Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

FFRF to bible museum: Don’t bear false witness

Vol. 35 No. 4 May 2018
The Museum of the Bible recently opened in Washington, D.C. FFRF has sent officials a letter asking them to correct inaccuracies and misrepresentations. (Museum of the Bible image)

FFRF has a message for the recently opened Museum of the Bible: Thou shalt not bear false witness.

FFRF has sent museum officials a letter unmasking serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations and asking them to correct the record.

On a recent visit to the museum, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, accompanied by FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel, noticed significant factual problems. As well they could. A Pew 2010 survey revealed that atheists and agnostics scored best on religious knowledge, including biblical literacy. Barker, a longtime minister before “seeing the light,” has debated extensively on the bible. Gaylor’s book on the treatment of women in the bible is called Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So.

At the museum’s dedication ceremony, Executive Director Tony Zeiss boasted, “Our scholars vet everything that you’ll see in the exhibits for accuracy and authenticity.” The museum’s “International Advisory Council” is charged with “appl[ying] a final layer of scrutiny to all materials to advise about the cohesiveness, accuracy, fidelity and cultural sensitivity of the museum’s content.” It is falling short on these fronts, says FFRF.

FFRF is calling upon museum officials to suspend a five-minute, $8 ride named “Washington Revelations” that is on the second floor. Exhibits on that floor are billed as demonstrating “the enormous influence the bible has on nearly every aspect of life.” Throughout the ride, and indeed throughout the entire second floor, the museum stretches the truth to argue for a biblical influence on our secular government that is superficial or absent. Some of these quotes do not even come from or were not influenced by the bible, while others do not demonstrate the biblical influence the museum claims.

“It should be possible for the museum to make its case that the bible is a well-known and well-quoted book without resorting to exaggeration, bowdlerizing or outright fabrication,” Barker and Gaylor write. “In the interests of intellectual honesty, the record needs to be corrected. These seemingly deliberate distortions call into question the entire fidelity of the museum.”

FFRF is pleased to see Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “The Woman’s Bible” mentioned in the museum. But the deceptive marketing of Stanton, an arch-critic of the bible, as if she were inspired to work for women’s rights and women’s votes by the bible itself, is shocking, say the FFRF co-presidents. Stanton was an agnostic who penned an 1896 essay entitled, “The Degraded Status of Woman in the Bible.” The title says it all, but she was also explicit within the book: “So far from woman owing what liberty she does enjoy to the bible and the church, they have been the greatest block in the way of her development.” The FFRF co-presidents overheard a docent tell a tour group that Stanton was inspired by the bible in her work for women’s suffrage. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” they note.

There are problems in the museum’s depiction of the country’s founders, too. In a video recording of two actors reading Thomas Jefferson and John Adams quotes, the sayings by Jefferson in particular are bowdlerized.

One of the few pieces in the museum that is not a facsimile is Arnold Friberg’s 1975 oil painting (on loan to the museum) of George Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. The prayer did not happen. Historians agree on this point.

The museum does have a few redeeming features. There is an exhibit showing a photograph of Vashti McCollum (a past FFRF honorary director) reading a newspaper announcing her 1948 historic win before the U.S. Supreme Court. The accompanying text notes: “The court found, ‘beyond all question,’ that the First Amendment bans religious instruction in public schools.”

But such positive aspects are far outweighed by the negatives.

In general, the museum appears to be relying on the perceived superficiality and short attention span of its target audience to create an exaggerated impression of the social and historical influence of the bible. The record needs to be corrected, FFRF co-presidents assert, for the museum to live up to its promise of “accuracy and authenticity.”