THE MUSEUM OF THE BIBLE
MUSEUM OF THE BIBLE TIMELINE
1941: David Green was born in Emporia, Kansas.
1964: Steven Green was born to David and Barbara Green.
1970: Greco Products was founded.
1972: Hobby Lobby was founded in Oklahoma City.
1976: Hobby Lobby opened its first stores outside of Oklahoma City.
1981: Steven Green, David Green’s son, became an executive in Hobby Lobby.
2009: Steven Green began developing his collection of antiquities.
2011: Passages debuted at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
2012: Passages purchased the Washington Design Center.
2017: The Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open.
David Micah Green was born into a poor family in Emporia Kansas on November 13, 1941. The family was so poor that it relied on donations of food and clothing (Solomon 2012). His father was a pastor, and in a strongly religious family, David Green was the only one of six siblings who did not become a pastor in the conservative Church of God of Prophecy denomination (Grossman 2014). He reportedly was a mediocre student in middle school and high school and subsequently worked as a stock boy at a local McClellan’s General Store. After high school, he served in the Air Force Reserve, worked as a manager at a local TG&Y dime store, and married his high school sweetheart, Barbara (Solomon 2012). The couple had three children, two of whom later became executives in Hobby Lobby. In 1970, David Green established Greco Products, producing miniature picture frames in his garage. Two years later he opened his first Hobby Lobby retail space in Oklahoma City. The Hobby Lobby chain grew quickly: to seven stores by 1975, fifteen stores by 1989, one hundred stores by 1995, two hundred stores by 1999, and currently over five hundred stores in more than forty states.
David Green has been open in attributing the success of Hobby Lobby to God and not to himself. As he has stated, “If you have anything or if I have anything, it’s because it’s been given to us by our Creator” (Grossman 2012). He describes himself as simply a steward: “”This is not our company. This is God’s company. What are we to do? We are to operate it according to the principles He has given us in His word” (Grossman 2012). The religious influence is visible in Hobby Lobby outlets. They play Christian-themed music in the stores, run adds in local newspapers that celebrate Christmas and Easter, shutter their stores on Sundays so that employees can attend worship services, and maintain four chaplains on the corporate payroll. Hobby Lobby has also raised the minimum wage for full-time employees annually, bringing it above the national average, for religious reasons. Green has stated that “it’s only natural: “ God tells us to go forth into the world and teach the Gospel to every creature. He doesn’t say skim from your employees to do that” (Solomon 2012).
David Green is listed as one of the 100 richest Americans with over $4,000,000,000 in wealth (“The World’s Billionaires” 2015). Active leadership of Hobby Lobby and the Museum of the Bible is now passing to David Green’s son and company president Steven Green. Born in 1964, Steven Green is a Southern Baptist and a grandson and nephew of Pentecostal pastors. He met his wife, Jackie, in a church camp The Greens have six children including a daughter adopted from China (Grossman 2014).
David Green is reportedly the largest donor to evangelical causes in the U.S. and has made his Christian commitments a highly visible part of the corporate culture. Indeed, Hobby Lobby allocates half of total pretax earnings to evangelical causes. Among his initiatives are distribution of over 1,000,000,000 copies of Gospel literature throughout Africa and Asia, scripture for young children through OneHope Foundation, distribution of Bible “booklets” in poor nations around the world, and a Bible app for cell phones that makes the text available in over one hundred languages (Solomon 2012). A major source of David Green’s prominence within the evangelical community is his contributions to educational institutions. Among his gifts are a $70,000,000 gift to Oral Roberts University in 2007, $10,500,000 to Liberty University, and $16,500,000 to Zion Bible College.
The development of a Bible museum has long been a dream of the Oklahoma-based Green family. This vision can be found in its non-profit tax filing documents. In 2011, for example, the projected museum’s mission was stated as: “To bring to life the living Word of God, to tell its compelling story of preservation, and to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible” (Caplan-Bricker 2014; Boorstein; 2014). For David Green, “It’s God, it’s history, and we want to show that” (Solomon 2012). He insists that the intent is not to proselytize but rather to simply put visitors in touch with God’s book: “We would like to invite all people to come and learn about the book that has impacted all of our world. So our desire is to engage all people. It’s a book that‘s had a huge impact. It’s been controversial. It’s been loved. It’s been hated. We just think people ought to know about it” (O’Connell 2015). As the public relations firm that the Green’s hired to publicize the planned museum put it, the intent is “to showcase both the Old and New Testaments, arguably the world’s most significant pieces of literature, through a non-sectarian, scholarly approach that makes the history, scholarship and impact of the Bible on virtually every facet of society accessible to everyone” (Lindsey 2014). Green is confident about the outcome: “So what? Is that the end of life, making more money and building something?” Green asks, answer already in hand. “For me, I want to know that I have affected people for eternity. I believe I am. I believe once someone knows Christ as their personal savior, I’ve affected eternity” (Solomon 2012).
The origination of what will become a Bible museum occurred in 2009 when David Green began searching the world for ancient sacred manuscripts. He spent over $30,000,000 on his initial acquisitions, although the artifacts are now worth many times that initial expenditure (Rappeport 2014). The first display of the growing collection of artifacts took the form of “Passages,” a touring exhibition. The inaugural display occurred in 2011 at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art; exhibitions followed in Atlanta, Charlotte, Colorado Springs, and Springfield. The exhibitions included features such as holographic recreations of biblical scenes, re-enactments of biblical transcriptions by monks, and a multimedia presentation of the story of Noah’s Ark (Rappeport 2014). Passages was subsequently folded into the larger Museum of the Bible Project. Decisions on acquisitions are coordinated through the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI), which consists of scholars and consultants from a number of internationally renowned universities and a large number of evangelical liberal arts institutions. GSI also administers an “elective Bible curriculum for high school students” (Lindsey 2014).
There was some initial debate over the most appropriate location for the planned museum, but Washington, D.C. ultimately waschosen for its “tourists, robust museum culture and national profile” (Rappeport 2014). In 2012, the Museum of the Bible, the formal name of the Green’s foundation purchased a 400,000 square-foot building that earlier had been a refrigeration warehouse and then the Washington Design Center for $50,000,000 (Rappeport 2014). The building is situated only five blocks five from the U.S. Capitol. While widely referred to as the Museum of the Bible after the Green’s foundation, the museum actually has yet to be officially named. Both Passages and the Green Scholars Initiative are components of the Museum of the Bible.
According to collection managers, the entire collection consists of “more than 40,000 antiquities [and] includes some of the rarest and most valuable biblical and classical pieces … ever assembled under one roof” (Lindsey 2014). The collection is to be organized into three sections, presenting the history of the Bible, biblical stories, and the Bible’s impact. The roof of the museum will feature a “Biblical Garden” containing biblical-era plant life. The massive collection includes items such as large numbers of Dead Sea Scrolls, Torahs, biblical documents written on sheets of papyrus ; a copy of Wycliffe’s New Testament; a fragment of the Tyndale New Testament; a portion of the Gutenberg Bible; materials belonging to Martin Luther; and an early version of the King James Bible (O’Connell 2015). Perhaps the hallmark of the collection is the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, manuscripts containing New Testament text in Palestinian Aramaic, Jesus’ household language. The text includes the historic utterance by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani”) (Boorstein 2014).
Hobby Lobby became a household name when David Green publicly opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
because it contained a provision mandating companies to provide health care policies that included certain types of birth control. Hobby Lobby does maintain a free health care clinic for staff at its headquarters and provides employees with insurance that includes several types of contraception coverage. However, the company has intrauterine devices and “morning-after” pills that could “prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb” (Grossman 2014). Hobby Lobby brought suit against the federal government over the contraception mandate that was heard by the Supreme Court. On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor in a close 5-4 decision that “closely held” stock corporations could exempt themselves from the law (Grossman 2014; Boorstein 2014). The court based its decision not on First Amendment provisions but rather on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While evangelicals welcomed the outcome, the case also raised concerns in other quarters that a partisan religious agenda might also be embedded in the Museum of the Bible’s displays. Indeed, Steven Green has referred to the Bible as “a reliable historical document” and “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught” (Rappeport 2014). Will the museum then function as an educational institution or an extension of the evangelical mission?
Some critics remain unsure. Lindsey (2014) has commented that the museum implies that biblical history and national heritage are part of a common story that is still unfolding. Modern-day political battles emerge quite clearly as the “hidden transcript” to the official message of the Bible’s “indestructability”—as another layer of meaning lying just beneath the surface. She explains:
The Museum conveys political arguments through various spokespersons—Martin Luther, Anne Boleyn, St. Jerome—who speak directly to audiences either as video displays or animatronics and who bear witness to the twin virtues of accessibility and individual authority in matters of scriptural interpretation. Passages is decidedly Protestant in conceptualization, positioning Jewish scriptures as incomplete antecedents to Christian scriptures and collapsing the sweep of Jewish history—no matter how recent—into an uncontested “past.” A display early in the exhibit, for instance, moves seamlessly from first-century papyrus fragments to nineteenth-century Torah tiks with no reference to the intervening centuries of cultural, social, or theological development. Catholic history is likewise presented as a historical backdrop, full of textual inaccuracies, deliberate obfuscations, and compulsory interpretations that the Reformation corrected through vernacular translations that “folks like us can understand,” as a peasant woman pleads with her unconvinced neighbor in a video display; and the theological privileging of individual interpretation, as Martin Luther explains in an imaginatively staged video debate with Desiderius Erasmus and Johann Eck in the “Reformation Theater.” The entire sweep of Western history is stitched into a synchronized narrative of the birth of freedom.
For its part, Green has disavowed any resemblance to the Creation Museum or any attempt to use the museum as tool for evangelization. He has stated that “We’re not discussing a lot of particulars of the book. It’s more of a high-level discussion of here’s this book, what is its history and impact and what is its story” (O’Connell 2015; Sheir 2015). One step the museum has taken to shore up its image is the hiring of scholar David Trobisch to consult on the selection of items to be displayed in the museum and to connect with prestigious universities and scholars (Van Biema 2015) :
A former Heidelberg University professor, Trobisch also acts as roving ambassador to the worlds of high academia and top-rate museums. His presence poses a conundrum to the Greens’ many critics: As believers that the Bible is God-given and inerrant, could the family — and the museum that is their brainchild — be more open to dispassionate scholarship than previously assumed?
Trobisch describes his relationship with the museum and Steven Green as “two parties standing at opposite ends of the Christian spectrum talking to each other and working together. This almost never happens in the U.S.” He supports the legitimacy of the museum by asserting that on principle he would not be associated with an evangelical mission: “Were the museum to be revealed to be “some kind of missionary activity,” he said, “It would be an enormous disappointment. I could not identify or work for a museum that wanted to do that” (Van Biema 2015).
Boorstein, Michele. “Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green Has Big Plans for His Bible Museum in Washington.” 2014. Washington Post , September 12. Accessed from http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/hobby-lobbys-steve-green-has-big-plans-for-his-bible-museum-in-washington/2014/09/11/52e20444-1410-11e4-8936-26932bcfd6ed_story.html on 10 May 2015.
Caplan-Bricker, Nora. 2014. “The Hobby Lobby President Is Also Building a Bible Museum for Over $70 Million.” New Republic, March 25. Accessed from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117145/museum-bible-hobby-lobby-founders-other-religious-project on 10 March 2015 on 10 May 2015.
Grossman, Cathy Lynn. 2014. “ Hobby Lobby’s Steve Green stands on faith against Obamacare mandate.” Religion News, March 17. Accessed from http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/17/hobby-lobby-steve-green-scotus-contraception/ on 10 May 2015.
Lindsey, Rachel McBride. 2014. “ Passages: A Glimpse into the Hobby Lobby Family’s Bible Museum. Religion & Politics,” September 24. Accessed from
http://religionandpolitics.org/2014/09/24/passages-a-glimpse-into-the-hobby-lobby-familys-bible-museum/ on 10 May 2015.
O’Connell, Jonathan. 2015. “Even Non-believers May Want to Visit the $400 Million Museum of the Bible.” Washington Post, February 12. Accessed from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2015/02/12/even-non-believers-may-want-to-visit-the-400-million-museum-of-the-bible/ o n 10 May 2015.
Rappeport, Alan. 2014. “Family That Owns Hobby Lobby Plans Bible Museum in Washington.” New York Times, July 16. Accessed from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/17/us/politics/family-that-owns-hobby-lobby-plans-bible-museum-in-washington.html?_r=0 on 10 May 2015.
Sheir, Rebecca 2015. “D.C. Bible Museum Will Be Immersive Experience, Organizers Say.” NPR, February 25. Accessed from
http://www.npr.org/2015/02/25/388700013/d-c-bible-museum-will-be-immersive-experience-organizers-say on 10 May 2015.
Solomon, Brian. 2012. “David Green: The Biblical Billionaire Backing the Evangelical Movement.” Forbes, October 8. Accessed from http://www.forbes.com/sites/briansolomon/2012/09/18/david-green-the-biblical-billionaire-backing-the-evangelical-movement/ on 10 May 2015.
“The World’s Billionaires: #246 David Green.” 2015. Forbes. Accessed from http://www.forbes.com/profile/david-green/ on 10 March 2015.
Van Biema, David 2015. “David Trobisch Lends Green Family’s Bible Museum a Scholarly Edge.” Religion News, April 27. Accessed from http://www.religionnews.com/2015/04/27/david-trobisch-lends-green-familys-bible-museum-scholarly-edge/
David G. Bromley
28 May 2015