Alex Joffe, an archaeologist and historian, said scholars “loathe the Greens, because they are evangelicals and because they are antiquities collectors, in that order. … The real targets are their conceptions of their faith, the Bible and America.”
Joffe, who has participated in and directed archaeological research in Greece, Israel, Jordan and the United States, said it is indisputable that the artifacts were imported illegally and seemingly intentionally. But he said the broader question that isn’t being discussed sufficiently is who gets to build museums “around the sacralized space of the National Mall.”
“Should a private family create a ‘national museum’ with a religious bent in the secular, religious space of central Washington? If not, why not?” he said. “Or are only approved topics, like the Holocaust and American Indians, as well as ‘art,’ acceptable?”
Joffe believes that the question of who gets to design national (albeit quasi-national), fundamental commemorative spaces is at the root of many of the objections to the museum project at large.
Lawrence Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, thinks many people jump the gun to indict a collection and a museum they have yet to experience. “It may be more suspicion that evangelicals are always out to convert everybody,” he said.
Not only does the museum insist it will deal in history rather than evangelization, but Schiffman has observed that many of the periods the museum plans to cover will be from the post-biblical era. “The notion that it’s some kind of church in disguise is not really what they are doing,” he said.
And as damning as a $3 million settlement with the New York Eastern District attorney is, Schiffman, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, notes that evaluating antiquities can be very complicated.
“It’s pretty easy to get duped,” he said.