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Proving the Bible Is True: The Museum of the Bible. Guest Post by Cavan Concannon

Here now is the second of three posts on the Museum of the Bible, this one by Cavan Concannon, one of the editors of the newly released volume, The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction.  One of the most amazing lines in this post is the claim made by a representative of the museum that: “The Bible has been carefully transmitted through time.”   Wow!  OK then….   You gotta wonder what this fellow (whom Cavan quotes) is thinking….    What I myself am thinking is that he has a different definition of “carefully” from me….

Again, Cavan will be happy to respond to your comments.

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Proving the Bible: Archaeology, Objects, and Evangelical Theology at the Museum of the Bible

By Cavan Concannon

 

The Museum of the Bible (MOTB) is no stranger to scandal. In our previous post, we described how, in their quest for biblical artifacts for the Museum, the Greens have acquired looted objects, purchased forged Dead Sea Scrolls, and been forced to return thousands of artifacts in their collection. As Candida Moss and Joel Baden have detailed, the Museum has carefully managed the study of the objects in its collection, relying on non-disclosure agreements and the work of scholars untrained in relevant disciplines at evangelical Christian schools.[1]_ The Museum has also, according to Michael Press, funded an illegal excavation at Qumran in the West Bank, led by Randall Price of Liberty University.[2]_ Much has been written about the problems with how the MOTB acquired its collection and the ethical and legal lapses that have followed.

It is worth interrogating why the Greens have gone to so much trouble, financial and otherwise, to acquire and display artifacts related to biblical literature. When the question is asked, it is often answered with the simple observation that the Greens are evangelical Christians, and therefore are deeply interested in the Bible. In perhaps a Freudian slip, Steve Green has been quoted as saying his family’s museum is a museum to the Bible.[3]_ In my chapter of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction, I argue that the answer goes beyond the Greens’ evangelical devotion to the Bible, as they understand it. The motivations for the collection and display of biblical artifacts can be found in how the Museum describes the role of archaeology itself. The discipline of archaeology, as it is presented in the Museum’s exhibits, is understood to vouchsafe the stability and accuracy of the biblical text.

 

Archaeology and the Bible

         The MOTB’s partner in the legally-questionable Qumran excavation, J. Randall Price, describes the role of archaeology as a source for proving the sacrality and historicity of the Bible: “Tangible things can assist faith in its growth toward God. Archaeology brings forth the tangible remnants of history so that faith can have a reasonable context in which to develop. It also allows faith to be supported with facts, confirming the reality of the people and events of the Bible so that skeptics and saints alike might clearly perceive its spiritual message within a historical context.”[4]_ Price’s quotation gives voice to a long tradition in biblical archaeology in which Christian scholars have tried to use archaeological evidence to prove the veracity of the Bible, under the presumption that the Bible must be historically accurate for it to deserve its place as Christianity’s sacred text. In addition, Price suggests that archaeology also saves souls. The act of proving the Bible’s accuracy will win people to the faith and soothe the worries of those already on the inside.

The quest for tangible proof of Christianity’s faith claims is not new. One can arguably see its origins in early Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land, perhaps most famously in the visit by Helena, the emperor Constantine’s mother in 326 CE. Since then many Christians have found spiritual insight from “walking where Jesus walked.” While pre-modern pilgrimage to “biblical” sites was mediated by local knowledge, the accounts of previous travelers, and church officials, the advent of archaeology as a systematic study of ancient sites changed the landscape. In the earliest modern excavations, archaeologists sought to find famous places and objects to anchor European narratives about the classical past. As modern biblical scholars began to question the origins and development of biblical literature, conservative and liberal Christians alike looked to archaeology for help. Liberal Protestants like Adolf Deissmann saw in archaeological remains a new “light from the east” that could enlighten academic biblical scholarship by offering new insights into the world in which biblical literature was written.[5]_ Conservatives, like Price, looked to archaeology much as fellow Christians look to young-earth creationist “science,” as a tool for proving that the Bible is accurate in the historical details that it provides. It is this latter tradition that is on display at the MOTB.

As regular readers of this blog know, the study of the past rarely produces certainty. The past is only accessible to our present through fragments of texts and worlds that offer but glimpses into the past. Archaeology has never been very good at providing certainty about the past. Archaeologists can say much about how places and spaces were lived in, how they changed over long periods of time, how some aspects of daily life were lived. Archaeology does not give us scientific access to past events, nor is it equipped to shed light on faith claims about the sacrality of the Bible. Those who claim that it does are looking for something other than what archaeology can provide.

 

Archaeology at the Museum of the Bible

The History of the Bible floor showcases the bulk of the Museum’s collection of artifacts from the early history of biblical literature. Here one finds objects from the Ancient Near East, the “Dead Sea Scrolls” owned by the Museum, and the early manuscripts and papyrus fragments of biblical texts. The collection here is a mix of authentic objects, forgeries, and modern replicas. The story that is told is what the Museum’s signage calls the “path to universal access,” the story of how the Bible was transmitted accurately from its origins to today.

Visitors to the History of the Bible floor are offered the chance to watch a video introduction to the exhibit space called Drive Thru History with Dave Stotts. The video features an Indiana Jones-like narrator taking visitors on a tour of the Bible’s history in his well-used Jeep, which visitors can see parked just outside the theater. Stotts, who is also featured in shorter video clips throughout the History floor, concludes the introductory video with a description of what archaeology brings to the study of the Bible’s history:

The Bible has been carefully transmitted through time, technology, and culture, from rare manuscripts to near universal accessibility. The Bible is continually being researched and more fully understood through new discoveries. Many people think that the further we progress from the ancient world of the Bible, the more disconnected we become from this old book. But actually, today’s science is helping us better understand how carefully the Bible has been transmitted through time. The latest technologies . . . are now providing an even greater understanding of the history of the Bible.

Stotts’ claim is remarkably similar to Price’s, namely that archaeology proves the accuracy of the Bible. Though Stotts does not go so far as to say that this is cause for (renewed) faith in the Bible itself, he offers a description of archaeology as a science that connects us more and more to a remarkably trustworthy and accurate book.

In my chapter, I dig deeper into the ways in which this description of archaeology works itself out in the Museum’s exhibits. But this example helps us to understand why it is that the Greens invested their money in both biblical artifacts and the Museum itself. It is not just that they love the Bible. They also want to prove to the rest of us that it is accurate and historical. The goal then of the Museum is not education but evangelism. The objects that the Museum and the Greens have acquired are displayed not for their historical value but as evidence for an argument against those who would say that the history of biblical literature and the formation of the Bible is much messier, complicated, and violent than the simple narrative favored by the Greens: from God to ancient humans and then, without error, to us.

[1] Candida Moss and Joel Baden, Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 62-98.

[2] Michael D. Press, “An Illegal Archeological Dig in the West Bank Raises Questions About the Museum of the Bible,” Hyperallergic (June 20, 2018); https://hyperallergic.com/447909/an-illegal-archeological-dig-in-the-west-bank-raises-questions-about-the-museum-of-the-bible/

[3] Green said this in the context of an interview given to PBS News Hour’s Jeffrey Brown (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/new-museum-aims-to-get-visitors-thi nking-about-the-bible).

[4] J. Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 28.

[5] Gustav Adolf Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910).


Christianizing the Old Testament and the Museum of the Bible: Guest Post by Jill Hicks-Keeton
New Book on Museum of the Bible: Guest Post by the Editors Jill Hicks-Keeton and Cavan Concannon

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    janmaru  July 17, 2020

    Archaeology might not be proving the accuracy of the Bible, but the idea that a logical fallacy could sound highly compelling and resonate in people like the “truth” it points in different directions.

    The first is that brains’ cognitive biases are as much humanity than the search for knowledge.
    Why should we celebrate humanity’s best achievements and set aside our lowest instincts and fallacies? We should glorify and worship also the inferior realms. After all, the idea of the Übermensch has been harmful in the first decades of the past century, at least to some secondary people.

    The second is that like any serious business Religions are trying only to sell you some certainty for a change (in money and power.)
    It’s not just the color of money, it’s also the name of the heritage.
    Ther’s honesty in this, people are willing to accept it with clear (empty?!) minds.
    The Yiddish proverb goes like this: “If you don’t want to grow old, hang yourself when you’re young.”

  2. Avatar
    royerd  July 17, 2020

    Very good. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and observations with us. On the one hand, it all sounds pre-enlightenment where knowledge begins in the Church or is simply so self-evident that the academic disciplines are in service to this a priori knowledge. On the other, more sinister hand, it sounds scary in the way a post-objective world is scary. Well, it actually makes me think that the medieval world was for these reasons probably a pretty scary time to live in if you were not on board.

    I just started reading this thread, so I need to go get a bit more background on this place. I’m curious how it all is received by the more mainstream or moderate evangelical crowd.

    Thanks again,

    Dan

  3. Avatar
    Lindylou  July 18, 2020

    I may be wrong, but I really can’t see a Museum of the Bible attracting great numbers in the UK. Awful heathens we are.

    • Avatar
      Matt2239  July 19, 2020

      The great tragedy is that two of the most historically significant translations of the Bible, the Tyndale Bible and the King James Version, are both products of your culture.

  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  July 18, 2020

    They’ll accept the findings of science as long as it tells them what they want to hear. That is not a method to get to the truth.

  5. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  July 18, 2020

    Another example of the alternate universe thing. The bible’s lack of historical and scientific accuracy is very clear, and very well-established, unless, driven by some agenda you want to go down the rabbit hole. The Greens seem to have pitched their tent in the deepest and darkest cranny of that rabbit hole. Thank goodness there are voices of reason, and those voices have not been silenced. Yet.

  6. Avatar
    Matt2239  July 18, 2020

    The “illegal” excavation cited was a $20,000 dig approved by Israel but not formally endorsed by any Palestinian organization.

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  July 18, 2020

    Money talks, it’ll tell you a story
    Money talks, says strange things
    Money talks very loudly
    You’d be surprised the friends
    You can buy with small change…
    J. J. Cale, “Money Talks”

  8. Avatar
    ben1980  July 20, 2020

    In most instances, the dialogue on the accuracy of the Gospels winds up in two ends of the spectrum; in one end of the spectrum we have some who claim that vast majority of the Gospels is authentic and has been preserved mostly intact over time,  and at the other end, we have the assumption that originally Jesus followers communicated their recollections of Jesus life and teachings orally, which results in a mostly unreliable rendering of the original account.

    Maybe what we have is somewhere in the middle, where we assume that a significant portion of the original recollections was written down in Aramaic, by illiterate followers of Jesus using a scribe. Then over time, some of those manuscripts got distributed and some got translated into Greek. Then it follows that ultimately the Gospels may have included translated excerpts(which may have been modified) from the original manuscripts that were dictated by Jesus’s followers and written down in Aramaic using scribes, and some excerpts of the Gospels include accounts that were orally communicated, diluted, and changed over time. Hence in this approach, the overall Gospels are more accurate than if the original modes of transmission were in only in verbal form.

  9. Rick
    Rick  July 20, 2020

    Method opportunity and motive are the formal precedents to prove a crime.
    This pretty well nails down the motive behind the fraud.

  10. Avatar
    jrblack  July 23, 2020

    Not surprisingly, the opposition has already weighed in on Amazon with a one-star review: “Woeful grammar, lacking in thorough scholarship, an overwhelming waste of time & money. It seems the editor took on this project out of absolute boredom or self flagellation.”

    • Avatar
      Jill_HicksKeeton  July 23, 2020

      Yes we have been chuckling about that.

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