The Bible As Cultural Property: A Cautionary Tale
Great stuff from Neil Asher Silberman (so be sure to read it all). He begins-
Is the Bible cultural property? The answer to that question seems obvious, for few Christian or Jewish religious leaders, humanities scholars, heritage policymakers, legal experts, or even secularized members of the general public in most world regions would deny that it is cultural property, at least in a generalized sense. Indeed, the Bible meets the main criteria that international heritage organizations (chief among them, UNESCO) use to distinguish cultural heritage properties from other cultural forms and creative expressions. The Bible is accorded special reverence as both tangible artifact and intangible religious tradition; it plays a central role in shaping community identity; and many of its core narrative components have been passed down, from generation to generation over almost two millennia in substantially unchanged form (Tov 2011). As a rich compendium of religious lore, genealogies, histories, symbols, metaphors, and turns-of-phrase, the Bible’s epic tales of Creation, Deluge, wandering Patriarchs, and Exodus from slavery to freedom contain a vast treasury of cultural symbols, folktales, historical narratives, and moral lessons shared and variously interpreted by the world’s approximately 2.2 billion Christians and 14 million Jews. Yet if the Bible fulfills criteria normally used to characterize cultural property, who does it belong to and exactly what kind of cultural property would it be?