Israeli National Museum and Yad VaShem

This is the third day of our tour and I intentionally planned an easier day at two major museums, Yad VaShem and the Israeli National Museum.

There are three main things to see at the Israel National Museum for biblical studies (the focus of this trip). First is model of Jerusalem in the first century. This model used to be at the Holy Land Hotel but was moved to this museum a few years ago. Although someone might raise a minor objection to nearly every detail of the model, it is extremely helpful for visually seeing the whole city as it might have appeared in the first century. Several of my students considered this the highlight of the museum since they are “visual learners.”

Jerusalem Model

The second highlight of the museum is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are presented. There are a series of displays illustrating how the scrolls were found and some artifacts from Qumran, but the main room has examples of several types of scrolls found int eh caves at Qumran. These include Scripture (a few panels from the Great Isaiah scroll were on display), several apocryphal books (including the Genesis Apocryphon), and several of examples of the literature created by the Essenes (the Temple Scroll, the Habakkuk Pesher and the Thanksgiving Scroll). The Shrine of the Book also has a small display for the Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible in book form (just slightly older than the Leningrad Codex). If you visit the Shrine of the Book be sure to go down the stairs and see this display. There is a new (to me) display just outside the Shrine of the Book with pictures from the original excavation of Qumran (with several color pictures I had never seen before.

The third highlight is the archaeological wing of the museum. This section alone could take several hours to fully digest, we were only able to see some of the highlights. The Tel Dan inscription is on display and there are several inscriptions from the Second Temple. There is a fragment of the warning to Gentiles to stay out of the Jewish section of the temple courts, the so-called Trumpeting Stone which indicated where a priest sounded a trumpet from the Temple Mount, and the Theodotus Inscription.

Theodotus Inscription

Two other items should be mentioned because of their connection to the crucifixion of Jesus. Discovered in 1990, the Caiaphas Ossuary is an ornate bone box inscribed “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” The bones belong to a 60-year-old male, likely the Caiaphas mentioned in the New Testament. In the same corner of the display is an ankle bone from a crucified man. Normally the Romans would not want the nail to pass through bone since it is more difficult to remove and reuse the nail for another crucifixion. In this case, the ankle was entombed along with the nail and later placed in a bone box for secondary burial. Although no one would doubt the Romans crucified many people, this is the only archaeological evidence of a person who was crucified and then buried.

Crucified Man

One of the most important things I include on my tours of Israel is a visit to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Museum. Since many of my group are younger, they are often not well informed about the events leading up to the Holocaust or many of the detail. I try to point students into certain directions, especially to the display on the role of anti-Semitic Christianity in the rise of Nazism. This was terrible theology and not at all the teaching of the Bible, yet people justified pure evil by appealing selectively to a few verses badly interpreted. The museum is designed to physically represent the descent into the horrors of the Holocaust. The story is told through pictures and film documenting the beginnings of the anti-Jewish attacks in Germany and elsewhere. Many displays have video interviews with survivors which are (for me) challenging to watch without physically breaking down.

After our visit to Yad VaShem, we drove to Machane Yehuda Market for a late lunch. Since it was Friday afternoon, the market was extremely crowded. The Machane Yehuda Market is a huge shopping area with more than 250 vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to fine restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. A group of us found tables at Manou ba Shouk and had a great meal of kosher Lebanese food. Sofia helped us out by bringing us a little of everything and we all left satisfied. Great place eat if you are in the area.

Manou ba Shouk

Since we had a little extra time in our day, our guide suggested we visit the Jerusalem New Souvenir Store. I had visited this store at least one before. They have a wide selection of carved olive wood items with a wide price range, from affordable to extremely expensive (think, “new car”). After Daniel blessed us with the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, our group indulged in the worship of the great American god of consumerism. I looked over some of their ancient coins, but though better of ruining my credit on several which caught my eye. (Not to worry, I bought two excellent books at the Israeli National Museum and two official Yad VaShem publications. We all have our own ways to honor consumerism).

It has been a great few days in Jerusalem, but tomorrow we head north to Caesarea, Megiddo, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee where we will stay at the Ginosar Kibbutz Hotel.


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