An Explanation of Why I Oppose the Proposed Iowa “Bible Literacy” Bill

Iowa lawmakers recently introduced an election-year piece of legislation into the Iowa legislature. Mackenzie Ryan describes the bill in a recent article Iowa City Press-Citizen report:

House File 2031 would direct the state Department of Education to prepare material and teacher training for a high school elective course that focuses on the Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible’s New Testament. It would be a social studies class.

“Basically, I want to give students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture,” said state Rep. Dean Fisher, R- Montour, who introduced the bill along with 11 other Republicans.

On Tuesday, July 30, a three-person subcommittee voted to advance the bill to the full Education committee for consideration.

In response to this legislation, I and two colleagues who teach Biblical studies at regent universities in Iowa–Prof. Hector Avalos of Iowa State University and Prof. Kenneth Atkinson of University of Northern Iowa–penned a guest editorial for the Press-Citizen, which can be read here. In it, we explain why we oppose such legislation.

In addition to the reasons mentioned in the letter, let me add a few thoughts that were too lengthy for the short op-ed.

First, our public high school teachers are already asked to teach too much for far too little pay. Are Iowa legislators really going to ask high school teachers to take the additional time necessary to receive adequate training in religious literature and Biblical studies in order to teach this course for the same pay? Are state legislators going to set aside extra money to train high school teachers how to teach the Bible as literature objectively? (Or, were the Iowa Republican sponsors of the bill just going to allow high school teachers to teach whatever denominational interpretation of the scriptures those teachers choose to bring into the classroom?)

THE PROBLEM WITH THE OPENING PARAGRAPH

Second, despite couching this bill as one establishing a “Biblical literacy” course, note that the opening paragraph of the legislation would allow a school district the option of offering a course on the New Testament alone. That is, each school has the option of offering a Hebrew Bible course, a Christian Bible course (i.e., an Old and New Testament course), or simply a New Testament course (option 2). Were option 2 to be chosen, it would cease to be a “Bible” literacy course, and would become a “New Testament” literacy course, as the New Testament comprises only 30% of the Christian Bible. That is to say, the Hebrew Bible is the complete Bible for Jews, and the Old and New Testaments comprise the Bible for Christians. However, a “New Testament only” course is NO ONE’S BIBLE. No Christian denomination views the New Testament alone as its Bible. Marcion of Sinope attempted this very thing in the second century CE, and he, his Bible (with no Old Testament), and his entire movement were branded heretics and excommunicated!

A “New Testament only” course is not a “Bible” course; it is nothing more than an attempt to teach the teachings and life of Jesus to public schoolchildren using taxpayer dollars.

THE PROBLEM WITH SECTION 2.2

There is also a problem with § 2.2 (pg. 2, lines 16-23) of the bill, which states:

A student enrolled in a course offered and taught pursuant to section 256.7, subsection 33, and this section, shall not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text for the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament of the Bible for the course, and may use instead a translation other than the text chosen for the course by the teacher, the school improvement advisory committee, the school district, or the state board of education.

This is one of the most problematic paragraphs of a highly problematic bill! This bill is being touted as a “Bible literacy” course. And regardless of the pros and cons of its text, the King James Version of the Bible has had the most impact on the English language because, among other reasons, it has been around the longest.

However, we don’t speak King James English anymore. So, this bill proposes that Iowa public high school teachers teach the Bible (which was originally written in Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Aramaic, and Hellenistic Greek) in English translation.

And yet, this bill states that students “shall not be required to use a specific translation as the sole text for the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament of the Bible for the course” (emphasis mine). This means that the state will be asking high school teachers to teach a Bible literacy class, in English, while students in that course are allowed to use different versions and translations of the Biblical text!

Anyone who has ever taught even a Sunday School class knows how difficult it is to read the Bible in a class where students are reading from different versions of the Bible–the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the American Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, the Christian Standard Bible, and so on. And Heaven forbid some student choose to read from a paraphrase like Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Yet, according to the legislation, all of these will be permitted. This will be chaos!

(Insider’s note: The reason this clause was likely added to the bill was because many Christians–the King James Only movement–believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only ordained, infallible, inerrant, authorized, etc., version of Holy Scripture, and that all other translations are in error (read: heretical). However, the Iowa educators sponsoring this bill know they can’t dictate that Iowa public schoolchildren learn the King James Version of the Bible, as teaching Iowa public schoolchildren King James English would look silly, and would likewise instantly betray the theological exercise this entire enterprise has been from the start.

So, they have written a bill that proposes a curriculum in a modern, readable English translation, but have included an exception that allows for students to use whatever translation they choose, making accommodations in advance for what will certainly be the theological objections of religious conservatives who would demand to use only their King James Version. That’s why section 2.2 is in the bill. It is a tacit admission within the text of the bill itself that there are already theological issues with this proposal, and that those issues are not coming from Jews and Muslims and atheists, but will be coming from conservative religious fundamentalists.)

There is still another problem with section 2.2 of this “Bible literacy” bill. Note that section 2.2 does not limit the student’s choice of a translation to an English translation. This is either a mistake on the part of the drafters of the bill, or a concession that they cannot limit translations to English translation for the same reason described above. Let me explain.

Many Iowans are devout, Spanish-speaking Christians. And for many of these Spanish-speaking Christians–Catholics and Protestants alike–the Reina-Valera, the dominant Spanish translation of the Bible and one of the top-ten bestsellers annually in the United States, holds the same authority to them as does the King James Version to “King James Only” Christians. Even for some bilingual public school students who speak English while in at school, asking them to read from any version of the Bible other than the Spanish language Reina-Valera would be the equivalent of asking a “King James Only” Christian to read from the New International Version–they would have serious, and constitutionally credible first amendment religious objections to such a requirement–objections that this bill has already conceded and attempted to remedy with section 2.2 of this bill!

The result, of course, is that we now could potentially have some students reading from the Spanish Reina-Valera, some others reading from the KJV, still others reading from The Message, and still others reading from the New American Standard verstion. When this happens the entire idea of a “Bible literacy” class becomes a cacophony of Bible-babble.

And of course, my children, the sons and daughter of a professor of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, will be learned in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. And because they can bring with them any version of the Bible they choose according to section 2.2 of this bill, they may very well bring with them to class the actual Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts of the Bible, and read from the actual Bible in their “Bible literacy” class. Hopefully their teachers will have taken Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and will be able to understand the contributions they are making to the class.

All of the above scenarios fall well within the parameters of § 2.2 of the present bill.

THE LARGER PROBLEM WITH THE BIBLE LITERACY BILL

Of course, there is still the larger underlying problem with this “Bible literacy” bill. The problem stems from a fundamental rule of translation:

“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TRANSLATION WITHOUT INTERPRETATION!”

This is true for any language, and it is not limited to religion. It is simply not possible to translate without interpreting. It is certainly not possible to translate religious scriptures without making theological value judgments while making said translation. Thus, the very act of reading a translated religious text to a classroom full of high school students is by nature a theological act, because the English text being read in the class required theological judgments to be made in order to produce the translation!

This is why some denominations produce their own English translations, and why so many Christians live and die, for instance, by the King James Version–they see other, variant translations as theologically flawed, not simply literarily flawed.

And in the end, this is the reason why I cannot support a “Bible literacy” class in public high schools, despite the fact that I teach Bible literacy for a living(!)–the very act of selecting passages from religious scripture and reading it to a class in translation is a theological act! I’ll explain how in a moment.

Understanding the holy scripture of any religion requires extensive training, preferably in the original languages in which the religious texts were produced. At the very least, teaching religious texts to students requires a thorough knowledge of all of the texts–not just the parts you like, the parts that inspire you personally–as well as a knowledge of how to teach these texts objectively so that the teaching of the literature does not cross over into proselytization and the teaching of the religion, and most troublingly from a legal perspective, why the student ought to come to believe in or adhere to the religious texts being taught in class.

The fact that a text is taught in a public high school classroom is a tacit endorsement of said text. It is why our public schools rightly teach courses on the U.S. Constitution and great works of English literature by Shakespeare, Dickens, and Salinger, but not all schools teach courses on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, or Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book–many parents don’t want their high school students exposed to literature that challenges what they have been taught to this extent, at least not yet.

Some parents don’t want their kids exposed to Christian religious scriptures in public schools for the same reason that many Christian parents would immediately object to the Islamic Qur’an being read in the public classroom, even just as literature! To read the Christian Bible in the public classroom and expose students to it is to make a theological claim. It not only implies that Christianity shaped America (which it absolutely did), but suggests to some students that they should learn about the Bible and Christianity so that they can continue to shape America. Again, this is a theological, value judgment.

The Iowa lawmakers proposing this “Bible literacy” bill are arguing that the Bible teaches “American values”, and should be taught along with Shakespeare, Dickens, and Salinger. However, they are wrong on two counts. The first is simple: the works of William Shakespeare are not religious texts (except for some at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Dept. of English, who no doubt worship them as such).

The second issue with the claim that the Bible is the core of “American values” is rooted in the myth–the absolute myth–that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” I have written on this before here and here. The U.S. was founded by many Christians, but they chose not to found it as a “Christian nation”. They had already thought this through and knew better than to mention Jesus and/or Christianity in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution. They wanted religious education left to parents at home and to priests and preachers and rabbis and imams in houses of worship.

“BIBLE LITERACY” AND “AMERICAN VALUES” IN THE CLASSROOM: AN EXERCISE

Let me demonstrate for a moment how a teacher could frame a “Bible literacy” course in a public high school, if his or her intent was to demonstrate that “American values” came from the Christian Bible.

When I teach the Bible at the University of Iowa, I give my students the English translation, and then show them the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek that underlies the text. They don’t need to know Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, I just want to show them that these verses come from a context–a context that is not in America, and not in Europe, but a context that is in the Middle East about 2000-3000 years ago. And because these religious scriptures that came to be known as the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible became sacred to Jews and Christians, what is said in them indeed influenced the laws that were made throughout Europe and in the United States.

A public high school teacher could do what I do in my university courses. He or she could show students how the Bible influenced America’s laws and culture. In fact, they could show them the very verses from Holy Scripture that were used by European and American politicians to support civil legislation in the modern world.

SLAVERY

For instance, Iowa high school teachers could show their students where slavery in America came from. When we established the United States, slavery was legal. Interestingly, the Bible supported, defended, and positively influenced the ownership of slaves in the United States. This is because, of course, God himself told his faithful followers precisely how to make slaves in Leviticus 25:44-46:

Lev. 25:44–As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that YOU MAY ACQUIRE MALE AND FEMALE SLAVES.

Lev. 25:45–You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; AND THEY MAY BE YOUR PROPERTY.

Lev. 25:46–You may KEEP THEM AS A POSSESSION for your children after you, for them TO INHERIT AS PROPERTYTHESE YOU MAY TREAT AS SLAVES

Why was there slavery in the United States? The Bible says it is OK. GOD HIMSELF says it is ok. Read it yourself.

An Iowa public school teacher could also show his or her students how, far from some “I have a Dream speech”, the New Testament never rescinds these slavery commands, but, in fact, three times reinforces slavery in Colossians, 1 Peter, and Ephesians:

Col. 3:22–SLAVES, OBEY YOUR EARTHLY MASTERS IN EVERYTHING, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.

1 Pet. 2:18–SLAVES, ACCEPT THE AUTHORITY OF YOUR MASTERS WITH ALL DEFERENCE, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh.

Eph. 6:5–SLAVES, OBEY YOUR EARTHLY MASTERS WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ

They could then show public high school students how God instructs his faithful on the proper way to sell one’s daughter as a slave, as sanctioned by Exodus 21:7-11:

Ex. 21:7–WHEN A MAN SELLS HIS DAUGHTER AS A SLAVE, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.

Ex. 21:8–If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her.

Ex. 21:9–IF HE DESIGNATES HER FOR HIS SONhe shall deal with her as with a daughter.

Ex. 21:10–IF HE TAKES ANOTHER WIFE FOR HIMSELF, HE SHALL NOT DIMINISH THE FOOD, CLOTHING, OR MARITAL RIGHTS OF THE FIRST WIFE.

Ex. 21:11–And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.

So, if we want to know about “American values”, and we want to know where the idea that one human can own another human being came from, we can read the Bible, because it is the Bible that sanctions the making of slaves. As a bonus, the class could discuss how God allowed men to take on second wives (polygamy) in Exodus 21:10.

WOMEN

An Iowa public high school teacher could then turn to the role of women. The issue of equal pay for equal work for men and women is hotly debated today, but before that it was women’s suffrage–a woman’s right to vote–that dominated the national debate. When this country was established, women did not have the right to vote. But why was that the case? Why weren’t women afforded equality with men?

Once again, the Bible is an excellent place to turn to see why women always took a back seat to men. First, an Iowa public high school teacher could have students read Leviticus 12:2-5:

Lev. 12:2–Speak to the people of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and bears A MALE CHILD, she shall be ceremonially unclean SEVEN DAYS; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.

Lev. 12:3–On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.

Lev. 12:4–Her time of blood purification shall be THIRTY-THREE DAYS; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.

Lev. 12:5–If she bears A FEMALE CHILD, she shall be unclean TWO WEEKS, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be SIXTY-SIX DAYS.

Apparently, according to God’s commands in the Bible, mothers who gave birth to daughters were unclean for twice as long as those who gave birth to sons. Likewise, a new mother’s time of isolation following the birth of a daughter was twice as long than had she borne a son. So from birth, giving birth to a son possessed an advantage.

The teacher could then have students read Leviticus 27:2-7, which states explicitly that men are quantitatively worth more than women:

Lev. 27:2–Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being,

Lev. 27:3–THE EQUIVALENT FOR THE MALE SHALL BE: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be FIFTY shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel.

Lev. 27:4–IF THE PERSON IS A FEMALE, the equivalent is THIRTY shekels.

Lev. 27:5–If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is TWENTY SHEKELS FOR A MALE and TEN SHEKELS FOR A FEMALE.

Lev. 27:6–If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a MALE is FIVE shekels of silver, and for a FEMALE the equivalent is THREE shekels of silver.

Lev. 27:7–And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the equivalent for a MALE is FIFTEEN shekels, and for a FEMALETEN shekels.

But it is not just in the Old Testament that the value of women is less than that of men. The New Testament preserves the subjugation of women in its literature. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:3 says the following:

1 Cor. 11:3–But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and THE HUSBAND IS THE HEAD OF HIS WIFE, and God is the head of Christ.

The teacher could then ask students whether it is ok for the women in the classroom to raise their hands and ask questions. When they look at the teacher with a perplexed look, he or she could have them read the literature present in 1 Timothy 2:11-14–an argument that is rooted in a historical Adam and Eve:

1 Tim. 2:11–LET A WOMAN LEARN IN SILENCE WITH FULL SUBMISSION.

1 Tim. 2:12–I PERMIT NO WOMAN TO TEACH OR HAVE AUTHORITY OVER A MAN; SHE IS TO KEEP SILENT.

1 Tim. 2:13–For Adam was formed first, then Eve;

1 Tim. 2:14–and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

We the high school students have a discussion about whether it is ok for women to have authority over men, either as Governor of Iowa, Mayor of an Iowa city, CEO of an Iowa corporation, or the Speaker of the Iowa General Assembly. And imagine the awkwardness when all of the wonderful women teaching in our Iowa public high schools read 1 Tim. 2:12: “I permit no woman to teach.”

But of course, the subordination of women is not limited to the public realm–it extends to the religious realm as well, as least so says 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

1 Cor. 14:34–WOMEN SHOULD BE SILENT IN THE CHURCHES. FOR THEY ARE NOT PERMITTED TO SPEAK, BUT SHOULD BE SUBORDINATE, AS THE LAW ALSO SAYS.

1 Cor. 14:35–IF THERE IS ANYTHING THEY DESIRE TO KNOW, LET THEM ASK THEIR HUSBANDS AT HOME. FOR IT IS SHAMEFUL FOR A WOMAN TO SPEAK IN CHURCH.

This text appears to be consistent with the literature found in Ephesians 5:22-24:

Eph. 5:22–WIVES, BE SUBJECT TO YOUR HUSBANDS as you are to the Lord.

Eph. 5:23–For THE HUSBAND IS THE HEAD OF THE WIFE just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.

Eph. 5:24–Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also WIVES OUGHT TO BE, IN EVERYTHING, TO THEIR HUSBANDS.

I guess it is possible that an Iowa high school teacher could explain that “just as Christ is the head of the Church” is actually a positive thing, but this would require the teacher to engage in some rather sophisticated theological explanation, which of course would be prohibited by law.

You can also imagine how the mothers and fathers of daughters in Iowa high school classrooms might feel to have this “literature” read to their children, not to mention how the women in the classroom might feel when they hear that the Bible is telling them to “be subject” to their future husbands. Of course, what it means to “be subject in everything” ventures into some conversations that I’m guessing most public high school teachers don’t want to have with their students!

It doesn’t take long to understand why women’s suffrage took so long in the United States. Women had to convince voters across the country that despite what the Bible clearly says, women should not be seen as subordinates to men. Women can exercise authority over men, are equal to men under the law, and should have every right and privilege that men do–again, despite what the Bible says!

OTHER “AMERICAN VALUES”

There are other bits of literature that we can read from the Bible that pertain to issues in the United States. For instance, Iowa high school teachers can show their students the proper way to commit genocide, as strictly prescribed by God himself in 1 Sam. 15:2-3:

1Sam. 15:2–THUS SAYS THE LORD OF HOSTS, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.

1Sam. 15:3–Now GO AND ATTACK AMALEK, AND UTTERLY DESTROY ALL THAT THEY HAVE; DO NOT SPARE THEM, BUT KILL BOTH MAN AND WOMAN, CHILD AND INFANT, OX AND SHEEP, CAMEL AND DONKEY.”

This text is often overlooked as an “American value”, because like slavery, it is a period in our nation’s history that we’d like to forget. But in the Midwest, and to our Native-American brothers and sisters, the biblical verses depicting God instructing his faithful exactly how to obliterate those peoples who fight against them and do not worship as they do as they attempt to conquer and settle the new land they believe to be given to them by God is as relevant today as it was two centuries ago.

It’s a difficult passage to read. In the above text, God tells Israel how to commit genocide.

Again, one might be tempted to explain, “Well, you see, what God did here is actually OK, because of the sin of Amalek…”, but as soon as one invokes “sin” or “disobedience” or “divine justification” for the genocide described in the literature, one is instantly engaging in a theological apologetic–the teacher is doing theology–which is prohibited by law. Furthermore, the fact that “God commanded them to do so, so it’s OK” is the same rationale that ISIS gives for what it does will not be lost on our public high school students.

And finally, when it comes to genocide and warfare, a public high school teacher might show his or her class one of the psalms from the Bible that celebrates revenge in the form of infanticide against the enemies of Israel in Psalm 137:8-9:

Psa. 137:8–O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

Psa. 137:9–HAPPY SHALL THEY BE WHO TAKE YOUR LITTLE ONES AND DASH THEM AGAINST THE ROCK!

THE POINT OF THIS EXERCISE

By now, many of you should be saying, “Come now, professor Cargill, this is absurd! You are only choosing verses that cast Judaism and Christianity and God himself in a very negative light. Why aren’t you showing the positive verses in the Bible like the following:

Isaiah 40:31–but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Josh. 1:9–I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

John 13:34–I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Psalm 23:4–Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

Matthew 7:7–“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Psalm 55:22–Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Proverbs 30:5–Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 119:114–You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.

Psalm 119:115–Go away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.

1 John 4:7–Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:8–Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Nahum 1:7–The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him,

Philippians 4:13–I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

(I show these verses to my class, by the way.)

Here’s the point of the exercise:

As soon as someone makes the above comment–“Why are you showing the negative Biblical literature that makes God and the Bible look “bad” instead of the positive Biblical literature that is encouraging and inspiring and gives people hope, you know, the positive, good Bible verses?”–that person has made my point for me!

Teachers obviously can’t read the entire Bible in a “Bible literacy” class. This means the teacher must choose which verses from the Bible he or she is going to share with the class. And as soon as the teacher chooses one verse over another, he or she is making a value judgment about the Bible. The teacher is choosing how he or she wants to portray the Bible to his or her class.

Let me put it another way: BY SIMPLY READING BIBLE VERSES IN A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM AS PART OF A “BIBLE LITERACY” COURSE, TEACHERS ARE ENGAGING IN THEOLOGY! This is because the verses they choose to read in class are chosen in an effort to paint the Bible in a particular light.

Note the following: at no point in the above exercise did I theologize or preach or engage in any “religious” activity. All I did was read texts from the Bible: Leviticus 25:44-46; Colossians 3:22; 1 Peter 2:18; Ephesians 6:5; Exodus 21:7-11; ; Psalm 137:8-9, etc. All I did was read verses from the Bible, God’s holy word! And still, some of you–devout people of faith(!)–were offended. Imagine if a high school teacher had done that in your child’s classroom.

I simply read “Bible literature”. And this is my point: there is no such thing as a simple “Bible literacy” class. This is because there is no such thing as translation without interpretation. This means that any “Bible literacy” class necessarily involves theology because the verses that are read are a highly subjective selection, and the very act of selecting which verses of the Bible to read in class is a theological act!

The act of reading the Bible in a public high school is a theological act. It would be a state-sanctioned violation of the separation of church and state, and therefore unconstitutional. This bill should not be enacted into law. In fact, it should die in committee.

Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor of Classics and Religious Studies, The University of Iowa
Editor, Biblical Archaeology Review

 

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The Museum of the Bible: Why Are Archaeologists and Bible Scholars So Mad?

On November 17, 2017, the Museum of the Bible will open in Washington, DC, just south of the national mall. It promises to be the one of the world’s largest collection of biblical manuscripts, offering visitors a shrine dedicated to both the history of the Bible and the literature it contains.

One would expect biblical scholars nationwide to welcome such a museum with resounding enthusiasm. But this is not the case.

The idea of a Museum of the Bible elicits two very different reactions among biblical scholars and archaeologists. Conservative Evangelicals are responding to the Museum with open arms and open wallets. Other biblical scholars, however, have shuddered, bemoaning both the process by which some of the museum’s objects were collected and the proposed manner in which the museum will present the Bible to the public. In fact, the Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, Dr. Candida Moss, and Yale Divinity School Professor of Hebrew Bible, Dr. Joel Baden, have just co-authored a new book entitled Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton University Press), detailing Steve Green’s involvement in the antiquities trade, biblical education, and his forthcoming museum.

In order to understand these polarized reactions, we must first understand the two main, yet vastly different approaches to teaching the Bible and biblical archaeology.

Critical vs. Confessional Methodology

One reason for the binary scholarly reaction to the Museum of the Bible is rooted in methodology. It is not the case that academics in state and secular schools hate the Bible, while confessional scholars at private, Christian universities love it. This is a false dichotomy. Scholars in both groups have given their careers to teaching the significance of the Bible, its text, and its cultural context to students and the public alike, as the Bible and Christianity have made an indelible impact on the development of nearly every aspect of western culture, and thus the development of the world. All educated individuals should possess at least some knowledge of the stories and teachings found in the Bible, as well as knowledge of how the Bible came to be and its role and place in society.

Neither does the difference in scholarly reaction lie in the fact that biblical scholars at private Jewish and Christian schools believe what the Bible is saying, while those at secular and highly ranked private universities do not. This is also a false characterization. To be sure, there are plenty of devout Jews and Christians teaching at state universities and the nation’s top private schools.

The difference between confessional Bible scholars and those at state, private secular, and the nation’s highest-ranked universities is the approach they take to teaching the Bible. Whether confessional, agnostic, or atheistic, Bible scholars and archaeologists who take a critical approach (“critical” here meaning “analytical”, not “disparaging”) use a scientific approach to the textual and archaeological evidence. They employ reason, logic, evidence, and use replicable tests and experiments to arrive at their conclusions. Perhaps most importantly, they teach and publish the results of their research, even if those results conflict with their personal religious beliefs. This “critical method” is what the nation’s top colleges seek in the professors they hire.

So whether a scholar is personally a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, or part of a Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox Jewish tradition, those who employ a critical methodology, whose research conclusions are based solely on the evidence under analysis, and not on the researcher’s personal religious beliefs or what they want to be true, are considered “critical scholars”.

The other approach is called a “confessional” approach. This approach serves an apologetic function that usually seeks to defend the researcher’s personal religious beliefs or those of the researcher’s employer. This explains why the small handful of university instructors and researchers, for example, who claim that the earth is only 6,000 years old and was created according to the biblical creation accounts, work for the likes of Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis or private, sectarian religious institutions. Scholars employing a confessional approach tend to work only for organizations that are seeking a predetermined result. It explains why scholars at, let’s say, a conservative Baptist seminary usually tend to produce research reaffirming conservative Baptist beliefs—they produce results that satisfy their employer’s beliefs, even when, or perhaps more accurately, explaining why their conclusions are often contrary to what the vast majority of critical biblical scholars conclude.

This confessional approach also explains why many conservative Christian colleges require their faculty members to sign “statements of faith”, making them promise never to teach or publish anything that is contrary to the school’s predetermined religious and theological beliefs as a precondition of employment. Those professors who do so are often immediately fired.[1] Their crime? They published or taught biblical or archaeological research based on the evidence that differed from what their respective confessional colleges had already agreed was true.

In fact, to aid in this endeavor of achieving only theologically agreeable research results, an overwhelming majority of these confessional colleges do not offer tenure to their professors. Because tenure protects researchers from being terminated for their academic speech, many confessional schools simply do not offer it. They opt instead to offer year-to-year or periodic contracts (e.g., renewable 5-year contracts). This allows a confessional college to rid itself of any professor who dares teach or publish results that are contrary to the confessional guidelines of the employer by simply not renewing the professor’s contract.

Such a confessional approach to teaching the Bible and biblical archaeology is not objective research—it is theological apologetics disguising as research, as the scholar’s employer has already predetermined the outcomes and conclusions of the so-called “research”.

Steve Green, Hobby Lobby, and Obamacare

Now that we understand the difference between critical and confessional research, we can better understand the first reason critical biblical scholars and archaeologists have been wary of the Museum of the Bible. Specifically, their discomfort arises from the man behind the museum, Steve Green, and many of the statements he has made regarding the approach his museum would be taking in its presentation of the objects in his collection.

The billionaire founder of the chain of Hobby Lobby craft stores, Steve Green is a devout Baptist, and his faith extends to his company. The Hobby Lobby website states that the company is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles”.

These “biblical principles” include an opposition to birth control, which was the basis for Green’s lawsuit against the US Government’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). In the suit, Green’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that “closely held”[2] corporations owned by Christians should not have to abide by federal laws they feel violate their owner’s religious beliefs. Because Mr. Green’s religious beliefs include an opposition to birth control, his lawyers argued that Mr. Green’s company, Hobby Lobby, should not have to provide coverage for contraception to it employees as part of Obamacare’s employer mandate to provide health insurance coverage—a provision the ACA demanded.

In June of 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that, “regulations promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Thus, Hobby Lobby did not have to provide health care plans that include birth control coverage to its employees because forcing a business owner, whose religious beliefs include an opposition to birth control, was a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.[3]

Proposed Mandatory Public School Bible Curriculum

His victorious opposition to Obamacare, however slight, made Mr. Green the poster child for the anti-Obama Evangelical right. But it was not Steve Green’s politics—at least not his views on Obamacare—that caused critical biblical scholars to oppose him and his Museum of the Bible. Rather, it was his views on Bible education in public schools—another crusade spearheaded by conservative Evangelicals—that startled critical scholars.

Many conservative Christians have engaged in a fight against what they call “secular/progressives”, who insist on an unbending separation of church and state. Some of these Christians want to introduce the study of the Bible (and specifically, their confessional understanding of it) into public school classrooms. And as the darling of the Evangelical right following his Obamacare victory, they looked to Steve Green to champion this cause. And, Mr. Green seemed willing to support this movement to bring a confessional approach to studying the Bible into public school classrooms.

In 2013, Steve Green was awarded the John M. Templeton Award for Biblical Values, sponsored by the National Bible Association.[4] In his acceptance speech, Steve Green made two statements that gave many biblical scholars cause for alarm. After describing his vision for the Museum of the Bible, Mr. Green talked about why knowledge of the Bible is important, and spoke about his future plans to educate Americans beyond the establishment of his museum.

First, he commented on the historical reliability of the Bible, stating:

“The manuscript evidence is overwhelming. So, the history has a purpose of showing the reliability of this book. The book that we have is a reliable, historical document.” (2:22)

Critiquing the claims of the historical reliability of the Bible using archaeological evidence is what most biblical scholars and archaeologists do. Archaeologists are continually uncovering evidence that is often contrary to at least some of the claims made in the Bible. These conflicts between the archaeological data and the biblical claims are valuable because they offer suggestions as to why the Bible preserves some of the claims that it does. Why does the Bible claim that Noah made an ark, or that God created all the world’s languages at once at the Tower of Babel, or that the first woman was made from the first man’s “rib”, or that Joshua sacked Jericho, if there is no evidence to support these claims and lots of evidence disproving them?

These answers give us insight into how the ancient Israelites viewed themselves and how they believed God was working through history on their behalf. But Steve Green’s claim that the Bible is a historically reliable document runs contrary to the archaeological record.

Scholars fear that the Museum of the Bible will portray a false narrative about the historical reliability of the claims made in the Bible. And because it will stand among the most prominent museums in the nation’s capital, scholars fear that visitors will assume that the Museum of the Bible is one of these government institutions and will believe that false narrative.

Mr. Green’s second problematic statement came in his proposal of a mandatory, public high school Bible curriculum:

“We’re working on a four-year, public school Bible curriculum. The first year would be a summary of all three of those sections: [the Bible’s] history, its impact, and its story. And then, the next three years, going in depth in each of those: a year for the history, a year for the impact, and a year for the story, in some order. That is what our goal would be so that we can reintroduce this book to this nation. This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. There is [sic] lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it, and if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.” (4:40) [5]

One can see the confessional approach revealing itself at the end of Mr. Green’s statement. He does not simply claim that students should study the Bible’s impact on world culture; he adds at the end a theological belief that if students (and thereby Americans) do not know “what God has taught”, then America will somehow be punished by God! That is not an objective approach to studying the Bible. That is a sectarian, confessional doctrine that theologically assumes that the teachings of the Bible must be followed by a nation’s citizens or else it will be cursed by God!

In the same Templeton Award acceptance speech, Green went on to state:

“Someday, I would argue, it should be mandated. Here is a book that’s impacted our world unlike any other and you’re not going to teach it? There’s something wrong with that.” (5:46)

To be sure, Steve Green is entitled to his opinion that the Bible is a reliable historical document. But when he says that he is planning to develop a mandatory high school Bible study curriculum that propagates his religious opinion, he is imposing his religious beliefs on the taxpayer-funded public school students.

Criticism One: “Bible as History” instead of “History of the Bible”

This is what many biblical scholars fear—that Steve Green will use his money, influence, and status as champion of the Evangelical right to promulgate a confessional Bible curriculum in public schools that is not in line with the archaeological evidence.

Scholars fear that Mr. Green’s comments about the “historically reliable” nature of the Bible will also be pushed upon visitors of the Museum of the Bible. When Steve Green announced in early public comments that he was transforming his assemblage of ancient texts and objects into a Washington, DC Shrine of the Good Book, scholars feared that instead of portraying an objective commentary on the history of the Bible and its influence on America and western culture, Mr. Green would use the Museum of the Bible as a proselytizing tool in an attempt to convert Washington museum-going tourists to his conservative interpretation of Evangelical Christianity by offering to visitors an apologetic defense of the historicity of the Bible and its claims.

In short, scholars do not oppose a museum dedicated to the history of the Bible; they are terrified of a museum that promotes the Bible as history.

Criticism Two: Black Market Antiquities

A second major criticism of the Museum of the Bible has been a major point of concern for scholars, and specifically for archaeologists: the purchase of antiquities on the black market from unnamed sellers.

Steve Green and his authorized buyers have engaged in the purchase of black market antiquities—unprovenanced artifacts from anonymous, private collections—and many of these objects—among the most important and valuable in his collection—will soon be on display at the Museum of the Bible.

An unprovenanced object is an object whose origin, or provenance (from the Latin provenire, through French provenir, meaning “to come forth, originate”), and chain of custody is unknown or partially unknown.[6] Scholars and the Israel Antiquities Authority have condemned this practice for decades, as it encourages the looting of archaeological sites and emboldens those who would forge antiquities and inscriptions and attempt to sell them to unwitting treasure seekers for a profit.

The purchase of unprovenanced objects causes major problems for archaeologists. DePaul University archaeologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Morag Kersel, has written about this issue for over a decade.[7] As she has pointed out repeatedly, once an object has been ripped from its archaeological context, it is worth far less academically, as it can no longer reliably tell us anything about the people who made it.[8] This is because the archaeological context—the place in which it was found in the ground—offers archaeologists as much information about the object as the object itself, like clues as to who was using the object, what it was used for, how old it is, etc.

Archaeological context is everything! It is why anyone who has ever participated in an archaeological dig witnesses all of the careful measurements, the attention to balks, the locus numbers, the bucket tags, the careful descriptions of the dirt in which it was found, the area, name, and location of the site, and all of the carefully prepared, constant photographs taken of the object in situ, that is, still in the ground exactly as it was found. All of these meticulous details assist in proving that the object came from a precise context. However, once an object is removed from its surroundings without such records, it loses all of this contextual data and becomes a decontextualized, unprovenanced object.

An additional problem with the acquisition of unprovenanced artifacts is that it has been shown to encourage the looting of archaeological sites. Because objects discovered in licensed archaeological excavations belong to the state in which they were discovered—the most important of which typically end up displayed in the various states’ archaeological museums—those who wish to collect antiquities often turn to antiquities dealers. And while some antiquities dealers are licensed by the state to sell legally obtained objects, many others engage in the sale of illicitly obtained objects, who in turn often collaborate with shadowy middlemen to acquire their goods (i.e., the “black market”).

Many of these illicit objects were stolen from archaeological sites or otherwise “appropriated” from collections in warehouses. When an antiquities dealer doesn’t have something a buyer wants, the dealer often says, “…but I know where I can get one”. This often leads to the black market and paid looters, who ravage archaeological sites in search for a coin or vessel or statue the collector desires. In order to avoid theft charges, the origins of the objects are often disguised and later forgotten, and the payments for such objects are often made in cash and to third parties in an effort to disguise the money trail from authorities.

While the elimination of the provenance of the object eliminates much of its archaeological value for scholars, many collectors simply don’t care about the object’s anthropological value; they just want a distinguished antique they believe to be from the Holy Land on their mantle at home. This is why, as Kersel states, the descriptions of these black market objects often include some nondescript reference to their origin like, “from the collection of Swiss gentleman” or “a family heirloom”.[9]

This demand from private collectors drives the supply of illicit antiquities on the black market. It is simple supply and demand, and as long as there is demand, there will always be those who will provide a supply of illegally obtained antiquities. And, as Baden states, “If Hobby Lobby is willing to buy them, people will be willing to loot for them because there’s a market for them.”[10]

Claims (typically made by licensed antiquities dealers) that the purchasers of illicit antiquities often act as saviors who ransom the looted artifacts from a continued life of shrouded anonymity on the black market so that they can be researched and published are unconvincing. This is because continued illicit purchases only fuel further demand on the black market, which inevitably encourages looting. It does not matter that a particular object had already been looted and is already on the black market; it is the sale of antiquities, both legal and illicit, that drives future looting, as stock must be resupplied. And yet, this stock is often difficult to acquire legally, and the prospect of cashing in drives the less scrupulous to supply that stock illegally. As University College London’s Dr. Alice Stevenson has argued, reducing the demand by banning the sale of antiquities and obstructing their transport is the only true way to begin to curtail looting. Furthermore, the damage done to potential and excavated archaeological sites by unscrupulous thieves far outweighs any benefits gained by the research and publication of these now decontextualized objects, which have been stripped of the valuable contextual data derived from a verifiable provenance.

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) have all established policies on unprovenanced antiquities that prohibit participation in the trade of undocumented antiquities, and prohibit activities that give sanction to that trade, including exhibiting unprovenanced objects in museums, publishing articles on them in their respective journals, and presenting professional papers on them at annual conferences. This is all done in an effort to discourage the looting of archaeological objects. The idea is that by refusing to participate in scholarly research, the unprovenanced objects lack the professional credibility needed to authenticate the objects—authentication that enhances their monetary value. Thus in theory, by not authenticating the illicit objects, their value is diminished, which results in lessened demand, which leads to less looting.

And it is this act of purchasing unprovenanced objects on the black market that has gotten Steve Green into hot water. From fragments of scrolls claimed to be from the Dead Sea region, to cuneiform tablets looted from war-torn Mesopotamian sites and museums in modern Iraq, Steve Green and his authorized buyers have purchased black market objects from shadowy sellers and dealers who demand to remain anonymous. Many of these objects are slated to be on display at the Museum of the Bible.

The Museum of the Bible has been vilified by scholars like Drs. Moss and Baden, and by journalists like Nina Burleigh, accusing them of promoting looting by offering top dollar for ancient manuscripts like purported fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Akkadian cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia.

Even the U.S. government got involved. The Museum of the Bible recently settled a formal federal antiquities smuggling complaint brought by the Department of Justice after customs officials in 2011 seized one of many shipments containing hundreds of smuggled cuneiform tablets that Steve Green had purchased from an antiquities dealer in the United Arab Emirates. Drs. Moss and Baden broke the story in The Daily Beast (and followed it up with an article in The Atlantic), revealing that “the label used to ship the tablets to the Green Collection offices reportedly described them merely as ‘handcrafted clay tiles’ worth about $300, which obscures both their historical significance and their true worth.” When caught, Museum of the Bible President, Dr. Cary Summers, described the mislabeled shipment as “improper paperwork”.

In reality, Mr. Green paid $1.6 million for the looted tablets according to the government settlement. He also took care not to pay the black market dealer directly, but instead electronically wired the $1.6 million to seven different personal accounts, all in different names, none of which were the name of the dealer, all in an effort to conceal the purchase of the illicit antiquities.

Thus, in addition to promoting looting by purchasing potentially stolen antiquities on the black market, Mr. Green and Hobby Lobby have also apparently attempted to disguise both the nature and the value of at least some of their acquisitions by falsifying customs forms. As part of its settlement with the government, the Museum of the Bible forfeited thousands of objects (1,500 cuneiform tablets, 500 cuneiform bricks, 3000 clay bullae, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets, and 500 stone cylinder seals) to the U.S. government, and paid a whopping $3 million to the government, which is not technically a fine, but according to Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire, is a “forfeiture of proceeds” exacted for breaking multiple U.S. import laws.[11]

It is still to be determined what will happen with the Dead Sea Scroll fragments Mr. Green also acquired on the black market from dealers who were careful to disguise their identities and those they represent.

But suffice it to say, this issue is not about “secular” scholars “persecuting” Mr. Green, Hobby Lobby, and the Museum of the Bible because they don’t believe in the Bible. This is about Mr. Green and the arguably complicit scholars working for his Green Scholars Initiative (now the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative) ignoring the repeated warnings of archaeologists and scholars, breaking the law anyway, getting caught, and jeopardizing the credibility of the Museum of the Bible.

A Possible Change of Direction for the Museum of the Bible

The two fears I detailed above—the portrayal of the Bible’s stories as historical fact in an effort to evangelize tourists, and the display of antiquities purchased on the black market—have worried scholars, and rightly so. The Department of Justice has already begun to remedy the problem of Mr. Green’s black market purchases punitively by penalizing Steve Green monetarily and seizing some of what he purchased. I was encouraged by Mr. Green’s public confession of “regrettable mistakes”, saying in a statement, “We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled”.[12]

Still, claiming ignorance of international anti-smuggling laws that have been on the books since 1972 is no more an excuse than claiming I didn’t know I couldn’t speed because I just started driving.[13] We know from the Obamacare battle that Mr. Green has very good lawyers. But what is most disturbing, and suggests feigned ignorance on Mr. Green’s part, is that Green had retained a cultural property lawyer, DePaul University professor of law Patty Gerstenblith, as early as October 2010, who explicitly warned him, “that the acquisition of cultural property likely from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carries a risk that such objects may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.”[14]

With its opening only months away, the Museum of the Bible has been attempting to distinguish and distance itself from Hobby Lobby, Steve Green’s personal comments, and the federal lawsuit. Take note that the Museum of the Bible is never mentioned in the federal suit or the Justice Department’s press release. The museum points out that the smuggled tablets have been seized and will not be on display at the museum. And yet, other purchases like the Dead Sea Scroll fragments also acquired from the black market are still slated to be on display at the Museum of the Bible. Thus, the issue of black market purchases will continue to be a controversial matter plaguing the museum. Furthermore, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Steve Green and Hobby Lobby are the source of the $800 million used to establish the museum, its antiquities collection, and the Scholars Initiative that has researched and now published these black market artifacts on display at the Museum of the Bible.

However, scholars’ second fear—that of an unscholarly portrayal of the early history of the Bible and of the Bible’s stories as actual history—is an issue the museum’s curators may have already begun correcting. And it is this shift of methodology and narrative that may be the first evidence of a genuine shift of direction away from the views and actions of Mr. Green.

Let me explain.

While I was researching the Museum of the Bible, I reached out to Dr. David Trobisch, who in February 2014 was named the new Director of Collections for the Museum of the Bible following some administrative personnel changes. He kindly invited me to take a private tour of the burgeoning museum while it was still under construction.

Dr. Seth Pollinger, the Director of Content for the Museum of the Bible, led the tour. He has come to serve as an effective liaison between the academic community and the museum. He offered a wonderful tour of the construction site and I was impressed with the progress to date.

What surprised me were the many steps that the Museum of the Bible had recently taken to remedy the scholarly criticism regarding the portrayal of the Bible as actual history. In the past two years, the Museum of the Bible has begun consulting with a large number of highly reputable critical biblical scholars, asking them for input. And it appears that the Museum has not only listened to this input, but has acted upon it, and has abandoned its presentation of the early history of the Bible and of the biblical stories as history. Furthermore, the Museum has beefed up its History of the Bible exhibit on the 4th floor by adding many pre-biblical objects and replicas that place the origin of the Bible in its proper ancient Near Eastern context.

For instance, the Museum of the Bible will now display a replica of the Gilgamesh Flood Tablet as part of its exhibit. This is remarkable because it is an acknowledgment that the famous Mesopotamian flood narrative (with remarkable points of similarity to the biblical flood story) existed prior to the composition of the biblical flood account. The museum will then allow visitors to decide whether they believe the biblical flood story was based upon or influenced by the Mesopotamian flood tale.

The same is true for a replica of the Code of Hammurabi that will now be part of the exhibit. The museum will display to its visitors the existence of the early Babylonian law code that may have influenced the biblical law codes found in the book of Exodus. Visitors can again decide for themselves whether Hammurabi’s Law Code was the inspiration for at least some of the laws in the Bible.

Because the Museum of the Bible is not presenting these objects as apologetic “proof” of the Bible’s historicity and literary primacy, but is instead presenting these earlier ancient near eastern texts as precursors to the biblical text in its archaeological display, the Museum of the Bible lends academic credibility to its larger exhibition.

I was also pleased to see the improved approach taken in the presentation of the early stories of the Hebrew Bible. The highly stylized art in this gallery and the reminder to visitors that the museum is presenting the literature of the Bible (which is, after all, a literary text) is a welcomed approach. Rather than portraying this portion of the exhibit as “history”, the museum is now illustrating the famous stories of the Bible as literary accounts preserved in the biblical text, thereby alleviating scholarly critiques of portraying biblical stories as history.

Beyond this, the museum is quite beautiful. I was greatly impressed with the two-story grand entrance, which preserves the building’s original use as a rail car depot. The massive video screen along the entire first floor’s ceiling can be programmed to depict limitless digital images inspiring visitors to look to the heavens. The “first century life of Jesus” exhibition on the 3rd floor comes complete with stone buildings, a wonderful recreation of a synagogue, and costumed actors depicting what life was like in first century Nazareth. The collection of medieval manuscripts and Torah scrolls is moving, and the scribe who will be painstakingly copying a Torah scroll live in the museum reminds visitors of the patience and devotion required to produce these magnificent works of literary art. Finally, the beautiful theater space on the top floor is an architectural masterpiece, which will be host to Broadway plays and scholarly lectures alike.

The museum has also reserved permanent exhibit space for rotating exhibitions from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Vatican Museums that will provide access to artifacts that might not otherwise be available to visitors who cannot afford to travel the world.

Ultimately, I was most impressed with the fact that the Museum of the Bible appears to have listened to scholars—both consultants and critics alike, and learned from its past mistakes. This reflects what I believe to be progress and maturity in the administration’s understanding of, and approach to, the Bible. I think it is commendable that the Museum of the Bible heard the criticisms of scholars (and the complaint of the government), made needed changes, and took steps to improve the narrative of its exhibition based on these criticisms.

And this, as you know, is the essence of critical scholarship itself—a willingness to listen to the criticism of one’s expert peers, to learn from one’s mistakes, and to alter one’s methodology and conclusions based upon this corrective peer-review.

The Museum of the Bible appears to be slowly adopting the critical approach used by prominent museums around the world, and will present the evidence of the history of the Bible and its literature in its greater ancient Near Eastern context. This will allow visitors to see and understand the complicated, often messy, and much debated origins of the Bible. This decision to shift its approach in the presentation of its collections should be applauded by all scholars of the Bible, regardless of past, well-warranted criticisms of the museum.

The Museum of the Bible opens November 17, 2017. The museum still plans on displaying Dead Sea Scroll fragments purchased on the black market, and this issue will continue to keep many scholars from visiting the museum for fear of complicity in the very activities that ultimately brought the scrolls to the museum.

One possible solution would be an arrangement with the IAA where the ownership of the fragments would be deeded back to Israel in exchange for an agreement to display them on permanent loan at the Museum of the Bible. I would also suggest a robust scholarly educational program, which would bring archaeologists together with both confessional and secular scholars to discuss and debate these issues and the book that so many of us have given our careers to studying, and that has so significantly influenced the world in which we live.

Correction: This article mistakenly named The Atlantic as the publication in which Moss and Baden broke the story. They actually broke the story in The Daily Beast, and this article has been corrected accordingly.

Notes:

[1] Read the case of Prof. Chris Rollston in Nelson, Libby A., Tenure vs. Donors, Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 15, 2012. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/15/seminary-threatens-discipline-professor-offending-prospective-students-donors.

[2] A “closely held” corporation is defined as one that has a limited number of shareholders. They are typically private companies (i.e., their shares don’t trade publicly) often owned and controlled by members of a single family. The IRS defines closely held companies for corporate tax purposes as “one where more than half of the stock is owned (directly or indirectly) by five or fewer individuals at any time”.

[3] See the wording of the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (2014) case, which marked the first time that the court recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious beliefs. See also SCOTUSblog http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/sebelius-v-hobby-lobby-stores-inc/.

[4] https://nationalbible.org/2013-john-m-templeton-award/

[5] You can view Steve Green’s 2013 Templeton Award acceptance speech on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awrALVLc2zo .

[6] You may also hear the word “provenience” (with the extra syllable: pro-VĒ-nē-ən(t)s), which was derived from the word “provenance” (PRÄ-və-nän(t)s) later in English. Both words mean the same thing: “origin”.

[7] https://las.depaul.edu/academics/anthropology/Faculty/Pages/morag-kersel.aspx; http://traffickingculture.org/people/kersel/.

[8] See, for instance, Kersel, Morag, “The power of the press: The effects of press releases and popular magazines on the antiquities trade”, pgs. 73-83 in E. Meyers and C. Meyers (eds), Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

[9] Kersel, Morag, “The Power of the Press: The Effects of Press Releases and Popular Magazines on the Antiquities Trade”, pgs. 73-83 in E. Meyers and C. Meyers (eds), Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009, (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012): 80.

[10] Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Hobby Lobby’s $3 million smuggling case casts a cloud over the Museum of the Bible”, Washington Post, July 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/06/hobby-lobbys-3-million-smuggling-case-casts-a-cloud-over-the-museum-of-the-bible/

[11] According to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(I)(C), Hobby Lobby agreed to forfeit monies that were generated by one or more violations of 18 U.S.C. § 542 (entry of goods by false statement), 18 U.S.C. § 545 (smuggling), and/or 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(1)(A) (merchandise introduced into the country in violation of law). See http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com/2017/07/cultural-property-forfeiture-hobby.html.

[12] Connor, Tracy, “Hobby Lobby Fined $3M, Agrees to Return Smuggled Iraqi Artifacts”, NBCNews.com, July 5, 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hobby-lobby-agrees-return-artifacts-smuggled-iraq-n779931. See also Chris Boyette, “Hobby Lobby to pay $3 million fine, forfeit ancient artifacts”, CNN.com, July 5, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/05/us/hobby-lobby-ancient-artifacts-trnd/index.html.

[13] 1970 The UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property came into force in April 24, 1972. For more, visit http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13039&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html.

[14] Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, “United States Files Civil Action To Forfeit Thousands Of Ancient Iraqi Artifacts Imported By Hobby Lobby”, July 5, 2017. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/united-states-files-civil-action-forfeit-thousands-ancient-iraqi-artifacts-imported.

Appeal Denied: Dr. Golb to Serve 2-month Prison Sentence

Raphael Golb, son of Ludwig Rosenberger Professor of Jewish History and Civilization at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, Dr. Normal Golb, is flanked by uniformed officers during his trial. With his final appeal ending in the affirmation of his prison sentence, Dr. Golb will begin serving jail time this month. Photo: Steven Hirsch

Raphael Golb, son of Ludwig Rosenberger Professor of Jewish History and Civilization at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, Dr. Normal Golb, is flanked by uniformed officers during his trial. With his final appeal ending in the affirmation of his conviction and sentencing, Dr. Golb will begin serving his prison sentence. Photo: Steven Hirsch.

Convicted criminal Dr. Raphael Golb, son of Dr. Norman Golb, the Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, will begin serving a 2-month sentence resulting from the 2010 New York State Supreme Court conviction and sentencing, and the 2014 re-affirmation and re-sentencing by the NY Court of Appeals of Dr. Golb’s conviction on 19 counts of identity theft and criminal impersonation stemming from his criminal involvement in an academic dispute over his father’s theories about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dr. Golb’s most recent (and final) appeal was denied when, as expected,

a unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, upheld Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward’s sentence, which included three years of probation, for Raphael Golb in People v. Golb, 13595.”

Raphael Golb's case is denied for review by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Raphael Golb’s case is denied for review by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Supreme Court of the United States has already declined to hear Dr. Golb’s case.

This bizarre case is a textbook example of what not to do when online, how not to behave as a scholar, and furthermore how not to proceed in defending oneself once caught.

Dr. Golb’s incarceration represents only a modicum of closure to this unfortunate episode in my life, as I was both a victim in this criminal case, as well as one who testified against Dr. Golb (apparently looking rather “cute” that day). It’s especially tragic because even after Dr. Golb was arrested, he could have dispensed with the time and expense of a trial and the appeals process by simply accepting the plea deal he was offered from the beginning: plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts, serve 80 hours of community service, and serve three years probation. Instead, nearly 6 years after his arrest and who knows how many dollars spent defending himself and appealing his convictions, Dr. Golb is headed to prison, has been disbarred, and his name has become synonymous with criminal internet trolling. Meanwhile, while he has repeatedly claimed he was only attempting to help his father in his debate about the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Golb’s criminal activity has had exactly the opposite effect, exposing his father’s knowing involvement in his son’s criminal activities.

This is just the latest episode in a sad example of what happens when some scholars attempt to use criminal means to tear down perceived rival scholars and promote their own work. There is no winner in this case, only victims, and one big loser.


1QpHab 10:9

2 Sam 12:12


For a history of this case, click here.

Raphael Golb re-sentenced to 2 months in prison, 3 years probation

Go_To_JailAccording to the AP:

A man convicted of using digital-age tools to impersonate and malign his father’s academic rivals on the ancient subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls was sentenced Monday to two months in jail after the state’s highest court tossed out some of his convictions — and with them, a state aggravated-harassment law.

The sentencing of Raphael Golb, who also got three years’ probation, came after the Court of Appeals upheld convictions on other charges, including criminal impersonation and forgery. Golb had been sentenced earlier to six months’ jail but free on bail during his appeal.

Golb was given a surrender date of July 22, but could ask the courts to hold off the jail term while appealing the case further.

So once again, the courts have decided that Dr. Golb is a convicted criminal. Dr. Golb was sentenced yet again to two months in prison and three years probation.

Raphael Golb, son of Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago Dr. Norman Golb, committed multiple crimes, was caught, lied about it to police, then claimed he was just joking, was convicted, was sentenced, appealed his conviction, was still found to be guilty on multiple counts, and now has been re-sentenced.

Dr. Golb is still guilty. Dr. Golb is still a criminal. Dr. Golb has been sentenced to do time.

(And of course, Dr. Golb will appeal yet again…)


For a history of this case, click here.

 

Dr. Robin Jensen, Vanderbilt file Motions to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed by Simcha Jacobovici

Dr. Robin Jensen and her employer, Vanderbilt University, have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit brought against them by pseudoarchaeologist, professional filmmaker, and recent filer of multiple lawsuits against critics who disagree with his conclusions, Mr. Simcha Jacobovici.

These legal court filings are available to the public via the Washington DC court website, but as a public service to my readers, I’m making them available here for download as well:

A quick perusal will demonstrate that there are multiple grounds on which the cases should be dismissed, including, but not limited to:

  1. The case is not in Washington DC’s jurisdiction.
  2. The allegation does not meet the threshold for the alleged “conspiracy” with an “unnamed, but not unknown” co-conspirator (who happens to be Joe Zias, whom Mr. Jacobovici is also suing).
  3. The statute of limitations had expired.

Any of the above three reasons are enough to dismiss (or at least transfer to a different jurisdiction) the conspiratorially-minded, frivolous lawsuit designed to intimidate scholars into not criticizing Jacobovici’s highly speculative films about archaeology.

(To his credit, his company’s non-archaeological documentaries are quite good, but his archaeology documentaries are roundly dismissed by scholars in the field, both in the US and Israel, with the exception of those scholars appearing in them or profiting somehow by working with Jacobovici on his archaeo-fantasies.)

Go and read the motions to dismiss Mr. Jacobovici’s most recent lawsuit against a scholar who once found herself working with him.

 

So much for the separation of church and state in Iowa

HOW IN THE NAME OF IOWA could Governor Branstad sign this? How is the even a part of the Governor’s duties?

The governor of our great state of Iowa recently signed a proclamation calling on the people of the state of Iowa to pray and fast and repent according to the text of the Bible.

Again, we’re not talking about the Governor of Kansas or Kentucky, but of Iowa.

Here’s the video.

Hemant Mehta has offered his thoughts on the matter, but allow me to offer a few of my own.

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and 'come together

Proclamation signed and issued by the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, inviting Iowans to pray, fast, repent, and unite (lit. “come together”) under the teachings of the deity YHWH so that the deity will “heal our land”.

The Christian equivalent of Sharia law is alive and festering in fundamentalist circles, and those who support the idea of baptizing of our civic administration are scheming increasingly creative ways to sneak religious language and practices into our supposedly secular government.

Read the text of the proclamation here. And note the last paragraph:

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terry E Branstad, as Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby invite all Iowans who choose to join in the thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014.”

Now I know that some will come to the governor’s defense and point out that this is a non-binding “proclamation” and not a law, and that the text of the proclamation merely “invites” Iowans to pray instead of “requiring” them to do so. But this is still the Governor of a state calling on residents to pray and repent “according to II Chronicles 7:14”.

And it is the second part of the above line – “according to II Chronicles 7:14” – that should give us an even greater pause. To be sure, it is a problem for the governor of a state to call on his residents (many of whom are not Jewish or Christian) to participate in acts of devotion and worship to the god YHWH. But when we examine the actual context of the verse invoked in this proclamation, it is all the more troublesome.

The Governor of Iowa issued an executive proclamation specifically employing the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to call Iowans to a day of prayer to the Hebrew god YHWH. But please also note that he called on Iowans to participate in “humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14.”

And to what precisely are Iowans repenting? “Repentance” implies the leaving behind of our present ways and the turning or returning to the teachings of the god YHWH. Thus, Governor Branstad just signed a proclamation calling on Iowans to return to the specific teachings of a specific god, so that he will bless our land.

What is troubling is that the context of the verse invoked in his proclamation – that of  2 Chronicles 7:12-18 – specifically states that the reason we should we pray to this deity and do what the deity has commanded, is so the deity will “forgive our sin and heal our land.”

Read it for yourself:

2 Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2 Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2 Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2 Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
2 Chr. 7:17 As for you, if you walk before me, as your father David walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances,
2 Chr. 7:18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I made covenant with your father David saying, ‘You shall never lack a successor to rule over Israel.’

Does the Governor of Iowa believe that prayer, fasting, and repentance to the teaching of YHWH will “heal the land” of Iowa? Perhaps he does. Should the Governor of Iowa be calling on the residents of Iowa to participate with him in this act of sympathetic magic? Absolutely not!

What is all the more troubling is what specifically the verse invoked in the proclamation is calling upon King Solomon to do. Again, context is key in reading the Bible!

Did the Governor realize that the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the building of the temple to YHWH in Jerusalem?

Again, let us look at the verses that appear on either side of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

2 Chr. 7:11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished.
2Chr. 7:12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.
2Chr. 7:13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people,
2Chr. 7:14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2Chr. 7:15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
2Chr. 7:16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house so that my name may be there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem now stands where the Temple in Jerusalem once stood.

Did Governor Branstad realize that this Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem no longer stands, that the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE, and that the Islamic Dome of the Rock stands where the Jewish Temple once stood?

Does the Governor of Iowa realize that invoking the text of 2 Chronicles 7 in an executive proclamation may be seen my some many as a call to re-establish the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which would necessarily involve the destruction of the third holiest shrine in Islam, the Dome of the Rock?

Because this is precisely what many fundamentalist Christian and Jewish organizations want to do: rebuild the Third Temple! And this becomes a much bigger problem when Governor Branstad employs a verse that is regularly employed by religious zealots to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the re-establishment of the Temple to YHWH in Jerusalem.

Yet, this is precisely the context of the passage referred to in the proclamation! Is Governor Branstad calling on Iowans to “pray” to YHWH, and to “repent” to his teachings so that the Temple that YHWH has “chosen and consecrated” will stand forever?? That’s what the verse implies. That is the verse’s context.


This is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state, which was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and made abundantly clear in our US Treaty of Tripoli, which spells out explicitly that:

The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion“.

I discuss this further in posts responding to claims that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation.”

Let me say this once more clearly:

We were NOT founded as a Christian nation. We we founded as a secular nation by many Christians, but we were NOT founded as a “Christian nation”.

And our Founders had the foresight to see the problems that would arise should the civic government ever engage in favoring one religion over another. This is because the same First Amendment that allows the freedom of religion for Christians also allows the worship of other gods – a clear violation of the very teachings not to worship other gods referred to in 2 Chronicles 7:14! (Cf. Deut. 13:12-16; Exod. 20:3-5; Matt. 4:10; Matt. 22:36-38; 1 Cor. 10:14) The hypocrisy is palpable.

Invoking the First Amendment of the US Constitution to defend the signing of an executive proclamation citing 2 Chronicles 7:14 is like invoking the Second Amendment in issuing a proclamation calling for the confiscation of all firearms. It is the epitome of irony.

Allow me to offer a parallel example from a different religion to demonstrate my point that this is not only a violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but why so many Iowans may have such a strong reaction to the Governor’s involvement with this particular religious decree.

What if a Fundamentalist Islamic group, let’s say, the Islamic Family Leader, invoked the same First Amendment of the US Constitution to ask the Governor of Iowa to issue a non-binding proclamation that called Iowans to repentance to God and cited Qur’an Sura 9:3:

So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to God. And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment.

or Qur’an Sura 9:5(b):

But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah (alms), let them [go] on their way. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Simple enough, right? Same basic message of 2 Chron. 7:14: beautiful holy verses calling on Iowans to “repent” so as not to incur the wrath of God.

So what if Governor Branstad issued a similar non-binding proclamation that invoked these Qur’anic verses? My guess is that this would anger some in the Christian community, who might begin asking questions about the separation of church and state.

And of course, those objecting might actually go and read the larger context of the Qur’anic verses cited in the Governor’s proclamation, and would find that the proclamation deliberately neglected the context of the words coming just before the verse cited in the proclamation, Sura 9:5a:

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists (which likely includes Christians who believe in a triune God, which the Qur’an repeatedly derides as polytheism. Cf. Qur’an Sura 4:171) wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Do you think some people might object to this?? Might Christians object to a Qur’anic verse calling on Muslims to ambush and kill non-believers at least as much as many Muslims might object to Governor Branstad invoking averse that celebrates the establishment of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock now stands? Do you understand how this might make some Iowans unhappy?

This must be the litmus test for invoking religion in state matters. If Christians would object to the Governor of Iowa invoking a Qur’anic verse in an official proclamation, why would they expect others not to object to his invoking a verse from the Bible?

When the elected leader of a secular state calls on citizens of his state to engage in acts of devotion and worship (e.g., prayer, fasting, repentance, etc.) to one god and not to another, the elected leader engages in favoring one religious tradition over another. And while the elected leader may not be “establishing” one religion as the official state religion, by favoring one religion over another, and by calling on citizens to participate in one religion and not another, and by invoking a verse from one sacred book of scripture over another, the elected leader violates the principle of separation of church and state.

Besides, Jesus called on his followers to AVOID large public prayer performances, and instead said,

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt. 6:6)

By signing this proclamation, Governor Branstad gains absolutely nothing except a scandal over issues of church and state (and perhaps a sizable campaign contribution or political reconciliation).


In closing, I’d still like to offer Governor Branstad the benefit of the doubt, and believe that he (or at least his advisers) failed to read the “history and purpose” section of the still “under construction” Prayer 7-14-14 website, which is written in the first person by an anonymous author who claims God was speaking to him in visions and dreams.

ScreenCap of the

ScreenCap of the “History and Purpose” page on the prayer7-14-14.com website as of May 30, 2014.

Here’s a section from the “History and Purpose” page of the Prayer 7-14-14 website (see screen cap image at right):

“Since 2011 God has been speaking to me through dreams, visions and His word about our NationBelow I have referenced one dream and given two references, in scripture, that show God speaks through dreams and visions and tells us we need to be able to discern the times.. [sic]

Acts 2:17-21
AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THE LAST DAYS, SAYS GOD,  THAT I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH;  YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS…I WILL SHOW WONDERS IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND SIGNS IN THE EARTH BENEATH; …THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND AWESOME DAY OF THE LORD. AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS THAT WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED!

MATTHEW  16:1-4
WHEN IT IS EVENING YOU SAY, ‘IT WILL BE FOUL WEATHER TODAY, FOR THE SKY IS RED AND THREATENING.’   HYPOCRITES!  YOU KNOW HOW TO DISCERN THE FACE OF THE SKY, BUT YOU CANNOT DISCERN THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES….

ON 4-20-13 God spoke to me through a dream and His word…

In the dream I was writing on a red, white and blue shirt, “Something will start to churn in you today.”  I wanted to change the word to move, but I heard a voice say “NO, it is churn.” I happened to be reading through Hosea again for the third, fourth or fifth time, and I was starting at Chapter 11 that day.  When I got to verse 8, you can see below, it said His heart CHURNS  (just like in the dream)within Him and His sympathy is stirred.

I knew God was is pursuing America to turn back….” (red highlights mine)

Did the Office of the Governor of the State of Iowa really issue a proclamation sponsored by this group??

Sigh.


It is my hope that in the future, elected state officials will refrain from issuing calls for Americans to engage in acts of worship to any god. And if they do persist in this practice, that elected officials would refrain from invoking highly problematic verses from holy books that members of other religious groups might find wholly offensive and alienating.

When the Founders of our nation did mention a deity, they did so in narrowly defined contexts, referring to it, for example, as the “Creator” or as “Nature’s God,” and deliberately refrained from mentioning any specific religion, or from invoking or citing holy scriptures specific to any particular religious tradition.

There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Declaration of Independence. There is no mention of Jesus or Christianity in the Constitution. We were not founded as a Christian nation. God did not write the Constitution. And when a deity was referenced (other than the standard “Year of Our Lord” dating convention), it was in a theistic or Deistic fashion, and not a specifically Christian one. This should serve as a template for those elected leaders who insist on referring to a deity as part of their civic duties.

Calling on citizens to engage in acts of worship to a specific deity and invoking the religious tradition affiliated with that deity only creates problems for the elected official and paints him or her as a tool of fundamentalist religious zealots, who hope to infiltrate our secular government and introduce religious law that our Founders sought to avoid at all costs.


To learn more about the presence of Christianity in our founding documents, take this quiz.

NY Court of Appeals Upholds 19 Convictions Against Raphael Golb in Dead Sea Scrolls Case

Raphael Golb had multiple convictions upheld by the NY Court of Appeals. He had appealed the 29 counts on which he was convicted and which the Appellate Division had upheld.

Raphael Golb had multiple convictions upheld by the NY Court of Appeals. He had appealed the 29 counts on which he was initially convicted and which the NY Appellate Division had upheld. The NY Court of Appeals upheld 19 convictions.

The NY Court of Appeals today affirmed and upheld a total of 19 convictions of Raphael Golb, son of Dr. Norman Golb, Ludwig Rosenberger Professor in Jewish History and Civilization at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, in a bizarre internet cybercrime case stemming from crimes committed beginning in 2007.

The NY Court of Appeals upheld 9 convictions of criminal impersonation and all 10 forgery convictions in the case of the People of NY v. Raphael Golb, in which the defendant created an army of pseudonymous online sock puppets to criticize, harass, and ultimately impersonate various scholars who disagreed with the academic findings of his father, Dr. Norman Golb, concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The court vacated the top charge of identity theft (felony), 5 criminal impersonation convictions, all aggravated harassment convictions, as well as the conviction on the count of unauthorized use of a computer.

For the reasons that follow, we affirm the convictions for nine counts of criminal impersonation in the second degree and all of the convictions for forgery. We vacate the conviction for identity theft in the second degree; five of the convictions for criminal impersonation in the second degree; all of the convictions for aggravated harassment in the second degree, and the conviction for unauthorized use of a computer.

(For more, visit the NY Court of Appeals “Decisions” page.)

The vacating of the lone felony charge may mean reduced or no jail time for Dr. Golb, but that will be for the NY Supreme Court to decide, as the case has been remitted to them for resentencing:

Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified by vacating the convictions for Counts 2, 3, 5, 23, 29, 40, 42, 44, 48, and 51, dismissing those counts of the indictment, and remitting to Supreme Court for resentencing, and, as so modified, affirmed. [emphasis mine]

Keep in mind, however, that while the now vacated felony count carried a sentence of six months and 5 years probation, the misdemeanor counts also carried three month prison sentences and three years probation of their own. So there is a chance that Dr. Golb’s prison sentence may be reduced, but as 19 misdemeanor counts were affirmed, he could still serve time.

(For a list of convictions that were earlier upheld by the Appellate Division, see my earlier post from Jan. 29, 2013 here.)

Reaction

I offered an initial response when Dr. Golb was initially sentenced. I’ll add only the following:

For all those involved, this has been a grueling time. At the end of the day, Dr. Golb has been found guilty on 19 counts in a truly groundbreaking cybercrime case, which I’m sure many future cases will reference.

Raphael Golb is not only an internet troll, but he’s also a criminal and now a convict. A jury of his peers, the NY Appellate Division, and now the NY Court of Appeals have all said so.

And while one might argue that sending pseudonymous letters to multiple supervisors containing speech that is intended to harass and “destroy the career prospects of a really nice guy” is not criminal harassment, it is difficult to argue that forgery and criminal impersonation are “protected” speech. That is where Dr. Golb’s actions became criminal, and that is what the court has upheld.

Throughout this ordeal, we also learned that Raphael Golb’s father, Dr. Norman Golb, not only knew about some of the activities of his son, but participated in informing them.

This is simply a sad case of academic pride run amok, and an example of the lengths to which some scholars will go to defame and injure those scholars who happen to disagree with their theories, including knowledgeably working with one’s children, who have created an army of internet sockpuppets to commit crimes against others.

While I don’t feel any better now that the NY Court of Appeals has determined that I wasn’t harassed (at least not “criminally”), I am satisfied that Dr. Golb was found guilty on multiple counts, and that both the Appellate Division and the NY Court of Appeals have affirmed these convictions.

I should like to think that this will be the end of this mess, but I’m certain that this saga will continue. Dr. Golb has already vowed further appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court if allowed. For now, I take satisfaction in knowing that the wheels of justice, however slow, have once again arrived at a correct decision, and will continue to do so.

DEVELOPING…

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