It all started when I found this book about this impressive museum in the library:
This book made me wish so much I could visit this museum! Then I thought: “I can! I will do it virtually!” So let’s do it!
This museum was founded in 1965 as an art and archeological museum. It is Israel’s largest and foremost cultural institution, and one of the world’s leading encyclopedic museums. Its holdings include the world’s most comprehensive collections of the archaeology of the Holy Land, and Jewish art and life. It also has a significant and extensive holdings in the fine arts encompassing eleven separate departments: Israeli Art, European Art, Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Prints and Drawings, Photography, Design and Architecture, Asian Art, African Art, Oceanic Art, and Arts of the Americas.
To visit the grounds with Google Maps go HERE. It is so big! This is a map:
For sake of time, I will dedicate this post just to the archaeology wing!
The Archaeology Wing
This wing will take us to prehistoric times through the beginning of the Ottoman Period. The land where Israel sits connected the pass of early humans into Europe and Asia, and thus there has been a lot of findings dating back thousands of years. Among the treasures of this museum is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) piece of art created by humans! Yes! It is the sculpture of a woman It is estimated to be about 230,000 years old! This is what it looks like:
This female figurine was made from a volcanic rock that has been proven to have been carved by human hands into the shape of a woman. It was incised with a flint tool, which was also used to shape the head, arms, and ample bosom.
From the Neolithic Period (8,500-4,500 BCE) this museum has a collection considered to be the oldest masks in the world. They were discovered by in the Judean desert led by Harvard prehistorian Ofer Bar-Yosef in a site known as: Nahal Hemar. These masks date from 9,000 years ago and they even found hair (human) in a couple of them!
Stunning are they not?!
During the Chalcolithic, (4,500-3,500 BCE) there was a transition from the Stone Age to Bronze Age. During this time many objects were made using these materials. Discovered in 1961, the Nahal Mishmar hoard displays the highest technical and artistic achievement for this period which was not to be equaled for long time. This hoard includes some 400 artifacts, mostly cultic objects, produced by the lost wax technique, and richly decorated, mainly with horned animal motifs. The hoard also included some metal tool made by molds.
This is the most ornate of all the crowns found in this treasure. It is made of arsenical copper cast in a single casting including all projecting elements. (2)
During the Bronze Age (3,500-1,200 BCE) the Land of Canaan flourished in the shadow of the first great civilizations; Pharaonic Egypt to the south, and Ancient Near Eastern cultures to the north and east. An example from this period are these anthropoid sarcophagi:
They also have a very special piece from this period, a clay house from an urban center called Arad that had commercial ties with Egypt.
“During the first half of the second millennium BCE, a rich urban culture reappeared in Canaan, alongside the pastoral society. This period is seen as the backdrop of the stories of the patriarchs in the Bible, and it is then that the major cities mentioned in the Bible, such as Hazor, Ashkelon, and Megiddo, gained importance. Monumental basalt sculptures from Hazor, which adorned the palaces and temples, attest to the building revolution which took place at this time.” (1). These lion sculptures come fro this time:
These impressive sculptures come from the Orthostat Temple in Hazor. They are made of Basalt. You can experience these beauties and other creations from the land of Canaan virtually HERE.
From the area of Israel and the Bible: “According to the Bible, the Israelites evolved into a kingdom. After a few decades this kingdom split into two; the Kingdom of Judah in the south, and the Kingdom of Israel to the north. The southern monarchy was small and isolated. It was ruled by the House of David, a fact corroborated by an inscription on a commemorative stela which is to date the only extra-biblical proof from that period of the existence of King David.” (1)
The (northern) Kingdom of Israel, was stronger and more prosperous, and had developed extensive commercial ties with the countries surrounding it. Attesting to those ties is a small carved ivory inlay in the next photo, showing a striding sphinx, found in the kingdom’s capital, Samaria, which was used as furniture decoration in the palace:
This railing is one of the finest examples of the kind of architectural ornamentation used in royal edifices:
In ancient times, when only a small minority of people could read and write, the seal impression was used as a mark of ownership and as a means of authenticating documents, just as the signature is used today. The seals are usually made of semi precious stone or hard limestone, and a few are carved from bone, glass, bronze, or silver. Archaeological evidence shows that pottery vessels containing wine, oil, or valuables were closed with clay stoppers which were then stamped with a seal. Papyrus documents were rolled up, tied with a string, and secured with a lump of wet clay on which a seal was impressed (bulla). Great importance is ascribed to the seal in the Bible: it was the symbol of the king’s authority, appearing on all royal edicts (I Kings 21:8). Seal inscriptions were carved in mirror writing, so as to appear correctly in the seal impression. (1)
In the following photo you can see the seal of Jezebel dating from the 9th-8th BCE. It is made of opal:
Here they are among many other inscribed Hebrew seals:
About the area called Greeks, Romans and Jews. Hellenistic period – 332 – 63 BCE
Early Roman period / Herodian period / period of the Second Temple 63 BCE – 70 CE
Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East, including the land of Israel in 332 BCE, marks a turning point in the history of the ancient world, the beginning of the Hellenistic period and the fusion of East and West that gave birth to Western civilization.
Hellenization brought the Greek language and transformed cultural, social, and political conventions. This is evident in the statues and figurines, ritual objects, inscriptions and coins, jewelry, and funerary decorations on display. One of the most important finds from this period is located in this gallery, the Heliodorus Inscription – the Seleucid king’s order to appoint an official in charge of temples and sanctuaries in the region – including the Jerusalem Temple. This inscription sheds light on the relationship between the Seleucid rulers and the local Jewish population.
This unique 2,200-year-old stele made of limestone provides new insight into the dramatic story of Heliodorus and the Temple in Jerusalem, as related in the Second Book of Maccabees. “The Heliodorus stele is one of the most important and revealing Hellenistic inscriptions from Israel,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “It contextualizes the Second Book of Maccabees and provides an independent and authentic source for an important episode in the history leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, whose victorious conclusion is celebrated each year during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.” (1)
This is a very controversial piece, the Ossuary of Jesus son of Joseph from the 1st Century CE. In other words the tomb of Jesus.
Family burial caves were used for generations and many ossuaries accumulated in them. The ossuaries were sometimes incised with the names of the deceased in Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew – the three common languages of the time. The names of the deceased were occasionally accompanied by the individual’s lineage, place of origin, or profession. Such inscriptions are a rich source of information on the structure and diversity of Jewish society at the time. Many of the names of members of Jesus’ family and circle as we know them from the New Testament appear on ossuaries of this time. (1)
This tomb was found with a group of other tombs in a cave and a documentary was made claiming that they belonged to Jesus family members including his mother, father, and… a wife! So yeah very controversial and Christians do not accept this as true. You can read more about it HERE and this is Jesus’ supposed tomb:
Also related to Jesus, a slab with Pontius Pilates inscription is perhaps one of the most important pieces this museum has as it is the only proof that this Roman Prefect existed in real life. (Pontius Pilates is believed to have ordered the execution of Jesus Christ.)
This piece is made of hard limestone and it is dated 26-36 CE and it was found in an Amphitheater in Caesarea.
And last this piece, an iron nail, embedded in a heel bone, displayed next to the ossuary in which it was found, is the only archaeological evidence of the Roman practice of execution by crucifixion to have survived in the world.
The Roman period (63 BCE -324 CE) in the Land of Israel lasted some four hundred years, during which the Roman Empire controlled all aspects of life. A bronze statue of the Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE), discovered in a Roman legion camp in the Beit Shean Valley, a cavalry soldier’s helmet, weapons and ritual objects – all attest to the presence, the organization, and the display of power of the Roman army and government in the Land of Israel.
You can explore the gallery where this sculpture is located HERE through Google’s Arts and Culture.
The Holy Land Gallery houses remains from the Byzantine Period 324 – 638 CE to the Early Muslim Period 638 – 750 CE. It includes items from churches and synagogues, their lamps, chandeliers, and other ritual objects, their mosaics and inscriptions, reveal the uniqueness of each religion and its set of beliefs – while pointing out the similarities in their material culture. Their resemblance is best illustrated in the reconstructions – of a synagogue and of a church bema – on display in the gallery, where the architectural design of their places of worship shows a common origin.
This is the reconstruction of the Susiya synagogue bema (podium), from 5th-8th century CE. It is made of marble:
This is Beth Shean synagogue’s floor from 5th-7th CE:
And this is the reconstruction of the presbytery of a church bema from 4th-6th century CE:
You can see all these virtually HERE through Google’s Arts and Culture.
Early Muslim period 750 – 1099
When the Abbasids rose to power in mid-8th century, they moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad, and the land of Israel became a distant province. Most of the archaeological evidence remaining from this period are everyday objects. These comprised mainly of ceramics, incorporating newly developed techniques, colored glazes and glass guilding. The following are some glass vessel fragments from the 8th-9th CE.
Crusader period 1099 – 1291
Crusaders brought the Romanesque and Gothic architectural style with them and merged them with the local Eastern style. Examples of wonderful Crusader art can be seen in the Belvoir Romanesque Church relief of an angel:
Part of the archeology wing includes a very special building called the Shrine of the Book Complex. This building houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest biblical manuscripts in the world. It also has rare early medieval biblical manuscripts. The scrolls were discovered in 1947–56 in 11 caves in and around the Wadi Qumran. An elaborate planning process of seven years led to the building’s eventual construction in 1965.
The building consists of a white dome over a building located two-thirds below the ground. The dome is reflected in a pool of water that surrounds it. Across from the white dome is a black basalt wall. The colors and shapes of the building are based on the imagery of the scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness; the white dome symbolizes the Sons of Light and the black wall symbolizes the Sons of Darkness. The interior of the shrine was designed to depict the environment in which the scrolls were found. (3)
As the fragility of the scrolls makes it impossible to display them all on a continuous basis, a system of rotation is used. After a scroll has been exhibited for 3–6 months, it is removed from its showcase and placed temporarily in a special storeroom, where it “rests” from exposure. (3)
Close up of the scroll:
To see digital versions of the scrolls go HERE.
Very close to this Shrine of the Book and giving its visitor great context is a huge model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, which reconstructs the topography and architectural character of the city as it was prior to its destruction by the Romans in 66 CE:
This video will show us many of the things I wrote about in this post in the museum:
To see more of the other exhibits and galleries of this museum vimake sure to look at its website HERE.
Thank you so much for coming along!
(1) The Israel Museum of Jerusalem Website.
(2) Book: Treasures of the Holy land. Ancient Art from the Israel Museum. By the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1986.