The most famous museum in Israel is the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Founded in 1965, it was primarily built to display the numerous archaeological finds from throughout the country. It is located across the street from the Knesset, Israel’s government building, and houses approximately 500,000 items.
Perhaps the most popular display at the Israel Museum is the Shrine of the Book, which is a smaller building on the Museum complex that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. More information about the Dead Sea Scrolls can be found in my Previous Post. These First Century A.D. era scrolls are the oldest Biblical texts ever found (not including a tiny Biblical inscription found at Ketef Hinnom).
Right outside the Shrine of the Book building, visitors can see a huge model depicting Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period, the time that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. The model was originally built for the Holy Land Hotel in 1966, a year before Israel took of control of the Temple Mount area. People, including my dad, would visit the Holy Land Hotel just to see the model. However, the model was disassembled into 100 parts and moved to the Israel Museum in 2006.
The Israel Museum’s archaeology wing is probably its second largest attraction, after the Dead Sea Scrolls. It not only houses archaeology found in Israel, but also archaeology from other areas of the world, especially the Middle East. One famous item displayed there is the Ketef Hinnom inscription, which I mentioned above as being the oldest Biblical text ever discovered. In 1979, Dr. Gabriel Barkay found two silver scrolls that contain the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:23-27. He found them in a burial cave in Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley. (Fun Fact: the word Gehenna is an anglicanized version of Gei-Hinnom גֵי־הִנֹּם, which means “Valley of Hinnom.” Because it was used as a dump and a place where evil kings performed child sacrifices in ancient times, the word came to be associated with Hell.) Today, you can visit the burial caves where the Ketef Hinnom inscription was found by going into the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and asking if you could see their archaeolgical garden.
In addition to archaeology, the Israel Museum has also become Israel’s main art museum. However, I am less knowledgable and interested in art, so do not know what famous pieces they have there. While at the museum, I did not have enough time so sped through the art wing.
One other wing at the museum is called the Jack, Joseph, & Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art & Life. This wing houses Judaica from throughout the centuries and throughout the world. My favorite part of this wing is called “The Synagogue Route.” This exhibit is a reconstruction of four synagogues, using pieces from the originals. It includes synagogues from 18th century Italy, 16th century India, 18th century Germany, and 18th century Suriname. From what I remember, as you walk into each of the gorgeously recreated synagogues, you hear Jewish music playing from that synagogue’s country and time period.
Google Arts & Culture created a Virtual View of the Israel Museum, in case you are interested.
Sources and Further Reading
Friedman, Matti. “In a Stone Box, the Only Trace of Crucifixion.” The Times of Israel. March 26, 2012. https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-a-stone-box-a-rare-trace-of-crucifixion/ (accessed September 26, 2020).
“The Israel Museum.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-israel-museum-jerusalem (accessed September 26, 2020).
“The Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period.” The Israel Museum. https://www.imj.org.il/en/wings/shrine-book/model-jerusalem-second-temple-period (accessed September 26, 2020).
“Welcome to Museum.” The Israel Museum. https://www.imj.org.il/en/content/welcome-museum (accessed September 26, 2020).