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Hobby of Artifacts Runs Amok… Due to Childish Faith

July 7, 2017

In case you’ve not heard the recent news on stolen and smuggled ancient artifacts here it is: Hobby Lobby and its CEO, Steven Green, have just reached a settlement over having purchased ancient Iraqi artifacts outside of proper credentialing and against warnings. The big “whoops” involves about 5,500 artifacts such as cuneiform tablets and similar objects, according to Newsweek, NPR and other news sources.

Per the settlement with the US Dept. of Justice, Hobby Lobby will pay a $3 million fine and forfeit the artifacts, which will be returned to Iraq.  Why the Green family would want so many of this kind of artifact was news to me… or that they were even in such a collecting business! The situation is this….

The Greens, according to reports, have put 500 to 800 million dollars into building a vast Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.  I’m posting this, for timeliness, without doing much research into this project.  But I’ll venture a couple educated guesses on what this is about.

First, the Bible is part of an extremely powerful mythology under-girding the development of Western culture.  This began to change about 3 centuries ago with the Enlightenment.  However, the Bible, and certain interpretations of it, are still consciously foundational for a large portion of particularly the American populace.  Of course, below most of our consciousness, the Bible and “Judeo-Christian heritage” is indeed the foundation of much of our law, culture, etc., even as their direct influence has waned.

But the changes begun in earnest in the 18th century, both outside and within Christianity, are still what drives efforts like a fundamentalist Museum of the Bible.  “The Bible is under attack”! (Well, in one sense, yes… all the way back to its inception, but particularly in the modern/postmodern era.)  Of course the broader concern is that “Christianity is under attack”.  (Well, certain forms of it, yes.) But its existence is far from threatened.

And I’d bet my genuine page of the first edition of the King James Bible (1611, KJV) that it is actually the subcultural values and beliefs of fundamentalists that they most seek to defend.  It’s an entire view of life, culture, history and the world that they think is “under attack” and needs defending.  And what better than a “rational”, quasi-educational “infotainment” center (museum) to do it?

With this you can not only attract big crowds but also weave a selective story “proving” the historicity (and authority) of the Bible and the events it records.  

I see it akin to two other endeavors: First, the Creation Museum in Kentucky, founded by creationist Ken Ham. It’s also large and splashy and seeks to present the (very short, under 10,000 year) history of humanity under God’s direction.  Second, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  They present aspects of culture mixed with religion in an appealing way which creates a veneer of being “mainstream”.

Without knowing much about the Museum of the Bible, I’d venture to say it will aim to appear very scholarly and to tell a story of and about the Bible that is at least superficially believable.  Particularly to the faithful.  But it may pull in others with little background or discernment with which to evaluate their claims.

Why the drive to obtain rare and valuable ancient artifacts, even if not directly related to the Bible or its creation? One answer would be to raise interest for people to come see the museum along with some cool story-telling inside it.

Unfortunately, it’s quite telling (in a not-so-spiritual story) that in reaching a large settlement including a fine, the collectors are tacitly admitting they breached their own supposed ethical standards in their zeal.  Worse yet, purchases of black market antiquities from the Middle East have been shown to sometimes fund the work of terrorists, whether or not this is known to buyers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. hoju1959 permalink
    July 11, 2017 11:47 am

    Nice post, Howard. To me, the fact that we have a Bible just proves God DOESN’T communicate with us. That is, God was silent so men wrote stuff and attributed the writings to God. If God really did speak to us, we wouldn’t need the Bible, would we?

    • July 11, 2017 10:32 pm

      That’s a fair point. One thing fascinating (and frustrating!) to me is that the “true believers” in God speaking to and through certain authors historically still rely on the judgement of unknown ancients as to which among many similar writings are actually the ones that are “God’s Word”. Add to this the fact that Christianity has never FULLY agreed on just which books are or should be included. We DO have a Catholic “canon” and a similar Protestant one (minus some “apocryphal” books), but those came late or were challenged by key leaders even later, some still being argued about even among the orthodox.

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