The United States of Hobby Lobby
By Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden
Princeton University Press. 223 pp. $29.95
Glenn C. Altschuler
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014), the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a Health and Human Services regulation (under the Affordable Care Act) requiring owners of privately held companies to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices to their employees. The case transformed the Green family, evangelical Christians who own 100 percent of Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of craft stores, and who have a net worth of $4.5 billion, into controversial public figures.
In Bible Nation, Candida Moss, a professor of theology at the University of Birmingham, and Joel Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at the Yale Divinity School, tell the little-known story of how the Greens spend hundreds of millions to expand the influence of the Bible on American society. Although the Greens insist their work is nonsectarian, Moss and Baden demonstrate that they are actually disguising evangelization as public education.
The Christian campaign of David and Barbara Green and their son Steve is multifaceted. Their Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, in November 2017. It houses their collection of 40,000 ancient artifacts. The Green Scholars Initiative (GSI) enlists professors, along with their undergraduates and graduate students, to enhance our knowledge of early Christianity. Jerry Pattengale, director of GSI, has created a four-year Bible curriculum that is used by many home-schoolers and, the Greens hope, will be adopted by hundreds of public schools.
Moss and Baden do not deny the family's sincerity. They acknowledge that they have every right to promote their evangelical agenda. That said, Bible Nation makes a compelling case that the Greens are undermining professional norms governing the acquisition of ancient artifacts, scholarly investigation, and publication. The authors make an equally persuasive case that the Greens' claims to students, parents, school administrators, and visitors to their museum about their intentions and aims are misleading.
The family's blasé attitude toward provenance, Moss and Baden write, "signals implicit support for the illegal antiquities trade. Nor do they seem to care that items in their collection are almost certainly forged." GSI administrators, we learn, select professors for their religious faith, not their scholarly expertise. Participants must also sign nondisclosure agreements that prevent them from publishing without permission. Most important, the Bible curriculum and museum exhibits ignore centuries of meticulous scholarship and assume that the Old and New Testaments appeared fully formed and are in every respect "true."
In the end, however, Moss and Baden recognize that the technologically savvy, richly resourced Museum of the Bible is likely to become "the Christian Smithsonian." And the Greens' "market share of the American religio-industrial complex" may well approach a monopoly.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.