Monday, July 10, 2017

Book on the Green Collection and Museum of the Bible

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Before the recent news about Hobby Lobby broke, Facebook alerted me to the book by Candida Moss and Joel Baden titled Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton). Amazon lists it as coming in October and Tommy’s post says there will be an SBL panel on the book which will no doubt be even more important now. Here is the description:
How the billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make America a “Bible nation” 

Like many evangelical Christians, the Green family of Oklahoma City believes that America was founded as a Christian nation, based on a “biblical worldview.” But the Greens are far from typical evangelicals in other ways. The billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby, a huge nationwide chain of craft stores, the Greens came to national attention in 2014 after successfully suing the federal government over their religious objections to provisions of the Affordable Care Act. What is less widely known is that the Greens are now America’s biggest financial supporters of Christian causes—and they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in an ambitious effort to increase the Bible’s influence on American society. In Bible Nation, Candida Moss and Joel Baden provide the first in-depth investigative account of the Greens’ sweeping Bible projects and the many questions they raise.

Bible Nation tells the story of the Greens’ rapid acquisition of an unparalleled collection of biblical antiquities; their creation of a closely controlled group of scholars to study and promote their collection; their efforts to place a Bible curriculum in public schools; and their construction of a $500 million Museum of the Bible near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Bible Nation reveals how these seemingly disparate initiatives promote a very particular set of beliefs about the Bible—and raise serious ethical questions about the trade in biblical antiquities, the integrity of academic research, and more.

Bible Nation is an important and timely account of how a vast private fortune is being used to promote personal faith in the public sphere—and why it should matter to everyone.
For a taste of the book, see the authors’ Atlantic article from a few years ago where they first broke the news about the Department of Justice investigation.

I do worry about how intent some people are on politicizing the Museum before it even opens. Is this book, for example, really a must read “in our increasingly polarized country” as Reza Aslan blurbs?

This unnecessary politicizing has only worsened since news broke of the settlement. Some people clearly have it in for the Museum because of the connection with the Greens and their victory at the the Supreme Court over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. (For a case in point, see Donna Yates’s “fantasies.”)

Let me say clearly that there are very serious questions that need answering about the Museum’s artifacts in light of the DOJ settlement. These questions are not helped and the issues are not clarified in the least by animosity toward the Greens because of their religious or political views. I hope the book does not traffic in them, but the marketing for it does not give me hope. Regardless of your political or religious views, let’s deal with the issues as they are. 

21 comments :

  1. From The Atlantic article: "The existence of thousands of fragments of contradictory material is, according to this perspective, a faith killer. How can Scripture be inerrant when we can’t even know what it originally said?"

    Really? Are evangelical textual critics aware of this? If so, let's close down the ETC blog and even ETS, and then let's all go to the beach...

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    1. The next paragraph may not describe our esteemed ETC bloggers, but can we deny that this is accurate of many? "Most evangelical text critics, however, continue to see early manuscript fragments as deposits of faith. Each discovery of ancient New Testament papyri, they feel, allows us to inch ever closer to the earliest proclamations of Jesus and his followers. The earlier a fragment can be dated, the argument goes, the more likely it is to preserve the original words of the divinely inspired biblical authors, and the more significant it therefore becomes to lay Christians: from God’s lips to their ears, skipping the 2,000 years of history and human error in between. "

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  2. We should note that in their 2015 article Moss and Baden did have the basic story correct (about the smuggling charges), and that Carey Summers, President of the Museum of the Bible, falsely/wrongly/misleadingly dismissed the whole thing as a paperwork problem (“There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork—incomplete paperwork that was attached to it.”) http://www.thedailybeast.com/exclusive-feds-investigate-hobby-lobby-boss-for-illicit-artifacts

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    1. Yes. I should add that I thought their original article did a pretty fine job of being fair to the Greens and their religious views despite it being obvious that Moss and Baden don't share them. I have no problem when news stories reminding people of the Green's connection to the Supreme Court case. That provides context. My problem is when dislike for the outcome of that case bleeds into these issues about provenance. The two are not related in any sensible way. As for the book itself, we will have to wait and see.

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  3. I should note Roberta Mazza's helpful post here which does a fine job avoiding what I am talking about: https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/the-green-collection-and-the-museum-of-the-bible-443000-square-meters-of-mess/

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    1. Peter Gurry,
      Really? This is an example of a helpful post? It may contain accurate information, but it is obviously full of personal vitriol. Also, Mazza pretends he can't know the legal ramifications, yet they are clearly stated in the filing by the Justice Department. Mazza may not like it, but HL was not fined nor will they be criminally prosecuted. The $3,000,000 is a forfeiture. All this is technical and not much different than a fine, but it appears Mazza is upset because HL , in his mind, got away with one?

      Tim

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    2. I didn't see the vitriol in *her* post.

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    3. Yeah, my bad, her! I guess vitriol is in the eye of the beholder!

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    4. Thank you Peter: I am not vitriolic, maybe outraged. I have warned everybody on what was happening since 2014. I do not care about how much the Green will be fined or not fined, for me it is not a question of law it is a question of academic professional ethic: it seems 5,000 pieces have been seized and the complaint is clear about the smuggling and the sustained attempt to circumvent the law. The purchase of smuggled antiquities is enough for me as a papyrologist and ancient historian to say that this collector is a bad collector and unless the list of artefacts with documented provenance will be released, the museum is tainted too. As for all the American political implications of all sorts, I am not interested at all. I am happy to live in Europe where healthcare is provided through the State. Whoever is free and welcome to fund a collection, a museum and academic work as long as they do not smuggle artefacts. The Green did: I personally will avoid any professional engagement with them, the museum and their scholars I am afraid to say.

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    5. By the way Mazza is a lady...

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  4. I'll admit I've a fair bit bothered by the whole thing.

    This may be admitting to a level of ignorance that borders on stupidity, but until the previous post about the settlement, I didn't realise that the Green Scholars, the Museum of the Bible, and Hobby Lobby were all connected to the Green family. I was aware of the three individually, but not aware of the connection.

    I had a shallow but fairly positive view of both the Green Scholars and the Museum. The former I encountered for the first time when they generously picked up the tab at the ETC blog dinner one year. Needless to say, I appreciated that! Subsequently I read up a little bit on the Green Scholars. I didn't really get a feel for the specifics of the type of research they supported or what if any agenda they had, but I liked the general idea of them funding and supporting scholarship, and so in general I figured it was probably a good thing.

    As for the museum of the bible, at first when I heard about it I was worried. On one hand, the bible museum in muenster is interesting and respectable. But given it's washington location, I was concerned that this american museum could be less about biblical scholarship and more about rah-rah-america-is-God's-great-christian-nation-boosterism, less like the muenster museum and more like one of those creationism theme parks with giant arks. But then I heard they brought Michael Holmes on board, and my respect for him was sufficient for me to rest my concerns completely.

    Finally I heard about hobby lobby. As a canadian, I'd never been to an actual store or even heard about it till the court battle over the contraception mandate. I don't want to get into the mudslinging details of it, but suffice to say I strongly disagreed with hobby lobby, and found their position to be utterly lacking in compassion, having the appearance of being motivated by greed, and I resented the fact that they were trying to baptise it into Christianity, as if opposition to contraception is a fundamental of the faith. And aside from all that, it was terrible advertising for the faith.

    So now to find out that the three are inherently connected, well, that's troubling to say the least. I'm not sure I'm actually that bothered by the mess with the illegal antiquities - I mean, I know the answer you're supposed to give is that I'm oh very concerned about the integrity of provenance, etc., etc., but I don't have the energy to put on those airs. The honest truth is that the antiquities shenanigans bothers me about as much as someone breaking the speed limit does, and frankly, I suspect that a good number (but certainly not all) of the people condemning them for it really don't care too much about the antiquities either, but are just happy for a chance to condemn the Greens. On the final day, though, I'm just not convinced God will care very much about antiquities protocols.

    For my money though, I bet he'll care much more about lack of compassion inherent in denying lower class women medical benefits. I know I do. And it kinda makes me wish I'd paid for my own dinner.

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    1. Medical benefits? Contraception prevention was the issue not medical benefits!

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  5. Interesting. I’m curious to know the background of Moss and Baden, and what sort of axe they may have to grind. If they’re left-leaning, and write a book conveniently critical of right-leaning evangelicals, and nobody sees that as unusual, it raises red flags for me. Fair journalism is one thing (and increasingly rare these days), but hit pieces are another.

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  6. A sympathetic but honest book about the origins of the collection and the formation of the Museum of the Bible would also be helpful.

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    1. Shouldn't that task now fall to David Trobisch?

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    2. No, it shouldn't be written by an employee. It needs to be critical but sympathetic.

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    3. If you don't have an insider, what are the chances of getting inside information?

      And if the apparently ubiquitous non-disclosure agreements prevent an open and fair assessment, what then?

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  7. This is the book-shaped cudgel that I mentioned previously.

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  8. From the review: "While depicting the Greens as well-intentioned, Moss and Baden make an impassioned case for fighting against the family’s efforts to limit access to their questionably sourced collection and to misrepresent their work as nonsectarian when it is entrenched in a deeply American evangelical worldview."

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  9. Accessed Codex Climaci Rescriptus for research before it was acquired by the Greens: approx 2 per half century.

    Accessed Codex Climaci Rescriptus after it was acquired by the Greens: about 50 in half a decade. Of course results will also be published and leaves on display in a museum to be visited by millions.

    The story may or may not be the same for other manuscripts owned by MOTB or currently owned by Hobby Lobby. However, the phrase 'limit access' needs to undergo scrutiny. There's obviously a time-bound limitation during the publication period, but in the long run that period will seem to have been rather brief.

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