When I plan a trip to Israel, there are certain dates I check in order to avoid problems in Jerusalem. For example, it is very difficult to move a large group around on Jerusalem Day. But one date I have not checked in the past is 27 Nisan, Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. But as it happens, I scheduled a visit to the Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Other than a delay for the Prime Minister’s motorcade (“wave to Bibi” our driver said), our only inconvenience was not visiting Mount Herzl (closed for some official visit, we were told).
As we were waiting to enter the museum, all of the sirens in the city began at exactly 10:00 and we all stood in silence for two minutes to remember the victims of the Holocaust. It was an eerie moment, but fitting for our experience in the Yad VaShem museum.
I have visited the museum many times, but this is the first time I have used the self-guiding audio players. I highly recommend it, although if you intended to listen to it all it would add several hours to your visit. 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. In fact, I was standing next to one of our group and I heard her sob as she watched a film of people being loaded on to a train bound for a death camp. Several of my students said they were overwhelmed by the things they saw in the Yad VaShem.
After lunch we visited the Israel National Museum. There are three main things to see at this 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.”
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.
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.
Tomorrow we will start at the top of the Mount of Olives and work our way across the Kidron Valley and up to the City of David and finally to the Southern Temple excavations at the Davidson Museum.