Critics call it evangelical propaganda
|(Eva Vazquez/for The Washington Post)|
By Noah Charney September 4
Noah Charney is an art historian and the author of “The Art of Forgery.”
In Washington, separation of church and state isn’t just a principle of governance, it’s an architectural and geographic rule as well. Pierre L’Enfant envisioned a national church on Eighth Street. A patent office was built on the site instead. More than 100 years later, the city finally got its National Cathedral — far from Capitol Hill, in the upper northwest corner of town. The downtown skyline is dominated by monuments to men; the Holocaust Museum and altarpieces in the National Gallery of Art are the closest things to religion you’ll find on the Mall. Washington, of course, has its believers, but they practice too many faiths to fit under one roof.
Now, though, the Good Book is coming to town in a big way. The Museum of the Bible — backed by the evangelical owners of the craft store Hobby Lobby, who famously took their objections to contraception and Obamacare to the Supreme Court — is set to open in 2017, just off the Mall. The proximity of the museum to the world-class Smithsonian and the Capitol has raised eyebrows. How will it fit in among the venerable institutions lining the Mall? How will it function in a multicultural city? And what version of the Bible will we get?
To many in the scholarly community, the museum seems like an oversize piece of evangelical claptrap. Some academics and curators also worry about the origins of its collection — the more than 40,000 biblical artifacts were amassed in a remarkably short time by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green. But the museum is trying to pitch itself as deserving of its spot. Last month, it inked a deal to display a selection of objects from the Israeli government’s eminent Antiquities Authority. And it has hired David Trobisch, a prominent liberal academic, to head its collection. It will be up to Trobisch to win over skeptics and transform this intriguing assembly of artifacts into an institution that brings a bit of church to a secular state.