The Israeli government has given the green light to build a Bible museum in the country of Jesus' birth.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reports that the Israel Bible Valley project will combine exhibits depicting Old Testament characters and times alongside displays of biblical artifacts. The Knesset, Israel's main governing body, unanimously approved the initiative yesterday and will soon decide the museum's place on the map.
"It's absurd that in the land of the Bible, there is no center dedicated to it," Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, told Haaretz.
All of the museum's possible locations are outside of Jerusalem and include such historic Bible regions as Neot Kendumin and Adulam. The project is the brainchild of Emek Hatanakh, an Israeli non-profit concerned with inspiring greater public knowledge of the Bible. The group's website said it envisions functional Biblical farms and villages, archaeological digs and performances of Bible stories once the museum opens.
The Jewish faith believes Israel is holy land and that its sacred scripture, the Torah, was personally delivered by God to his followers there. Christians, for their part, affirm the Torah as the Bible's Old Testament. As such, various prominent Israeli politicians have applauded the move as a must for interfaith relations.
"There is no other book in the entire world quite like the Hebrew Bible, whose pages are old and withered, but whose ideas are fresh and alive," Shimon Peres, Israel's president, said on the Emek Hatanakh website. "It is eternal and has significance to each new generation."
Israel Bible Valley already plans on bringing the global religious community together through its worldwide Torah inscription project. The initiative inspires Jews from various countries to write one Torah verse in their adopted country's native tongue. The final scroll will be housed at Bible Valley and build on the similarities between Judaism and Christianity that transcend differing nations, cultures and tongues. So far, scribes from 40 nations have participated.
Rabbi Charles Feinberg, the head rabbi at Washington D.C.'s Adas Israel Synagogue, said Judaism and Christianity's reverence for the same text was important in interfaith dialogue between the two religions. Though both read the same holy book, he said each faith analyzes it differently.
"We may interpret scripture differently but it is still from the same book," Feinberg said. "There are also many overlaps in theology in terms of the language used. Both Judaism and Christianity believe in sin, forgiveness and that redemption is possible."
Feinberg said Jews order the Torah differently than the Christian Old Testament so that God's voice in the text diminishes as it is read. He said it starts with the narrative of Moses, continues with the Jewish prophets and ends with writings on Jewish tradition such as the Psalms and Proverbs. In this way, he concluded, the Torah becomes Jews' best bond with God.
Ruth Langer, Boston College's associate director for the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning and an associate professor of Jewish studies at its theology department, said the two faiths fundamentally varied in the way each wrestled over the words of scripture.
"Judaism has at its core that God gave the entirety of his testimony in the Torah scripture," she said. "It believes the world is unredeemed and that the messiah is yet to come."
"Christianity is a fundamental transformation of the Jewish traditions through what Christians call the resurrection experience," Langer continued. "Christian readings of this scripture put the Gospels front and center."
Despite the faiths' many differences, Israelis remain intent on realizing Israel Bible Valley and its interfaith message. Speaking with the project's website, Netanyahu said that the Torah was among the most transcendent works in human literature.
"Viewed as a whole, there is no other human creation that can compare with it in terms of its artistry, ideals, faith and sheer influence on the world," he said.