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Religion Today Blog Christian Blog and Commentary

Yonat Shimron

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

(RNS) — Since its grand opening nearly a year ago, the Museum of the Bible has exhibited five fragments from the storied Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient parchment fragments discovered 70 years ago in a desert cave.

On Monday (Oct. 22) the museum acknowledged that the five fragments it had on display were forgeries. They were taken down several weeks ago and replaced with three other fragments that do not have the same anomalies.

The museum had long suspected the fragments may be forged and a sign accompanying the exhibit says scholars had raised questions about their authenticity. But last week the museum received scientific verification via digital and X-ray testing of the ink, sediment layers and chemical composition, which proved conclusively that the fragments were forged.

“This is part of our ongoing commitment to making sure we’re adhering to all legal and museum standards, that our displays are accurate, that when we have information, we make it available,” said Jeff Kloha, chief curatorial officer. “Where we had uncertainty about the documentation, we put that up on the museum website and updated labels on the displays.”

This is not the first time the museum has faced questions about the problematic origins of some of its antiquities. Many of the items in the Washington, D.C., museum were purchased beginning in 2009 by the billionaire Oklahoma-based Green family, owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain.

The museum has benefited from the Greens’ buying spree. The family amassed about 40,000 items, some of which were donated to the museum, including the purported Dead Sea Scroll fragments.

But last year, Hobby Lobby agreed to return nearly 4,000 artifacts to Iraq after they were found to have been looted from Iraqi archaeological sites. As part of the settlement with the Justice Department, the company was also required to pay $3 million to the U.S. government.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered among the 20th century’s greatest archaeological finds. They were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1947 in caves near the Dead Sea and are about 1,100 years older than any other existing texts of the Hebrew Bible. Among the fragments are portions of the Ten Commandments and the Book of Genesis.

They would be a prized item for any serious collector, and especially the evangelical Green family. But the Israel Antiquities Authority owns most of them and displays them in Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book. Many can now be viewed online, too.

“For the Greens and many collectors like them from the evangelical community, there’s something about the tangibility of the text, something about being able to touch a part of the Bible that predates Jesus,” said Joel Baden, a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School. “There’s some deeply seated appeal in ‘the oldest’ and these are absolutely the oldest texts we have.”

The Green family bought 16 scroll fragments between 2009 and 2014, Kloha said. Twelve of the 16 were purchased in 2009 and 2010. He did not say how much Hobby Lobby paid for the items before they were donated to the museum.

Lawrence Schiffman, an adviser to the Museum of the Bible, disputed a commonly held narrative that the Greens erred by buying too many artifacts too quickly, without guidance from professionals who could properly vet their origin and authenticity.

He noted that since 2002, close to 70 items that have come on the market as Dead Sea Scroll fragments appear to be suspect. Some fragments were sold to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, others to Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif.

“This is not the only institution with post-2002 fragments,” said Schiffman, professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University. “They were purchased by a whole bunch of people and they were purchased with very good pedigree. These buyers were all filched by sophisticated people.”

Kloha said the scroll fragments underwent three rounds of investigation to verify their provenance, handwriting style and the chemical relationship between the parchment and ink. The results of the third round, considered the best determinant of authenticity, came in last week.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: RNS/AP/Seth Wenig

(RNS) — Eugene Peterson, the best-selling author of “The Message” and longtime pastor praised as a “shepherd’s shepherd,” passed away Monday morning (Oct. 22) at age 85.

Among Peterson’s last words were, “Let’s go,” according to a statement from his family.

“During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven,” according to his family. “We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise. There may have even been a time or two when he accessed his Pentecostal roots and spoke in tongues as well.”

Peterson pastored Christ Our King Presbyterian Churcha Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation he founded in Bel Air, Md., for 30 years while also writing widely to encourage and develop other pastors.

He is best known for “The Message,” his popular paraphrase of the Bible in contemporary language that made the Bible accessible to many Christians. Altogether, he wrote more than 30 books, including his 2011 memoir “The Pastor” and the Christian classic, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”

“Eugene Peterson has encouraged, formed, and often literally saved the ministry of more than one pastor over the years through his writing and thinking (I would include myself in that list),” wrote Truett Seminary professor Robert Creech in an Oct. 13 Facebook post.

“He has refreshed Scripture for many through his thoughtful paraphrase of the Bible published as The Message. He has taught us to pray.”

Creech encouraged prayer for Peterson and his family in that post as the author and pastor was placed in hospice care last week, facing the progression of dementia and heart failure.

Peterson was hospitalized Tuesday, Oct. 9, “when he took a sudden and dramatic turn in his health caused by an infection,” according to an email from his son Eric Peterson included in Creech’s post. 

When the family shared with the author and pastor he was nearing the end of his life, Eric Peterson wrote, his father thoughtfully responded, “I feel good about that.”

He closed his email: “I’m not exactly sure what he meant by it, but one of the last things he said to me this evening was, ‘It just seems so sacred that they trust me so much.’

“Every moment in this man’s presence is sacred.”

The family statement on Monday said Peterson remained joyful and smiling in his final days.

“It feels fitting that his death came on a Monday, the day of the week he always honored as a Sabbath during his years as a pastor. After a lifetime of faithful service to the church — running the race with gusto — it is reassuring to know that Eugene has now entered into the fullness of the Kingdom of God and has been embraced by eternal Sabbath,” according to the statement.

Peterson had retreated from public life last year after publishing his final book, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” but not before causing some controversy with his words to former Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt in one of his final interviews.

The longtime pastor told RNS at the time he would officiate a same-sex wedding if asked to do so today by a gay couple who were “Christians of good faith.” Later — after some backlash — he retracted that statement.

It was the messiness and ambiguity of living Christian theology as a pastor, rather than teaching it as a professor, that originally led Peterson, a scholar of biblical Greek and Hebrew, from academia to the pulpit.

After taking a part-time job at a church to make ends meet while a professor in New York City, he once told RNS he came to believe “the church is a lot more interesting than the classroom. There’s no ambiguity to Greek and Hebrew. It’s just right or wrong.”

“And in the church everything was going every which way all the time — dying, being born, divorces, kids running away. I suddenly realized that this is where I really got a sense of being involved and not just sitting on the sidelines as a spectator but being in the game,” he said.

Peterson founded Christ Our King in 1963 after he was asked to start a church in Bel Air with the assistance of the Baltimore Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and First Presbyterian Church in Bel Air. He retired as pastor in 1991.

Without that experience as a pastor, he wouldn’t have been able to write “The Message,” he said. It took several requests from publishers to get him to agree to write the paraphrase and 12 years to complete it.

Even after it was finished, he said, he never felt like “The Message” was “my book.” Translating the words of the prophet Isaiah or the prolific Epistle writer Paul into the idioms of his congregation, he said, “I was just pleased I was able to get into their life and do it in my way.”

While some took issue with the paraphrase of Christian Scriptures, “The Message” has been praised by many — from laypeople who struggle to understand the language of the Bible to U2 frontman Bono, who said it “speaks to me in my own language.” The two appeared together in a 2016 video for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Fuller Studio.

David Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller and director of its Brehm Texas initiative, grew to know Peterson first through his writing and later as a professor and friend. Peterson’s classes were filled with times of singing long, theologically dense hymns and silent prayer, Taylor said in an email to RNS.

“At the start of the term, it only irritated me to waste so much time singing. I was anxious for him to get on with his lecture notes. But for him, the silence, the praying, the singing, the listening, the waiting, the being present were the teaching,” he said.

Peterson connected with readers because he made the biblical text come alive, according to his friend.

His life’s goal was to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same, he said.

And for those who knew and loved him, Taylor said, “It’s his joy that will remain the gift that shapes me most deeply.”

“Even now, as I read the news of his passing, I find myself weeping, not just with sadness, but with joy, because I know that his joy is being made full and he would want us to share in it, too.”

With the publication of his final book last year, Peterson said, he felt a sense of completion.

“I think I’ve pretty much mined everything I’ve learned and made art out of it,” he told RNS at the time.

He wasn’t afraid to die, he said, simply curious. As a pastor, he’d spent time with many people as they were dying, and their conversations were some of the best he remembered having in his lifetime.

“We do know what’s going to happen, those of us who believe in the Trinity. For us, there’s something quite … I don’t want to use the word ‘miraculous’ in a sloppy way,” he said. “But there are people who die well, and I want to be one.”


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission. 

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Clappstar

As actress Candace Cameron Bure released her first-ever children's book, she shared a message with her kids to remember their Christian faith.

Bure became a household name from a young age when she starred as DJ Tanner in the 1980s sitcom Full House. Her role was reprised in 2016 on the hit show's spinoff Fuller House

But Bure is interested in more than just acting. 2018 marks a career milestone for the multi-talented mother of three with the publication of her first-ever children’s book, Candace Center Stage.

The story follows Candace, a little girl with a larger-than-life personality, as she attends her first dance class. Candace enters the class thinking that she’s the finest dancer around and that she couldn’t possibly need instruction. Soon, however, she realizes that her dancing abilities might not be as exceptional as she thought. With her mother’s encouragement, the bright-eyed ballerina is determined to follow through and overcome the roadblocks she encounters with grace and confidence.

In an interview with US Weekly, Bure explained that “There’s always a little lesson learned in the book, and it really encourages kids to have confidence, keep trying, don’t be afraid to fail, and at the end of the day it’s okay to be yourself.”

The release of this children's book was a long-awaited dream for the actress. She told Christina Garibaldi in the interview that she's wanted to write this book since she had her first child 20 years ago. 

Candace Center Stage comes at a time when Bure is only a couple of years from an empty nest. When asked if she had any advice for her kids she said, “You really have to know who you are before you step out into the world … you have to be grounded, whatever that is for you. For us, our Christian faith is incredibly important.”  

Candace Center Stage was released on October 16th.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Tara Ziemba/Stringer