“What is the best use of our growing collection?” – This was a question for the Green Collection leadership five years ago when we were just a few months into collecting artifacts. More specifically, we were asking, “If we were to begin programs around it, what would be among those with the most significance?”
In my previous post “More than a Museum,” I gave a high-level view of the Museum of the Bible and our four main initiatives. Here, I want to share a more in-depth look at one of those: our research initiatives.
Perhaps these seem like simple questions we were asking with a significant collection already in place when it was just a few thousand items, long before the current count of 40,000 plus items related to the biblical text and its transmission. During this early stage in forming the Green Collection, we realized that our answers could possibly impact lives in the future. When there were only four of us—another curator, two scholars, and me—a dream began to form:
“We could have an important role in helping to train the next generation of biblical text scholars.”
Although we didn’t know this collection’s future, and certainly didn’t fully anticipate the explosive years ahead developing into plans for the Washington, DC, site for the museum, we had glimpses of major things ahead. Throughout those early months, we had the conviction that scholarly research would be an important part of our programs, and the fulcrum of all that was ahead.
This is when conversations about a program called the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI) began. Dr. Jerry Pattengale developed and eventually executed this new research program. Its central idea remains in place: assigning various collection pieces to scholars (all with terminal degrees) and their students for high-level research. A team of over twenty senior and distinguished scholars came to this initiative, and provided assistance in their areas of expertise. These scholars also were the core lecturers among more than 100 videotaped presentations in various cities, with some at the Vatican, Israeli museums, Oxford and Cambridge universities, and in Cuba.
Establishing GSI has been an amazing and fast-paced journey, with the program starting only five years ago with just an idea and a few scholars. Today GSI is a robust network of over 60 scholars and dozens of projects. We have also successfully completed four summer institute conferences, and are looking to expand the program next summer. Publications are in process, students are being mentored, and GSI scholarship opportunities are being highlighted on many participating university campuses. We’ve also made some major discoveries, including the earliest Jewish proto-prayer book and some of the earliest astronomical sketches and texts, and a few of the earliest attestations to biblical passages and classical texts. The GSI program provides a substantial foundation for many of the things we do at Museum of the Bible. For this reason, we will have a research hub in the new DC facility called the Green Scholars Institute.
Of the many projects we have going on in GSI, my favorite is the work on the Codex Climaci Rescriptus (CCR). This is not only a fascinating piece, but I got to be involved (in a small way!) with part of the project early on. CCR is a palimpsest, and I got to take part in imaging the manuscript with multispectral imaging (MSI) a few years ago before the research got underway. In studying this manuscript, one of the incredible discoveries so far has been the identification of some early astronomical drawings. With greater access to the underlying layers of text through MSI, scholars found 1,500-year-old drawings of constellations on this manuscript. Ongoing research is being done on the CCR text at Tyndale House, Cambridge.
The Bible touches millions of people in different ways, and the vast majority of people are not Bible scholars. Against this backdrop, someone might ask, “Why does research matter?” or “Why should Museum of the Bible make scholarship one of its top priorities?” If you don’t consider yourself a scholar, or haven’t spent much or any of your life and money working toward a master’s degree or PhD, you may question why research is such an important part of Museum of the Bible. In an effort to connect the thoughts of the scholars to the public, I conducted an office survey.
I daily rub shoulders with a host of scholars from a wide variety of fields among the staff at our home base in OKC, which has grown to nearly seventy. In addition, we regularly host research teams and visiting scholars. With such access to these brilliant minds, I figured I would informally inquire about their views on biblical research and scholarship. With the help of our Director of the Green Collection, Dr. David Trobisch, and his efficient summary of the points I found in my survey, here are the common responses.
Three things: Scholars are blind, scholars learn through comparison, and scholars create consensus by communicating with each other.
- Scholars are blind. We cannot experience past events directly, we have to do so indirectly. Even when we examine evidence, we cannot always see the significance. For example, we don’t understand ancient calendars and ancient currency the way we understand our own. We are like blind men and women stumbling through a forest.
- Scholars learn by comparing the unknown with the known. Because we cannot find answers to our questions by looking directly at our object of interest, we compare the new evidence with evidence that we have already placed in a context. We understand by relating the unknown to the known. The better we paint the overall picture, the easier it is for us to understand a new piece of evidence.
- Scholars create consensus by communicating with each other. We strive for objectivity by verifying and accepting the experiences of our colleagues as if they are our own. If an experience is not shared, it is irrelevant to the scholarly discourse. This is why publishing is such an essential part of scholarship and science. The German language does not differentiate between scholarship and science: both are called Wissenschaft. The word references a methodological approach to observations and theory: ein Vorgang, der Wissen schafft.
Perhaps there’s nothing earth-shattering here, but this little exercise proved affirming. For these reasons, and more, I am excited about the Green Scholars Initiative. It is important, the program has grown quickly, and it is continuing to develop and grow with Dr. Michael Holmes‘ current leadership.
To keep up with the Green Scholars Initiative, check into our Museum of the Bible newsroom for updated press releases like this exciting announcement: Green Scholars Initiative Honors Young Biblical Scholars. You can also find free lectures on our Museum of the Bible You Tube Channel.