christ in the Smokies Wax Museum -- which is enjoying its second resurrection, having previously disinterred from the grave of the long-gone Christus Gardens.

The Miracle Face still has branding from its previous attraction.
The Miracle Face still has branding from its previous attraction.

Through a series of events that could generously be called miraculous, the wax dummies and artifacts from these attractions were not auctioned off and dispersed when they went out of business. The relics instead lingered in warehouses and storage units long enough to be adopted by religious entrepreneur Jess Davis, who has nested them into a warren of rooms and exhibit halls in his sprawling Biblical Times Dinner Theater building. Our tour guide, Herb, told us that the space now occupied by the Christ in the Smokies Wax Museum had, for example, previously been used for Christian beauty pageants.

Three museums in one!
Three museums in one!

A tour of this three-in-one attraction begins with a walk past "The Miracle Face" carving of Jesus (his eyes follow you wherever you move) and then into the Shroud of Turin Museum. The Shroud, purportedly the cloth that covered Jesus' body after his crucifixion, has been preserved in Turin, Italy, since 1578. Visitors to this museum in Tennessee can view a full-size Shroud replica, one of only 16 in the world, according to Herb.

Even the crucifixion hand model looks painful.
Even the crucifixion hand model looks painful.

Russ Breault, a Shroud authority, hosts the museum's introductory video (and visitors can buy his "When Hitler Tried to Steal the Shroud" DVD in the gift shop). When the video ended, Herb took over. He told us that scientists had determined that the image on the Shroud was imprinted by 7 billion watts of light, apparently a burst of supernatural energy at the moment Jesus returned to life.

Although the Shroud's authenticity has been debated for centuries, there is no debate in the Shroud of Turin Museum, whose exhibits challenge and dismiss the findings of Shroud skeptics. Its focus on a physical relic makes it an unusually Roman Catholic attraction for evangelically Protestant Pigeon Forge. Herb, who said that he'd been giving tours since the museum opened in September 2022, estimated that only one percent of his visitors were Catholic.

Displays emphasize the blood and pain of The Passion. There's a replica Roman whipping post and crown of thorns, a crucifixion nail still embedded in an ancient human foot bone, the Sudarium of Oviedo (in descriptive English: the Bloody Face Towel), and an instructive "What Actually Kills the Victim?" display complete with illustrations. Nearby photos show Frederick Zugible, a bearded crucifixion expert in a white lab coat, hanging some poor guy from a cross with attached electrodes to measure his level of agony.

At the end of the wax museum show, a peek at the fiery fate of non-believers.
At the end of the wax museum show, a peek at the fiery fate of non-believers.

Wax Russell Crowe oversees the crucifixion of wax Jesus.
Wax Russell Crowe oversees the crucifixion of wax Jesus.

Herb next escorted us through a series of dark hallways and into the wax museum, where our tour group sat in theater seats on a giant turntable. For the next 40 minutes we were spun left, right, backward and forward again (all wax museum visits should be this effortless) to view dummy dioramas depicting the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, enlivened with theatrical lighting, dramatic music, and character voices possibly provided by actors at the Biblical Times Dinner Theater.

Diversionary fun during the presentation can be had by picking out the former film and music wax celebrities that have been modified into beatific Jesi, scowling Pharisees, and assorted worshipers and disciples. We spotted (we think) Ron Howard, Whitney Houston, Ali MacGraw, Karen Black, Katharine Hepburn, and Liam Neeson. Russell Crowe is definitely the Roman soldier supervising the crucifixion. The impenitent thief may be rock 'n' roller Rick Derringer.

Herb left us at the show's conclusion to host the next Shroud tour, and we were free to wander through the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. It is like any other museum devoted to a musical genre, full of stars and mementoes. If you aren't familiar with James "Big Chief" Wetherington, Max "Lullaby" Terhune, or Wally Fowler and His Georgia Clod Hoppers, you will be by the time you finish reading all of the Hall of Fame plaques and exhibit signage.

Faye Speer was a frequent guest on the Gospel Singing Jubilee.
Faye Speer was a frequent guest on the Gospel Singing Jubilee.

On display in lighted showcases are the signature red socks of Derrell Stewart, a bust of Les Beasley that his wife kept in the bathroom, a feathered headdress worn on stage by a member of The Klaudt Indian Family, and a pair of Cabbage Patch dolls customized into likenesses of gospel stars Howard and Vestal Goodman. A "Never Forgotten" display remembers those who died in car or airplane crashes while on tour, and parked outside the museum is the 1938 bus of the Blackwood Brothers, which, according to its sign, was the first vehicle ever customized as a motorcoach for a performing musical group.

The tri-museum tour ends in the gift shop, watched over by an Archangel Gabriel dummy that didn't fit into the wax museum show. Visitors can buy small replicas of The Miracle Face (you can move it from side to side to watch the eyes follow you) and crosses made of crucifixion nails, and, for some reason that the gift shop manager could not explain, blister-packed Gumbys and Pokeys (perhaps a supply chain substitution for Davey and Goliath?). A life-size statue of Jesus, also salvaged from the Christ in the Smokies attraction, blesses the adjacent Biblical Times Dinner Theater snack bar. The familiar shape of its hot pretzels, we were once told at a pretzel bakery, were inspired by human arms chest-crossed in prayer.

The Museums at Biblical Times

Address:
2391 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN
Directions:
North end of the Pigeon Forge strip. US-441/Parkway stoplight 2. Turn east onto Teaster Lane, then a quick left into the museum parking lot.
Hours:
M-Sa, tours on the hour starting at 10 am. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
865-365-2034
Admission:
Adults $25.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Hannah's Maze of MirrorsHannah's Maze of Mirrors, Pigeon Forge, TN - < 1 mi.
Hollywood Wax MuseumHollywood Wax Museum, Pigeon Forge, TN - < 1 mi.
Cooter's PlaceCooter's Place, Pigeon Forge, TN - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Space Needle, Gatlinburg, TN - 8 mi.

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