Museum of the Bible acquired stolen texts

The Museum of the Bible appears to have acquired not merely texts of uncertain provenance, but texts that were affirmatively stolen.

Last year the Egyptian Exploration Society (EES), the non-profit organization that owns the Oxyrhynchus papyri collection deposited at the Sackler Library University of Oxford, had just announced a new discovery and publication: a late second- or early third-century Common Era fragment of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It was a huge announcement: Scholars possess very few early copies of the New Testament, thus, any newly discovered fragments from the first few centuries of the Common Era is inherently important and inherently valuable.

The discovery was shrouded in controversy because despite its announcement as “news,” academics had known about this fragment for over five years. It had been mentioned in connection with representatives of the Green Family, the owners of Hobby Lobby and the founders of the Museum of the Bible, in Washington, D.C. Last year the EES said in no uncertain terms that the papyrus had never been for sale. If that was true, we and others asked, how did so many people at the Green family know about this fragment and why did they think they had acquired it?

Now Michael Holmes, Director of the Museum of the Bible’s Scholar’s Initiative, has made a shocking accusation: that one of the academics involved in the original publication of the fragment, distinguished Oxford scholar Dirk Obbink, appears to have sold a papyrus that belonged to the EES to Hobby Lobby in 2013.

The Green family plunged into the antiquities market with a lot of money to build a collection for its Museum of the Bible, and so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that there were sellers willing to cut corners to make a quick buck.

There apparently is a lot of loose stuff out there, too. After all, there were a lot of texts left lying around, and state and scholarly interest in protecting them is relatively recent. Fragments, some quite large, were brought home by visitors to the Middle East, passed to friends and family and eventually made their way to the attic — a forgotten souvenir that nobody quite knew what to do about. I see nothing inherently improper about acquiring those texts, even if their origin and an ownership chain cannot be comprehensively documented.

Clearly, though, the Museum didn’t exercise the level of care expected of serious scholars.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Dismal theology-related hymn of the day

Once you actually realize how degrading Christianity really is — Y’all are no damn good! — you can’t un-hear it. Worse, Christianity’s degrading premises are so deeply embedded in its thought and expression that it tends to pass unnoticed unless you’re alert to it.

I was thinking of these things yesterday when Dawn and I attended a memorial for the mother of a friend, which was held at a local Baptist church that broke with the Southern Baptist Convention during the serial indecencies of the so-called Conservative Resurgence (fundamentalist takeover, more precisely, kind of like what has happened to the GOP). So, at least with respect to the SBC, this would probably be characterized as a liberal church.

One of the hymns chosen for the service was that beautiful staple, Amazing Grace. But look at the lyrics:

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home

Amazing grace, Howe Sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

Was blind, but now I see.

Is there anything — anything — in this hymn that lifts up? I was particularly struck by the opening of the second verse: “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.” Right: How very fortunate that an Invisible Friend filled the author’s heart with terror at the prospect of justice for being an utterly worthless heap of dung.

And this is one of the most beloved hymns in all of Christendom.

No, thanks. I’m with the closing words of Bertrand Russell’s famous lecture, Why I Am Not A Christian.

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world—its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

Surely that’s healthier than singing about being a terror-filled wretch.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Meet my neighbors, ctd

Meet Mark Meadows: North Carolina Congressman, financial reporting problems, inflated resume, Creationist nutjob.

So, here’s a question I never thought I’d send off to a sitting U.S. representative from an Asheville district: “Does Congressman Meadows believe that dinosaurs and man lived at the same time?”

[ … ]

“Neither the sale nor any such payments are noted on Meadows’s congressional financial disclosures, which he is required by law to file annually,” the New Yorker staff writer, Charles Bethea, reports. He also notes that, as reported by the Charlotte Observer, Meadows previously failed to report the sale of another piece of property, in northeastern North Carolina, before becoming a congressman.

[ … ]

Back in February, I wrote about Meadows, or his office, apparently fudging his educational achievements, citing a Tampa Bay Times article that took a deep dive into how Meadows’ biography claimed a four-year degree instead of what he actually earned, a two-year associate’s degree.

And on and on.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Tweet of the day

That sums up the sickness of Trump’s GOP about as neatly as possible, I’d say.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Sad tweet of the day

Multiple news accounts, including the link above, are reporting that Shepard Smith is leaving FOX News because he just couldn’t take the nonstop lies and propaganda any longer. It’s believable, because he was, conspicuously, a craftsman who cared about accuracy.

I imagine he believed — until recently, I mean — the same thing that a lot of the professionals in the Trump administration doubtless believed: This, too, shall pass; just hold on a while longer, and sanity will be restored. Nope. What is now called ‘conservatism’ is no more or better than the nihilist vandalism of a death-wish, and it cannot be reasoned with or accommodated; it must be defeated, bludgeoned into insensibility, irrevocably cast out of decent company.

H.L. Mencken had it right: “The job before democracy is to get rid of such canaille; if it fails, they will devour it.” Well, the barbarians are at the table with napkins tucked into their collars, knife and fork in hand, snouts twitching.

Posted in General | Leave a comment