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After more than five years, the BYU Virtual Scripture Group has released an immersive 3D experience of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. For more information on the app itself and to learn how you can download it, click here. 

I visit Jerusalem and Israel on a regular basis leading tour groups on a pilgrimage to the sacred sites in the Holy Land. I always feel like I’m coming home when I arrive in the Holy Land. This place is so full of meaning and significance, this land where Jesus walked, taught, healed, died, and ultimately rose again. I know that there is nothing in the gospel that requires a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and that God can and will save all of His faithful children no matter where they are from or what travel and pilgrimage opportunities they have or have not had. Still, there is something remarkable for expanding your heart and mind about visualizing the reality of Jesus’s life.

I’ve felt passionate for many years to bring the reality of scriptures to life for people everywhere. I’ve been so dedicated to this cause that I spent many years in school pursuing degrees in Biblical studies and Instructional Technology, seeking skills and abilities to spread the good word in new and fulfilling ways. (Though I survived my schooling experience, if you read my daily journal from that time period, it is peppered with questioning entries on a weekly basis “What am I doing? And does any of it matter?”)

At the end of my first year of PhD studies, I felt particularly burned out from the intensity of the learning experience. My Instructional Technology program had a game lab where, ostensibly, educational research on the use of games was supposed to be occurring. I hadn’t played video games since before my mission many years before. The last game I recalled playing was Super Mario Brothers (a rather innocuous game, if time consuming). I wandered into the game lab, my brain having been fried by a year of intensive study, to burn off some steam and discovered the Halo video game (this was in May 2002).

I was mesmerized by the beauty and impressiveness of the visualizations and interactions. I couldn’t believe how far computers had come in visual representations and engagement. I had spent so many years studying dead ancient languages that my brain was not prepared for such an outpouring of visual beauty and engagement.

As I played I fantasized about using such technology to rebuild the ancient Biblical world. I was swept away imagining how such technologies could propel learning.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome to virtually walk where Jesus walked in Jerusalem? To ply the waters of the Sea of Galilee? To journey from Capernaum to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover? To enter the temple with Jesus and to hear him teach? To see the place of sacrifice that symbolized what Jesus would give to all of us?”

I knew that most people in the world would never have the time or money to go to the Holy Land. And that even if one visits the Holy Land, so much has changed since the time of Jesus it requires quite a bit of imagination, even while one is on site, to consider the realities of Jesus’ life.

I desired to recreate past for the people of the present.

But I got ahead of myself. As a single individual, I didn’t have (and still don’t have) the totality of biblical expertise, 3D visualization building skills, interactivity modeling skills, and web publishing capabilities necessary to make the ancient world come alive for modern audiences.

I had to be patient, and work hard, and learn to be a relentless collaborator, to find other passionate experts who had the skills and experience I didn’t have so that together we could make this dream a reality.

And the Lord worked His miracles.

On April 11, 2012, a friend of mine who works at the LDS church, Rob Jex, invited me to meet with some of the LDS Bible Video team. I learned that they were building an interactive 3D model of Jerusalem and the Holy Land into which they could put the beautiful LDS Bible videos. They invited me to participate. My dream was beginning to come true. Here was a team of highly capable individuals who had the mandate and funding to create this immersive world of the Bible.

Two weeks later on April 25, 2012, I happened to pass the office of my friend, Tyler Griffin, an ancient scripture professor at BYU. I saw that he was in his office, so I knocked. I love getting caught up with others, learning what they are working on, and hearing about the questions and answers they are pursuing. We talked for about 30 minutes and enjoyed our friendly comradery. I was about to get up to leave when I looked over at Tyler’s saw this written on his whiteboard: 3D Temple.

“What’s that about?” I queried.

Tyler then proceeded to explain how several of his undergraduate students, as a New Testament course project, had built an interactive walk through of the Jerusalem temple.

I was stunned!

The LDS church team had built a model of Jerusalem, but no temple.

Tyler’s team had built the temple, but no Jerusalem.

I soon had the two teams together, talking, planning, collaborating.

Eventually we joined forces. The LDS church team hired the students and retained Tyler and me as consultants on the project. Seth Holladay, a BYU animation professor joined the team in 2013 and has been a tremendous asset. And of course, the BYU students on our team have labored diligently to make this dream a reality.

We pursued the development of this project for a number of years. We were blessed by the expertise and loving skill of so many incredible individuals at BYU (primarily scripture experts) and the church (primarily visualization experts).

Now the years of work had paid off, though at times we wondered if we would ever succeed in completing the project and making it publicly available. We humorously take solace that it only took us 6 years to rebuild the Jerusalem temple (virtually) when it took Herod 40 years to build the original temple.

The project is still in its infancy.

The BYU Virtual Scripture group has plans for Book of Mormon maps, visualizations of Mormon’s cave, visualizations of the house of Israel, of Jacob’s allegory of the olive tree, and a steady expansion of the Virtual New Testament to encompass many of the most important locations mentioned in the Bible.

Our grand dream is to allow a reader to visually enter into the Biblical world at any relevant location and time period to have an immersive scripture learning experience.

We are committed to making this incredible resource free for everyone. Readers will well understand the significant financial commitments that were, and are, necessary to continue to make this product freely available.

We need to raise donated funds to pursue additional development.

Our hope is that followers of Jesus everywhere will be inspired to read the scriptures anew, to go with Jesus on location, to hear his lessons and feel the warmth of his truths and love. We hope that the Virtual Scripture products will renew engagement with the scriptures, more reading, deeper appreciation, fuller application.

We hope you join us in this grand journey of making the scriptures come to life.

Learn more about the Virtual Scriptures projects and team, download our products, or learn about donating at http://virtualscriptures.org/.