Why the Museum of the Bible Angered So Many Academics

Sept. 14 2018

Opened last fall and located not far from the National Mall in Washington, DC, the Museum of the Bible was a source of controversy even before it opened its doors, in part because of its founder, Steven Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and a devout evangelical Christian. Scholars of the Bible and archaeology were prominent among the museum’s critics, in part because they objected to the museum’s framing of certain issues in ways that differ from accepted scholarship, in part because of serious concerns regarding the provenance of certain artifacts—some of which turned out to have been looted from Iraq. But Alex Joffe argues that something else is at stake:

For academics, [at] issue [is their] loss of public authority over the Bible. The intellectual monopolization of the Bible by academics in the post-World War II era coincided with the gradual collapse of biblical literacy in America, along with many mainline [Protestant] denominations. With this went an important part of the language of American identity, conversation, and consensus. The Bible in the public square was taken over by professors.

Inevitable or not, this was not healthy in social or political terms. Invocations of the Bible, religion, or God in politics today—[whether] earnest, banal, or grotesque—are condemned instantly. And yet this [habitual condemnation] cuts Americans off from not only a vernacular but from history; [for instance], the national, personal, and spiritual agony that Abraham Lincoln expressed in his second inaugural address is explicable only by reference to the Bible. . . .

Academics have hardly been faithful stewards of the Bible any more than of other forms of canonical knowledge; efforts to reclaim the Bible on the part of faith were also inevitable. If these also lead to more earnest engagement with the Bible as literature, tradition, and [a source of] morality on the part of academics and intellectuals, all the better. Unfortunately, I see the opposite occurring; [such] reclamation will be met with further academic criticism, which will only increase the distance between academia and society, heightening mutual suspicion and alienation, and setting up at least one side for a nasty surprise. . . .

The families and church groups visiting the Museum of the Bible are unlikely to be troubled by [issues of provenance] or converted to one denomination or another, but they might have elements of their faith, in the Bible and in America, reaffirmed. They are also likely to come away interested in Biblical history and archaeology. Many will go on to the Air and Space Museum for other sorts of reaffirmations, in technology and the human imagination, or to the National Gallery, filled with silent tributes to religious faith and to beauty itself. None of these is an unalloyed good, but that is the nature of museums. The good that one comes away with depends in part on what one goes in with.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Ancient Near East Today

More about: Academia, American Religion, Archaeology, Bible, Hobby Lobby, Museum of the Bible, Religion & Holidays

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jager File

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics