In November 2017, the privately-funded, $500-million Museum of the Bible (MOTB) opened its doors to the public. Situated just blocks from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the MOTB is poised to wield unparalleled influence on the national and popular imagination of the Bible. Despite its connection to evangelical Christian funding, the MOTB officially eschews ties to any religious tradition. Yet, because of the nature of its subject matter, the museum cannot help but present a selective account of both Judaism and Christianity. In December 2017 at the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies in Washington, D.C. a panel of scholars applied a critical analytical lens to the MOTB as a site of power and politics. The papers interrogated the MOTB and its discursive projects from the combined perspectives of critical biblical scholarship and museum studies with a view to articulating the assumptions guiding the MOTB’s construction of Judaica, the Jewish Bible, and the land of Israel.
This panel sparked further discussion among scholars and the broader public, such as in a Washington Post article. In collaboration with AJR, scholars from this panel will be sharing their work with the larger scholarly community and the public.
Contesting the MOTB’s stabilizing definite article (“the Bible”) and the use of the category "Bible" as an organizer of history, Jill Hicks-Keeton demonstrates how the museum structures the Jewish Bible in relation to competing canons. Using resources from the museum’s displays as illustrations, she argues that the MOTB participates in Christian supersessionism vis-à-vis Judaism. James Linville contextualizes the MOTB’s use of Judaica by examining the lending relationship between MOTB and Kentucky’s “Creation Museum” and “Ark Encounter.” He argues that these exhibits demonstrate a potentially harmful ambivalence towards Judaism and that the MOTB’s involvement undermines its own aspirations for religious detachment. Using Foucault’s concept of museums as heterotopias, Sarah Porter investigates how the MOTB strategically guides visitors’ bodies through space. By pressing viewers into a false intimacy with a mythical Land of Israel, she argues, the MOTB works to conceal histories of violence and contestation.
It is the hope of the panelists and AJR that these contributions will encourage further productive discussion not only about the MOTB, but more broadly about the various ways scholarship of the bible can be presented to the public.
Jan 24th: "The Museum of Whose Bible? On the Perils of Turning Theology into History"
by Jill Hicks-Keeton (The University of Oklahoma)
Jan 29th: "The Creationist Museum of the Bible: Judaism and Judaica at the Answers in Genesis Creationist Facilities"
by James Linville (University of Lethbridge)
Jan 31st: "Incompatible Sites: The Land of Israel and the Ambulant Body in the Museum of the Bible"
by Sarah Porter (Harvard University)
Photograph used in the graphic was taken by Sarah Porter.