Did the Museum of the Bible Leave Out Jesus?

It hasn’t even opened, and yet the Museum of the Bible is already embroiled in controversy (again). The conservative blogosphere pounced after the Washington Post published an article titled, “Sneak peek: D.C.’s huge new Museum of the Bible contains lots of tech – but not a lot of Jesus.”

Planning to open its 430,000 square feet of space on November 17, the Museum of the Bible will “provide guests with an immersive and personalized experience as they explore the history, narrative, and impact of the Bible. Museum of the Bible will be an unparalleled experience, using cutting-edge technology to bring the Bible to life. It will span time, space, and cultures, inviting everyone to engage with the Bible.”

Worrying some conservatives, the Washington Post points out that the Museum of the Bible “doesn’t say a word about the Bible’s views on sexuality or contraception. The museum doesn’t encourage visitors to take the Bible literally or to believe that the Bible has only one correct form.” The article added, “And on floor after gleaming floor of exhibitions, there is very little Jesus.”

This isn’t the evangelism that the billionaire Green family first promised a decade ago when they set out to build a museum dedicated to Scripture. At the time, the museum’s mission statement promised to “bring to life the living word of God . . . to inspire confidence in the absolute authority’ of the Bible, the book at the institution’s center.”

The Washington Post article has outraged some conservatives. Newsmax sputtered out, “God’s word seems to have been watered down in the new Museum of the Bible.”

Financed in large part by the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame, the Museum of the Bible has been eagerly anticipated by conservative evangelicals since the announcement of the coming museum in 2010. The Washington Post article may put a damper on some evangelical excitement though.

The criticism that will probably ring the loudest in conservative evangelical ears is the seeming exclusion of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is also curiously not central to the museum’s presentation of the biblical story. Visitors walk through a multiroom saga of the Old Testament, and they can visit a re-creation of a 1st-century village in Galilee where actors will tell them what the villagers think of this controversial preacher Jesus. They can watch a movie about John the Baptist. But the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is almost absent.

As to be expected, progressive Christians believe that the Museum of the Bible contains too much evangelical proselytizing.

Speaking to the Washington Post, secretary of the Society of Biblical Literature Steven Friesen confesses that “there is debate in the academic community about whether to do research involving the Greens’ collection.” He is advising fellow scholars to steer clear.

Friesen hasn’t seen the museum, but he believes from reading the website that its materials subtly promote a singular version of Scripture; indeed, the museum mostly omits discussion about how the Bible was compiled and which religious traditions believe which disputed books belong in the Bible. Museum staffers say the place for discussing issues such as sexuality and abortion, which aren’t mentioned in the exhibits, might be at events hosted at the museum. Friesen thinks those events are meant to draw in influential people to hear the Greens’ opinions on the culture wars.

My guess is that they’ve worked very hard at covering what they would like to do, trying to hide the agenda that is behind the museum, defining that agenda as the promotion of their deep faith in the literal truth of the Bible.

Friesen’s negative response to the Museum of the Bible reveals far more than the conservative hand-wringing does. It would be impossible for the Museum of the Bible to satisfy every corner of evangelicalism; like most things this large, everyone can probably find something that they wish was done differently if they look hard enough. The fact that a progressive “Christian” like Steven Friesen believes that conservative Christian theology and ethics are brimming just under the surface of the Museum of the Bible should be all the reassurance that conservatives need.

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