Bible Nation

by Alex Wasilkoff

 

Dr. Candida Moss, professor of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham, gave a lecture at Boston College based on her new book, Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby. The  February 7 lecture, and the book, explore the role of Hobby Lobby’s founding family in American public life, especially their philanthropic support of the Museum of the Bible.

Dr. Moss started with a general sketch of the family’s rise to public knowledge. The Green family runs Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores. David Green, the patriarch of the family, was raised by Baptist ministers, and finds it very important to run his business based on Christian principles—for example, Hobby Lobby donates half of its income to charitable organizations. These charities must be in line with the Greens’ Evangelical convictions.

 

Despite the nearly $500 million in philanthropic activity, the Greens first truly entered the public consciousness with the 2014 supreme court case Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. The Greens made the case that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate (which requires employers to provide certain forms of birth control) was an affront to their religious liberty. Hobby Lobby won, and the Supreme Court struck down the contraceptive mandate for companies with strong religious convictions.

 

Dr. Moss related all of this as background to the main subject of her lecture: the Museum of the Bible. The museum is located in Washington, D.C. near the National Mall, and was founded by Steven Green. The stated goal of the museum is “to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible.” To this end, they have constructed a large multistory exhibit that immerses visitors in the story of the Bible and its influence on American culture.

 

To fill their exhibits (and for research purposes) the Museum of the Bible has acquired a number of artifacts pertaining to Scripture. Many of these 40,000 artifacts are ancient manuscripts of Biblical books. One of Dr. Moss’s main criticisms of the museum relates to the acquisition of these artifacts. The Green family paid a $3 settlement after facing government civil action related to the smuggling of artifacts from Iraq. In addition, Dr. Moss denounced the manner in which the artifacts are treated by the museum. Researchers are invited to work on the artifacts, but they must sign nondisclosure agreements. To Dr. Moss, this represents a complete antithesis to the open project of academic research.

 

She also argues that the exhibits themselves intellectually dishonest and represent an unhealthy form of the American Protestant mentality. For example, the first floor of the museum is dedicated to the Bible’s influence on American culture, and exhibit which plays down the Bible’s role in supporting slavery. The exhibit instead places much more emphasis on how the Bible was used to criticize segregation.

 

Outside of the floor on the “Bible in America,” many exhibits are dedicated to the Biblical story. Dr. Moss here critiqued the lack of inclusion of any of the findings of modern Biblical scholarship.

 

The final exhibit explains the textual history of the Bible. Here, some of the many artifacts at last make an appearance. However, little regard is paid to authorship and dates, and the main mission is to present the history as unproblematically as possible. Dr. Moss also pointed out that the history ends with the Protestant Reformation, seemingly implying that from then on the pristine Word of God has been transmitted without event.

 

The exhibits placed a large emphasis on the Anglo-Protestant story of the Bible without much exploration of any non-Western experience of Scripture. Overall, Dr. Moss’s critique of the Museum of the Bible focused on the lack of attention to true scholarship and an incomplete telling of only one part of the story of Scripture.


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