Sidnie White Crawford, a professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wrote a piece on her experience of the Washington DC based Museum of the Bible. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the museum, particularly with how they have acquired biblical artifacts with some of their practices being outright illegal. And on their board is the conservative CEO of Hobby Lobby. (I routinely joke with my family on Sundays that we should go grab lunch at Chick-fil-A and then head over and do some shopping at Hobby Lobby. Yes,they hate me.) All this might make you think that the museum is an unethical crapshoot of super conservative Christianity. But that isn’t Crawford’s takeaway. She writes,
So what were my final impressions? Basically, I did not walk away infuriated, which I was afraid would happen. However, the Museum has several obvious biases. First, basically “the Bible” they are presenting is the Protestant Christian Bible, although they do make nods to other versions. Second, they are very careful not to call into question, except in the most mild ways, biblical literalism. A conservative biblical literalist would walk away from the Museum quite happy. On the other hand, they did not mention in any way the most controversial topics, such as homosexuality or the theory of evolution. There was more emphasis on the role and importance of women than I expected. Thus, the museum is not pressing a conservative social agenda; it sticks to its mission as a museum about the bible as a written text. Third, the curators have been very careful to deal with their “antiquities problem”; there are no antiquities of uncertain provenance or any whiff of illegality displayed. The exception is the Dead Sea Scroll fragments, and they are carefully labelled. Fourth, most of the people attending the museum, at least on the day I was there, were the “already convinced.” There were many church groups, several of whom were African-American. These groups were there to learn more about their own bible, and in that quest the museum would be quite successful. I don’t think it will attract many non-believers; it is, in essence, “preaching to the choir.”
This is fascinating and the next time I’m in DC I plan on taking a trip to the museum. I’ll be sure to take some blood-pressure medication before I do.
You can read the rest of her piece here. She discusses the museum section-by-section.
Featured image: By Fuzheado – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64050525
2 thoughts on “One Biblical Scholar’s Trip to the Museum of the Bible”
Many major Western museums and libraries have items of … dubious … provenance (eg the Benin Bronzes) but most Western museums do try and disguise or disavow any bias
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