A Day at the Museums

After the long walking day yesterday the group was more than happy to visit two excellent museums in Jerusalem. First, we visited the Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. Ironically, as we arrived at the museum our bus had some sort of an electrical fault and the doors would not open. The reason this is strange is the trip started with a breakdown on the our college bus so that the door did not open. What are the chances we would have two busses with the same exact fault?

A typical visit at the Yad VaShem begins at the Children’s Memorial. This is a short walk through a dark room illuminated by reflected candlelight, giving the appearance of thousands of points of light. As you walk through the very dark space, a voice reads out the names and ages of children who died during the holocaust. The experience is extremely moving, as you see images of the children who were killed in the Holocaustt. After leaving the memorial there are several pieces of art depicting the loss of these children.

Once in the museum itself, the students work their way through the various galleries. The Yad VaShem is one of the best designed museums I have ever visited in terms of presenting a large and complex topic like the Holocaust. The early rooms develop the factors which led to the rise of Nazism and Hitler. Along with German propaganda depicting the Jews as vermin, there are several quotes from Christian leaders encouraging violence against the Jews. Although there were some exceptions, it is an embarrassment and shame the Christian church did not speak out against the evil against the Jewish people.

The museum has a number of short videos from Holocaust survivors narrating their experiences. I have seen many of these before, but there are always a few that are new to me. I find these personal testimonies to be the most moving experiences in the Yad VaShem. In fact, I purchased two books in the museum bookstore with some of these testimonies, as well as a collection of letters describing a woman’s experience during the Holocaust.

IMG_1929The second museum of the day was the Israeli National Museum. There are several things at this museum of interest to biblical studies students. First is the scale model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period. Most of my students were very impressed with this model, and asked a series of questions about where things were located and even making observations about our visit to the Davidson Museum and southern wall excavations. Sometimes the model doesn’t quite match what we saw the previous day. I was pleased to see my students noticing these differences.

The second thing to see at this museum is the Shrine of the Book, the Dead Sea Scrolls museum. The presentation is brief, but we do get to see a nice selection of original Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a small selection of artifacts depicting daily life at Qumran, although our trip to the site  later will fill in most of those details. Because the hall is so dark, many of the students had trouble making out the details. Some of them left the gallery early and went next-door to the Nano Bible display. This appears to be a Bible that  fits on the head of a pin, or something like that. It always disappoints me people are far more fascinated with this technological Bible than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The third and perhaps most exciting thing at this museum is the archaeological wing. Artifacts are displayed very clearly with excellent signage, beginning in the earliest periods of the history of the region. Therefore too many things in this museum to narrate here, so I will just touch on a few.  The Tel Dan inscription is one of the more important recent finds, and quite controversial since it appears to refer to the house of David. If this is the case, it is the earliest inscriptions evidence for David’s kingdom. Two particular items were of interest to us, the Holy of Holies from Arad in the Edomite temple from Tamar. Since we will be visiting both of the sites later in the tour it was good to see the Edomite gods in the museum.

Most groups go straight to the Second Temple period displays. A large Christian group did this, completely skipping over the extremely important Old Testament artifacts. I think this is very disappointing, but perhaps understandable if a group is trying to move through the museum as rapidly as possible. But honestly I don’t think that’s the best way to experience this particular museum. Everything in this section of the museum is important for new testament studies. For example, there is a fragment of an inscription from the Temple warning gentiles not to pass the barrier (perhaps this is the background to Paul’s “dividing wall of hostility” in Ephesians 2:15). This is sitting next to the original Trumpeting stone found in the southern Wall excavations, an early menorah carving and an ossuary bearing the name of Simon, a builder of the temple.

There is a large display of ossuaries which I had not seen before. An ossuary is a “bone box” used for a secondary burial in the late Second Temple period. Of primary interest is Caiaphas’s ossuary, likely the high priest mentioned in the Bible. The Talpiot ossuaries were on display as well.

Although it was a replica, I was thrilled to see the ossuary and ankle bone discovered in the 1980s with a nail embedded in the bone. This is the only archaeological evidence from a crucifixion to be discovered. The crucified man was buried in a tomb, and after the body decomposed, his bones were transferred to the ossuary. It appears the nail could not be removed after his crucifixion, so the ankle bone and nail were both placed inside a bone box. Even though it is a bit gruesome, this does give a good illustration of the size and shape of nails used in a typical crucifixion, as well as visualizing how Jesus may have been crucified. The Bible does not mention how his feet were placed on the cross, so they may have been nailed on the sides as illustrated by this particular find.

We did not walk as far this day as the previous, the students were still fairly worn out and excited to get back to the hotel for a rest stop before dinner. Tomorrow we start at the Mount of Olives and will hike all the way to the City of David and Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

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