Friday, October 20, 2017

Brief review of Bible Nation

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Over the weekend I managed to read the new book by Candida Moss and Joel Baden called Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby.

The book is an attempt to understand the motivations and actions of the Green family in relation to their plans for collecting Bible manuscripts, the Museum of the Bible, the Scholars Initiative, and the school curriculum they have designed. In general I found it readable and interesting, helpful for getting a perspective on some of the story and people involved (although I didn’t learn much that was new except for some details about tax deductions for charitable donations); it is, however, not very well informed on matters relating to manuscripts, papyrology, and evangelical theology (once accusing the Greens of subscribing to the prosperity gospel). It is also badly out of date. The whole discussion of the court case involving Cuneiform tablets announced in early July 2017 (see for example here) is treated on the basis of what was known in 2015 (which, to be fair, the authors had announced in articles published around that time).

They adopt a quasi-journalistic tone, but don’t always pull it off (e.g. Brent Nongbri is described as ‘the eminent New Testament scholar’; Christian Askeland as ‘a well known papyrologist’). They seem to like Mike Holmes (who is basically a genius) but not get on so well with David Trobisch (‘a stocky man, who sports the standard academic uniform of slightly ill-fitting suits and goatee’); they are impressed by all the members of the Green family they meet, but obviously don’t like their theology or their politics. They hear a broad narrative that the Green Collection started and grew so rapidly that some corners seem to have been cut, while much higher standards of professional and curatorial behaviour are currently being followed. But they wonder about whether this is so when the collection does not seem to be very forthcoming on issues of (dodgy) provenance of some items in the collection.

Of course a thing to note is that our blog gets a couple of mentions. So our annual dinner at 2012 SBL in Chicago gets a mention on p. 71 (basically noting the generosity of Jerry Pattengale and the Green Scholars Initiative in paying for our meals). The authors take this as an example of the generosity of the GSI towards some scholars, which contrasts with others: ‘while some who craved access were denied it, others were actively recruited to join the GSI’ (they don’t provide any evidence about the ones who craved access). (Nor do they note any of our other dinners which GSI generously supported!) [In note 33 they take several of our blog discussions about the supposed and so-called First Century Mark as indicative of ‘the type of conversations that were happening around this fragment among papyrologists and scholars.’]

One massive problem is that they haven’t seen the Museum of the Bible, which opens next month, which they describe on the basis of a walk through the building site; and they have apparently not had first hand experience of any of the Scholars Initiative activities.

13 comments :

  1. We've invited everyone with internet access to our exclusive and now (rightly) famous dinners. For those expecting free grub, it's worth saying that one normally has to pay, but it's well worth the price for the opportunity to hear the speech, usually by none other than Dr Peter M. Head. The year in review will be particularly hilarious this time!

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    1. And one should also add that, at one of the dinners which GSI sponsored, Pete said (among other gems such as, 'David Parker didn't accept invitation to dinner because there was no original text') something along the lines of 'And, as usual, we will not stop making fun of GSI.' Interestingly enough, none of the GSI people were offended, but rather got a good kick of it. Maybe not taking oneself too seriously is a good approach to life, after all.

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  2. I'm not sure what I find more disturbing about this paragraph (see rest of article at link below): their gross ignorance or the publication of such screed in the first place.

    "Moss and Baden deftly highlight the cognitive dissonance at the heart of the evangelicalism, how and why the faithful cherry-pick Scriptures that buttress their own beliefs while dismissing contradictions among the texts themselves, “variants that include a very different book of Samuel from the traditional Hebrew text, a book of Jeremiah that is approximately one-eighth shorter than the traditional text, and a number of Psalms that are not part of our Bibles today. … This attitude goes back to the Reformation notion of sola scriptura, ‘the Bible alone.’ ”"

    http://www.startribune.com/review-bible-nation-the-united-states-of-hobby-lobby-by-candida-r-moss-and-joel-s-baden/451695703/

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    1. This is supposed to be a compliment? “Bible Nation is a geek’s delight, seasoned with the historical skulduggery and theological debate found in a Dan Brown novel or an Indiana Jones film.” Not good.

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    2. Exactly. At least Indiana Jones pursued the truth...

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  3. Review in the Christian Century here: https://www.christiancentury.org/review/books/museum-of-whose-bible

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  4. An extensive excerpt, or what looks like one, is at
    https://www.thedailybeast.com/is-an-ancient-text-in-the-museum-of-the-bible-real-or-fake . Christian Askeland, Brice Jones, Trobisch, and Michael Holmes are all mentioned.

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  5. Has anybody looked at Brent Nongbri's posting of 23 July 2017 on his website?

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  6. Matthew, I had a brief search but wasn't sure which of several possibilities 'his website' was. Could you provide a link? Thanks.

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  7. https://brentnongbri.com/2017/07/23/the-robinson-papyri/
    Later posts are also relevant.

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  8. Is there any legitimate academic reason to publish this book immediately prior to the opening of the museum? If your intention is to make money and capture publicity, then sure, publish away. If your intention is to understand the subject matter and treat it fairly, then perhaps you should see the exhibits, observe the videos, listen to the audio tour content, and etcetera? I know the museum is not the only topic of discussion, but it would seem to me for any rigorous academic the bare minimum should be consuming the curriculum and museum content.

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