How the billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make America a "Bible nation".
Like many evangelical Christians, the Green family of Oklahoma City believes that America was founded on a "biblical worldview as a Christian nation." But the Greens are far from typical evangelicals in other ways. The billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby, a huge nationwide chain of craft stores, the Greens came to national attention in 2014 after successfully suing the federal government over their religious objections to provisions of the Affordable Care Act. What is less widely known is that the Greens are now America's biggest financial supporters of Christian causes - and they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in an ambitious effort to increase the Bible's influence on American society. In Bible Nation, Candida Moss and Joel Baden provide the first in-depth investigative account of the Greens' sweeping Bible projects and the many questions they raise.
Bible Nation tells the story of the Greens' rapid acquisition of an unparalleled collection of biblical antiquities; their creation of a closely controlled group of scholars to study and promote their collection; their efforts to place a Bible curriculum in public schools; and their construction of a $500 million Museum of the Bible near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Bible Nation reveals how these seemingly disparate initiatives promote a very particular set of beliefs about the Bible - and raise serious ethical questions about the trade in biblical antiquities, the integrity of academic research, and more.
Bible Nation is an important and timely account of how a vast private fortune is being used to promote personal faith in the public sphere - and why it should matter to everyone.
This book is well-written, easy to read, and horrifying for what it reveals about certain aspects of professional scholarship.
The ethics of the people who have collected the artefacts in the Green Collection & the senior scholars involved in the Green Scholars Initiative are highly suspect. Moss & Baden are way more generous in their evaluation than I am.
Moss & Baden give a clear, but fair accounting of the Green family's faith motivation and of their understanding of the Bible and of Biblical scholarship.
The relationship between the Green family faith, politics, and capitalism are emblematic of American religion & politics, and in this aspect, Bible Nation is an important read for Americanists as well as for scholars of religion and Biblical scholars.
The rare book that could have done with about 100 more pages situating the Green family in some historical context. This is an illuminating look at the family who owns Hobby Lobby and is also amassing quite the collection of Torahs and Bibles. The authors believe that they are, among other things, cherry-picking their collection to fit their worldview; at the very least, it would be hard to argue that the Greens are at all intellectually curious. I have little patience for people who won't listen to evidence that contradicts their own beliefs, and so the Greens grated on me for over two hundred pages. It would be easier to believe that their hearts were in the right place if they developed a scintilla of self-awareness.
This is one of two books (the other being Still Christian by David Gushee) that I read within about a week of each other that were about evangelicals, written by non-evangelicals who were writing because they had something critical to say about those evangelicals. As someone who is an evangelical whether I like it or not (these days mostly not), I expected to be annoyed -- mostly at my tribe for doing things that justly drew these authors' critical attention, but also somewhat at the authors for stoking the flames of the culture wars by presenting their case in a way that gives fuel to my co-religionists' persecution complex.
I was pleasantly surprised by the evident charity of Moss and Baden's treatment of the Greens. While their "expose" of the Museum of the Bible was motivated by genuine alarm about the implications for scholarship of one family without professional expertise and with a clear ideological agenda getting so heavily involved in controlling ancient artifacts, that alarm does not prompt them to cast the Greens as the villains of the tale. The narration shows respect for the faith that motivates the Greens' activities and the Greens' own account of their intentions with the MOTB/Green collection, even when the authors disagree with them.
I read this book after traveling to DC specifically to visit the MOTB, which I found mostly delightful but a little unsettling in ways I couldn't quiet articulate. I appreciate the work Moss and Baden have done to put the appearance of that museum in cultural context. Some of the things that Moss and Baden identify as problems I agree with, and hope the museum's advisors and the broader evangelical academic community will take to heart. Some of the things they identify as problems I don't think are real problems, but I think it is good to know that that's how they can be perceived. I am glad this book exists.
NEWSFLASH!!! The owners of Hobby Lobby are super duper Christian and want everyone else to learn about the Bible.
I thought this book would be more provocative and play into the current culture wars. In fact, it really was not terribly provocative, but it was plenty thoughtful and may well piss off a lot of people who are already inclined to "take sides." But I don't think this book gets published at all if not for the current climate, and the Greens prominence as Christian culture warriors.
I thought this book was reasonably well written and it APPEARS to be well researched and cited (I can't independently verify). While the authors tried to be even handed, and acknowledge that the Greens are faithful people who are charitable and do good things in keeping with their worldview, the authors just can't get past the central divide between their perspective (that an academic curriculum or "museum" on the Bible should be even handed, intellectual and explore all sides) and what they allege and reasonably prove to be the Greens' presumed perspective (the Bible is the Bible, but basically as taught in one of their Evangelical traditions, and any historical evidence to the contrary should be suppressed).
I can't say I am surprised by this or that this makes the Greens "bad" or wrong. I don't view it as much different than if you go to a presidential museum. The curators all are looking to highlight a particular view of that president.
That said, there were a lot of interesting stories and interviews that do point to the potential for the distortions that the Greens' Museum of the Bible are supporting. But I am not enough of a religious scholar to understand why this particularly Evangelical take on the Bible is potentially anti-Catholic. Either way, I do applaud the PR/influencer strategy of the Greens in placing this Museum in DC, giving in the imprimatur of being a non-denominational, non-religious "museum," co-opting the halo effect of the Vatican and an Israeli archaeology association and other major universities, then using it to "invite" people to a Biblical worldview. But is that really that much different that what advertisers do to sell products daily in America.
The two things that struck me most:
-- there is a whole section of the book on the Greens trying to promulgate a Bible curriculum in public schools in Oklahoma. I have not tracked the rulings, but evidently the court has said you can run a curriculum if it is not too religious, or something equally clear. How the heck does that happen exactly? Ironically strikes me as trying to judge pornography.
-- NIMBYism alert: there was a story about the Green scholars scandalizing the academic world by destroying ancient Egyptian masks like fortune cookies on the incredibly unlikely chance that they might find a Christian scripture inside. My first thought was, whatever, if they want to burn money in the back yard, fine. But then, it turns out that the Museum of the Bible are basically buying up Torah scrolls and effectively treating them in a way that no observant Jew would ever be comfortable with in hopes that it might give Christians a religious/spiritual Biblical experience. And this pissed ME off and made me think that there is no way any Evangelical would be happy if: a) another museum potentially desecrated/mistreated Christian artifacts; or b) if a Jewish bazillionaire started outbidding for all ancient scriptures and only publishing things that cast doubt on....whatever.
Soooooooo, fun times. Bottom line is that the book wasn't inflammatory enough to really catch public attention, but: i) some on the left are going to wrongly point to this to say it proves that the Hobby Lobby people are racist, sexist, anti-Gay (even though the book has ZERO to do with any of that), and ii) some on the right will attack this book as an anti-religious screed (which I don't believe it is; but it is a pro-academic, and thus "elitist" take on how Religion should be presented in academia and museums). Where do I come out? I guess I'm most ambivalent but....if you ARE calling something a "curriculum" or a "museum" and attempting to pass it off as anything other than religiously sponsored, it probably SHOULD be a bit more rigorously even handed than it currently appears. Maybe. I don't know.
If you have even a passing interest in jewelry making or holiday decor, then you’re probably familiar with Hobby Lobby. And if you have even a passing interest in biblical manuscripts or the modern antiquities market, then you’re probably familiar with the Green family, who just so happen to own Hobby Lobby.
The Greens possess both strong business acumen and steadfast evangelical Christian faith, and it is the meeting of those two seemingly disparate fields that is explored in the new book Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby by Candida Moss and Joel Baden. Their timely and eye-opening book is “an exploration of the unusual intersection of faith and business, biblical worldview and academic scholarship, religion and the public sphere–all of which are brought together in the Bible-focused initiatives of the Green family, Hobby Lobby, and MOTB [Museum of the Bible]” (12).
Moss and Baden examine the establishment of the vast antiquities collection of the Green family, the scholarly study (or lack thereof) of that collection, the Bible curriculum that the Greens are promoting for use in public schools, and the Museum of the Bible, a Green initiative dedicated to the book they seem intent to promote at virtually any cost.
In describing and explaining how the Greens are seeking to bring their “biblical” worldview to America ... read the rest of my review here.
In the introduction, the authors set themselves an admirable goal. Though they hold different perspectives than the Green family, Hobby Lobby, and the Museum of the Bible, they set out to write a balanced narrative with empathy for positions other than their own.
They did not succeed.
The book's few attempts to show empathy generally come across as backhanded compliments. A random example: "To complain about the MOTB organizers' hope that supernatural powers will act to proselytize museum attendees is rather churlish, especially if one does not believe in those powers" (p. 178).
A substantial portion of the potential audience for a book on the Museum of the Bible are evangelicals who support the museum's mission. Had this book pursued a balanced, less biased approach the authors could have had a chance to reach out to this audience, find common ground, and still advocate greater academic and procedural rigor.
Instead they adopt a politically and theologically liberal stance. They largely rely on politically and theologically liberal sources to describe conservative positions. The end result will strike conservatives as a caricature—one that is neither gracious nor well-researched.
A good, unsparing look at the efforts of the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, to build their Museum of the Bible and fill it with artifacts. The book suffers a bit from having come out before the museum opened: if you are looking for deeper analysis of the museum itself, a number of more recent articles will serve you better. However, the book accomplishes what I saw as its main two aims very well: it gives a thorough idea of how unscrupulous and downright illegal the amassing of the collection has been, and it shatters any notion that the Museum of the Bible or the scholarship connected to it will be neutral or objective, despite the efforts of recent press releases to appear so. The museum and all efforts connected to it are aimed at evangelization, and consistently erase historical questions and alternative biblical traditions (non-canonical Christian texts, most of the history of Judaism, and of course Islam). Moss and Baden emphasize that the Greens are sincere, even nice. While this may or may not influence your personal opinion of them, it doesn't change the end result of what they've done.
A casual reader might see this primarily as a story of a Christian family's efforts to evangelize and influence public life (and Moss and Baden do stress this angle, connecting the museum with the Greens' funding of missionary causes and, of course, their Supreme Court case). As a scholar, I saw it as primarily a story of the destruction of knowledge and heritage, and it made me almost continuously ill. A range of people in this book, from collectors to so-called academics to the Greens themselves, do things such as: rip apart mummy masks to get at texts (texts that could not possibly be in the masks because they would postdate them, thus making the destruction even more senseless), blithely dismiss provenance, ignore historical and archaeological context, suppress artifacts that don't fit their overarching narrative, lie, and co-opt and destroy the cultural heritage of others for their own ends. By the time I reached the stomach-turning anecdote about how the Greens want to make their collection of Torah scrolls available for museum-goers to handle and touch, thus effectively ensuring that the scrolls will disintegrate, all so that primarily Christian visitors can feel "closer" to the text spiritually, I felt light-headed.
Why three stars rather than four or five? Partly because of the weakness of the museum section, although I can understand why Moss and Baden wanted to get the book out quickly. But it suffers from some narrowness in other respects. The focus on looting is welcome, but the authors do not always do a good job of saying why looting matters. Perhaps this is because they are textual scholars and not archaeologists themselves. They don't convey a very vivid sense of the actual context and information that are lost when objects are looted, or how the sites from which they came are destroyed. The book barely touches on the damage such looting does to the heritage of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, and so on, and how the money from illegal antiquities continues to fund and feed violence in war zones. While it is inaccurate to say the Greens funded ISIS (their collection was amassed before ISIS as such existed), and while they are far from the only people profiting from looted objects, their practices nevertheless most likely helped fuel violence in the region (violence after all preceded ISIS). And their context-free approach to the study and display of their unprovenanced artifacts continues to erase the identity, history, agency, and suffering of people in the region.
In a similar vein, I would have liked a discussion of how the obsessive focus on texts is damaging in and of itself: to texts-as-artifacts (which Moss and Baden cover, but fairly briefly), and to other artifacts (Moss and Baden never really explain, for example, why an intact mummy mask might be important).
All of this, though, just falls under the category of wanting more. As is, the book is an essential primer to how this collection was assembled and the intentions behind it.
Most people who keep up with the news know about Hobby Lobby's law suit over whether business owners whose religious convictions forbid participating in the part of Obamacare that requires the business to cover contraceptives. They won the Supreme Court case.
What most Americans don't know is that Hobby Lobby is owned by the Green family, worth approximately four billion dollars, and that they are involved in other religious endeavors such as a Bible curriculum for the public schools and the construction of the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, near the mall.
Authors Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden are both religious educators, Moss a professor of theology and Baden a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Yale. They are careful not to condemn Steve Green (chairman of Hobby Lobby) and his sincere religious beliefs. But they have some objections, such as Green's reluctance to share the 40,000 antiquities that will or have been donated to the Museum of the Bible with experts in the field. Green wants the Bible to speak for itself and has passed on anecdotes claiming that it has converted several atheists and agnostics. Green also claims the museum is and will be nonsectarian. The Vatican and a Jewish collection of antiquities concerning the Old Testament have been given room on the fourth floor of the recently opened Museum of the Bible. But the president of the museum says he will not tolerate any Catholic “goofiness”.
Another problem Moss and Baden have with the museum is that it centers on the King James Bible and has a definite Protestant bent. It appears to skip a thousand years of Bible history, jumping form the Old Testament to the Protestant Reformation. You can't talk about the Bible without giving Emperor Constantine his due. When Constantine converted, he called Catholic bishops together at the Nicean Council to urge them to come up with a canon law for their faith. At the time Arianism, a sect of Christianity, claimed Christ was not divine but a created being. This led to the creation of the New Testament, which took about a hundred years to formulate. The Arians hung in there for about forty years. The orthodox bishops won out with traditional “holy” texts, such as the gospels (anonymous BTW) and St. Paul's letters winning out.
I thought it was strange that Moss and Baden referred to Bart Erhman, author of JESUS INTERRUPTED, as an agnostic. He is a former evangelical minister who now claims he was taught that the apostles did not believe Jesus was God and that St. Paul was a heretic.
Moss and Baden do argue that experts should be given access to the antiquities and different interpretations, including the Mormons and the gnostic gospels, should be given room at the museum. This would make the impact of the Bible even greater and spur discussion.
Green also argues that America was established as a Christian nation and Moss and Baden don't have too much of a problem with that contention. But the First Amendment is pretty clear that a religion is not allowed to impose itself on American citizens. Yes, you can worship a golden calf if you want, but there is no such thing as a state religion, which the Green family seems to think is praiseworthy. Also, a number of our founding fathers (Franklin and Jefferson especially) were Deists (God created the world, then left) and Washington, who was a deacon in several churches, hardly ever attended Sunday services, and when he did, refused to kneel.
This could have been a fascinating book, but the authors are too worried about appearing biased and leave out a lot of fascinating material.
Bible Nation is one of two books I recently finished reading that I'm rating one star less than it probably deserves not because of the quality of the book but because its content so disturbs me. (The other is Sticky Fingers, and you can read my thoughts about it here it you care to: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
Scholars Candida Moss and Joel Baden deserve 4 stars for the depth and quality of their research and their even-handed treatment of the Green family, whom the authors appear to admire for their sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions while simultaneously being dismayed by their misguided attempts to influence public education at all levels as well as public opinion through their vehicles of traveling exhibits, the Museum of the Bible, and sponsored (and highly troubling) research initiatives in the academy.
I rated the book 3 stars instead of 4 because I am tired of and sickened by the willfully ignorant but increasingly widespread revisionist-history, 'Biblical worldview' narrative propounded by American evangelical conservative Protestants (and now, it seems, some Catholics as well). When I'm attending a church service where that outlook is vividly on display, I become uncomfortable. It made me physically ill to read about a family who conforms to that outlook, works so hard to spread it, and is so ridiculously wealthy that they are able to influence every aspect of our society, even jurisprudence and legislation at the national level, and to dictate the meaning of and denigrate the quality of scholarly product in the academy.
I complained in the aforementioned review of Sticky Fingers that the aspect of our culture on display there is one of the major problems of American society today. The aspect of our culture represented in Bible Nation, the rapidly-growing number of evangelical conservative Protestants who propound a 'Biblical worldview', is another major problem. What's worse, this group sincerely believes that theirs is the only correct answer to the problems we face, and they honestly and sincerely believe that God is on their side. That scares me. And the solutions to our country's problems have to lie somewhere between these mutual tensions.
The story told in this book, as the author's State in the concluding chapter, is one of "willful naïveté" on the part of the Green family. In purchasing artifacts, they did not perform due diligence, and so the Greens have unethically obtained un-provenanced MSS--not to mention potentially illicit or forged artifacts. Further, the Scholar's Initiative--originally intended to help the Greens know the full value of each artifact--seems to be nothing more than a veneer of scholarship, as free discussion of research is tightly sealed by the Hobby Lobby PR team, the Greens. The chapters on the Bible Curriculum and the Museum of the Bible itself are where the authors' feelings about the project are most notable, as they charge the Greens with advocating one interpretation of the Bible as bald fact, without self-reflection that this interpretation is culturally tinged. The book comes off, in the end, as a (deservedly) heavy-handed excoriation of the Museum of the Bible organization, because it subverts all the ideals of the humanities--that is, it seems profit-grabbing; secretive; beholden to the evangelical and evangelizing interests of the Greens; and unethically obtained. I already had distaste for, and trepidation of, the Museum of the Bible. But, it seems that I have journalistic warrant for my feelings.
This book was well written and interesting but honestly it was pretty frustrating that even after detailing tons of unethical, deceptive and at times possibly illegal behavior the authors felt the need to continuously give the Greens the benefit of the doubt. I would say that a billionaire that makes sure that their donations are at a 1:3 ratio (they make sure they can claim three times the value of what they spent on donations on their income taxes) and has a collection of artifacts that they are claiming as donations to the museum that they run without the artifacts ever leaving their possession is not naive enough to warrant the “gosh he’s good intentioned but getting bad advice and out of his depth” treatment he gets here. Also, the fact that so much of the evangelical nature of Green’s non profits is hidden is another indication that he knows exactly what he is doing. The Green Family is limiting access to important artifacts and choosing to lock away whatever texts don’t support their evangelical biblical worldview and they are pushing for a return to America being a Christian nation which is directly in violation of the separation of church and state. They are also seeking ways to get their religious message into public schools. It is alarming how much influence this family has and how close they are getting to realizing their vision.
I must’ve missed the part where God said, Let D.C. have a Bible museum. Oh, and let it charge money for admission. And claim it is bringing the Bible to the general public, not forcing a White Christian biblical worldview onto America. The Museum of the Bible is owned by the super-rich, craft-store Green family, who is spending millions of dollars to increase the Bible’s influence on American society. The museum is just one tool in their Hobby Lobby toolkit. They’re also trying to place a Bible curriculum in public schools. And promoting a historically inaccurate saga of the U.S. as an exclusionary Christian nation. Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, by Candida Moss & Joel Baden, offers a vivid tour of the Pentecostal wealth and evangelical Supremacy behind The Museum of the Bible and its, er, antiquities. How they got into the museum is part of its controversy. Many had to be forfeited after federal prosecutors discovered they were smuggled out of Iraq. The authors do a good job of presenting an even-handed account of how the Green family’s thinking about their mission evolved and their collection grew. As biblical scholars, they are puzzled and horrified by the Greens’ naive acquisition and treatment of artifacts including rare tablets, papyri, and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Bible Nation is a densely-written, meticulously-researched (20 pages of endnotes, and 5 pages of bibliography) exploration of the newly-opened Museum of the Bible, a project of the Green family of Oklahoma, owners of Hobby Lobby, and their other Bible-focused project, the Green Scholars Institute. It also covers the Bible curriculum the GSI has developed and tried to market to public schools in America. Part of this book was originally published as a long-form piece in The Atlantic, where I first encountered it. When I saw review of the book, I knew I wanted to read it. The topic lies at the intersection of my very particular set of interests: provenance of ancient artifacts, what constitutes expertise and legitimate scholarship inside and outside of academia, and separation of church and state. To me, Bible Nation read like a compelling thriller, but slowly because Moss and Baden are careful to document their evidence in a traditionally scholarly manner, unlike the work produced by the subjects of the book.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, though I would have liked much more detail (but then, a book with the amount of details I would prefer would probably be wholly unmarketable). It suffers, however, from what I think was the authors' need for immediacy: it would have been so much more interesting, had they waited to included this year's developments (all Dead Sea Scrolls proven to be fakes, Hobby Lobby returning further 11500 illegally smuggled artefacts to Egypt and Irak). The conclusions would have been much less tentative as well: it is impossible at this point to accept that Greens and MOTB acted in good faith when more lies have been coming to light. And there's the Obbink story, with a highly respected scholar allegedly stealing papyri from the collection he had unsurpervised access and selling them to the Greens: here as well nobody asked too many questions about provenance, it seems.
I saw this at work, and was hoping that it would be a comprehensive story about their illegal importation of religious tablets labeled as "tile samples" and their lies about the country of origin that I was interested in. However, it was written right as that was breaking, and only alluded to it. It still was a great story about their questionable practices of buying up religious artifacts and "religious artifacts" for The Museum of The Bible and authenticating them. I had to stop reading the book several times, as I was infuriated at how unethical and lax and destructive their processes were in their accumulation of exhibits for the museum. But it still is a great story that I would recommend as an eye opening read.
It is utterly impossible for me to rate this extremely well-written book because of how seething mad it made me.
While not at all the message I was supposed to get out of this for my class (Cultural Heritage, Museum Studies master's degree course) all I could think about was the concept of supersessionism - essentially, a concept of Christian theology where the new, cool Jesus-related stuff completely invalidates or becomes far more important that what came before: Judaism. AKA my cultural heritage. Feels great, doesn't it? Yeah.
I mean, I already didn't like Hobby Lobby but now I really don't like Hobby Lobby.
Fascinating account of the development of the Museum of the Bible and the ways in which an evangelical ideology and mission undergirds the entire enterprise, despite the repeated claims by the Greens of presenting “just the facts” in a non-sectarian way. Sometimes the authors seems to make too much about the good-intentions of the Greens, though they are ultimately critical of the their acquisition practices and misuse of purportedly scholarly backing to tell “the story” of the Bible. Worth reading for anyone interested in evangelical Christianity and it’s impacts on the US and American culture.
The main subject of this book wasn’t what I originally expected. I was expecting a close look at the problematic collecting practices and questionable provenance of artifacts at the Museum of the Bible. Some of that is discussed, but overall the book analyzes several Green family projects, from the development of educational materials to the Green Scholars Initiative to the museum, and how these projects forward goals of the Green family regarding promotion of evangelical viewpoints and efforts to shift the dividing line between church and state. Definitely recommended.
The book should be disturbing but now that we live in Trump world, it is just stating the realities of the country within which we live. Truth is in the eye of the beholder instead of being based on fact, education is detrimental to your religious beliefs. Pluralism and compromise are profane words, but then if God is on your side, why would you compromise when you know you are right, if not factually at least morally according to your religious beliefs. Absolutism can be devastating to common sense and democracy.
Thorough critique of the Museum of the Bible enterprise of the Greens, the family that owns Hobby Lobby. Their wealth gives them heft and their faith gives them purpose, but there are costs to the public both from what they are doing and how they present it. The case is carefully made, requiring explanation of academic inquiry, the study and handling of ancient artifacts, and specific actions that can get pretty intense for a layperson.
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Excellent book - it is worth diving into this book that reveals the history of the family that runs Hobby Lobby, their museum work, and the exploration of historical truth free from ideology. Very readable.
a deep dive on how the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame uses their wealth to promote their worldview -- a combination of their flavor of Protestantism, anti-intellectualism, naivete, patriotism, and willful ignorance.
The book seems well researched and provides some insight behind the news stories I’d read about Hobby Lobby and its bible museum. The writing is a bit repetitive, though, so I did find myself skimming at times.
Excellent and important book- this displays the threats to academic freedom going on with so much privatized antiquities. Threats to the separation of Church and State, and just the generally rotten subtle religious bigotry that is often part of our public discourse.
A surprisingly generous exploration of the Green family and their drive to evangelize through education, politics, and the Museum of the Bible, by two scholars of early Christianity who are horrified by the Greens' approach to ancient artifacts.