Thinking Critically About the Museum of the Bible


Over at Religion News Service, Yonat Shimron talks with Jill Hicks-Keeton, co-editor (with Cavan Concannon) of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction.  Full disclosure:  I have an essay in this book titled “Letting the Bible Do Its Work on Behalf of Christian America: The Founding Era at the Museum of the Bible.”

Here is a taste of the interview:

Why does this museum demand so much attention?

Part of the reason is the money invested in it. It’s in a very public place, near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. One might even think, mistakenly, that it’s a Smithsonian. This museum is poised to have some influence on the way that the public understands the Bible. Our job as educators in the field of biblical studies is to use the museum as an opportunity to teach a wider public about the academic study of the Bible and its history.

What are some of the major criticisms of the scholars?Museum of Bible Intro

If one were to read all essays, they make a case that the museum is deeply intertwined with the evangelicalism of the founding Green family. Many people say it’s not a problem for people to use private money to invest in something they think is important, (but) we bristle at the public representation of their project. They say they have no perspective and no agenda. We don’t think that’s possible or true.

Are scholars saying the museum should come out and say what its perspective is?

That’s one way to rectify what they think is wrong. But the volume is not written for the museum. Our job as scholars is to analyze and catalog and chronicle what’s happening with how the Bible is represented. If the museum leadership doesn’t make changes as a result of the book, we won’t feel like the book has failed. It’s written for a wider audience and not in order to change the museum.

Read the entire interview here.

4 thoughts on “Thinking Critically About the Museum of the Bible

  1. All museums have a perspective of kind of another. Objective neutrality is not a necessary given. So, at least some of the authors in this work are upset that the museum gives short shrift to “the assured results of higher criticism” and non-Protestant Bibles and texts. Would a museum of the Torah give space to the New Testament?


  2. After reading the interview I had the distinct impression that Dr. Hicks-Keeton is a bitter person. That might not be the case but the tone of her interview left that impression. For example, she stated …we bristle at the public representation of the project…” She also used a presumably pejorative term, “Bible boosters.” At least it came across bitterly in context to me. Does Dr. Hicks-Keeton believe in Oklahoma University boosters? Does she believe in scholarship boosters? I would not speak ill of her if she boosted those two causes. Lots of causes merit boosting. Boosting and truth are not always mutually exclusive.

    Her big failure is not acknowledging that all scholars don’t agree. Neither do all historians agree. She knows that, yet if the Museum of the Bible has an evangelical slant, she apparently sees that as a major failure. Dr. Hicks-Keeton knows full well that the Smithsonian’s historians and leaders necessarily make editorial decisions about which exhibits are even shown and how they are presented. Is she holding the Bible Museum to a standard which comparable institutions cannot humanly accomplish?


  3. Hi John,

    Disappointing that Lexington published this because very few will read it. It would have been much better as a trade publication with Baker, HarperOne, et al.


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