New Book by Two Religion Professors Criticizes the Museum of the Bible for Its Evangelical Protestant Viewpoint

To say that biblical scholars have been critical of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is an understatement.

Since it opened in late 2017, the pet project of  Oklahoma billionaire and outspoken evangelical Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, has been accused of privileging the Protestant Bible over other versions, harboring questionable and misappropriated antiquities among its vast collection and partnering with a range of charismatic, Pentecostal and conservative Christian groups, including the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, in ways that suggest it wants to advance an evangelical agenda.

Last year alone, the museum acknowledged that five Dead Sea Scroll fragments it had on display were forgeries and returned a medieval New Testament manuscript to the University of Athens after learning the document had been stolen.

Now many of the academic community’s critiques have been collected in a book, edited by Jill Hicks-Keeton, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, and Cavan Concannon, associate professor of religion at the University of Southern California.

Religion News Service spoke to Hicks-Keeton about the book, published last month by Lexington Books. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

At what point did you realize you wanted to put together this book?

It began when I organized a panel discussion at the Association for Jewish Studies in Washington in 2017 on how Jews, Judaism and the Jewish Bible are represented in the museum. Later, an editor reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in doing a collection of essays on supersessionismn  (the belief that Christianity has superseded or replaced Judaism), but as the volume evolved and my collaborator, Cavan Concannon, signed on, it became clear what we were really interested in was collecting a variety of voices of biblical scholars and those in related disciplines about the museum.

Who is your intended audience?

Anyone interested in the Bible, how the Bible is represented in the public sphere or evangelical interpretations of the Bible. Or anyone who wants a professional scholar’s unauthorized guidebook to the museum.

Why does this museum demand so much attention?

Part of the reason is the money invested in it. It’s in a very public place, near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. One might even think, mistakenly, that it’s a Smithsonian. This museum is poised to have some influence on the way that the public understands the Bible. Our job as educators in the field of biblical studies is to use the museum as an opportunity to teach a wider public about the academic study of the Bible and its history.

What are some of the major criticisms of the scholars?

If one were to read all essays, they make a case that the museum is deeply intertwined with the evangelicalism of the founding Green family. Many people say it’s not a problem for people to use private money to invest in something they think is important, (but) we bristle at the public representation of their project. They say they have no perspective and no agenda. We don’t think that’s possible or true.

Are scholars saying the museum should come out and say what its perspective is?

That’s one way to rectify what they think is wrong. But the volume is not written for the museum. Our job as scholars is to analyze and catalog and chronicle what’s happening with how the Bible is represented. If the museum leadership doesn’t make changes as a result of the book, we won’t feel like the book has failed. It’s written for a wider audience and not in order to change the museum.

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Source: Religion News Service