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Museum of the Bible generates angst at Science (AAAS journal)


Lizzie Wade shares her worries about the new Museum of the Bible at Science:

The grandiose new venture is bankrolled by the Greens, the billionaire family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores. Since 2009, the Greens, evangelical Christians known for their successful Supreme Court challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans pay for birth control, have amassed a private collection of 40,000 artifacts—both ancient and modern—relating to the Bible and the ancient Near East. The $500 million Museum of the Bible is a separate, nonprofit entity, but Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, chairs its board, and the family has donated hundreds of artifacts to the museum.

Forty thousand artifacts? Wow. Some of the artifacts turned out to have been stolen but then the Chinese say that about the fabulous Royal Ontario Museum Chinese collection, which Canada has not given back.*

The Museum of the Bible is trying to allay scholars’ fears and establish itself as a legitimate academic enterprise. In 2014, it hired as its director of collections the respected New Testament scholar David Trobisch, who has instituted an acquisitions policy in line with the museum world’s professional standards and brought in top scholars to advise how to display and explain ancient artifacts. And the museum is getting into the excavation business: It is funding an ambitious dig at Tel Shimron, a site in Israel where many different Near Eastern cultures met and interacted over the past 5000 years. “I was clear with them that we were going to follow the archaeology wherever it led, and they quite agreed that was the correct approach,” says the excavation’s director, Daniel Master, a widely respected archaeologist at Wheaton College in Illinois.(20 Oct 2017: Vol. 358, Issue 6361, pp. 295-297 | DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6361.295) More.

No wonder Science hired a hit job on the museum: “Follow the archeology wherever it led” sounds suspiciously like an ID project: Follow the evidence, not the bafflegab. The rest of us will wait to see what research comes of examining the collection.

* Spiriting artifacts away is actually a complex question because many cultures in the midst of upheaval take to destroying artifacts, especially those of former civilizations or politically incorrect histories.

See also: Why the museum drawer is an enemy of understanding evolution

Did the Protestant Reformation spur science? Not really, says David Wootton at Nature… This shouldn’t be a surprise because the disputes that led to the Reformation were not really about anything to do with science.


Physicist: The Galileo dispute involved science as well as religion This feels new. And we could use more of it. At one time, Cool science writers could afford to get it wrong (because those they maligned Didn’t Matter). Is there now a trend toward getting it right? If so, is it possible that the recent “Bible says” fiasco at Nature made a difference?



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