Sunday 19 February 2012

The Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Putting it all in context

As you park for your trip to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, you might be forgiven for ignoring the building to your right, the Bible Lands Museum – but this would be a big mistake. Representing just part of the private collection of Dr Elie Borowski, a major international dealer in antiquities, Talmudic and biblical scholar and ‘a man with a plan’, the museum, which opened its doors in 1992, is the only museum in the world dedicated to the history of the biblical period in the lands of the Tanach, from Ur to Egypt – and beyond, including Canaanites, PhilistinesArameans,  Hittites,  Elamites, Phoenicians and Persians.  Whether you take the daily English tour at 10.30am or choose to guide yourself, you will be able to chronologically trace our history and the history of the lands in which we lived, from the dawn of civilisation to the Talmudic period. Taking as its themes the lives, beliefs, trades, commerce and communications of the peoples of the region, this exquisite collection helps to put our familiar stories and long held beliefs into a wider context.
Even the origin of the museum is of interest. Borowski, was born in Poland, studied at Mir yeshiva  and the Sorbonne, took semicha in Italy, fought with the French army, was captured and interned in Switzerland during World War II and lost his family in the Shoah. He had amassed a vast and important personal collection of antiquities, all bought on the open market.  On a visit to Jerusalem in 1981, a woman he met at a hotel, Batya Weiss, encouraged him to bring his collection to Israel rather than establish a museum for it in Toronto, as he had intended. She put him in contact with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek.  Borowski took her advice, and built the Bible Lands Museum. The two eventually married.
The main gallery displays hundreds of artifacts: ancient documents, idols, coins, statues, weapons, pottery, and seals from across the Bible Lands. Many topics are elaborated upon in maps and articles on the walls , such as Avraham's journey along the ancient fertile Crescent trade route.
While the museum's emphasis is the history of ancient Near Eastern civilisations, the museum always make links to the relevant verses in Tanach. For example, above a display of ancient Anatolian jugs is the verse "Behold, Rebecca came forth with her pitcher on her shoulder; and she went down unto the well and drew water" (from Bereishit 24:45).
The museum also allows you to make some intriguing links which would seem to confirm the antiquity of our most sacred texts. Just one example is the representation of the Egyptian goddess Hathor. To give away the possible link to a complex incident on our journey from slavery to freedom would be to discourage your visit – which would be a real pity.
The Bible Lands Museum is on ‘Museum Row’, in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.

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