Even though COVID-19 has shut down cultural institutions such as museums and libraries for most of 2020, that has not stopped me from learning some interesting new history. Last month, I learned that I live close to where the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) found the dead body of Baby Face Nelson in 1934. Baby Face Nelson, the nickname of Lester Gillis, was a notorious bank robber known for killing the most FBI agents ever (three total). His nickname came from his apparently youthful appearance.
Although a criminal his entire life, Baby Face Nelson grew in notoriety once he joined the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger. John Dillinger’s group, known as the Dillinger Gang, participated in numerous bank robberies, and were not afraid to use violence in the process.
In July of 1934, the FBI eventually shot and killed the 31-year-old Dillinger, because a Romanian prostitute, Ana Cumpănaș, tipped off the FBI, in return for their aid in preventing her deportation back to Romania. Unfortunately for Cumpănaș, she still ended up being deported. According to the FBI’s website, Cumpănaș told the FBI that she would be wearing an orange dress while watching a film with Dillinger and another woman at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Somehow, the dress changed from orange to red in newspaper accounts, and Dillinger’s betrayer came to be known as the “Woman in Red.”
After Dillinger’s death, another member of the Dillinger Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, became the FBI’s Public Enemy No. 1. The FBI shot and killed Floyd in October of 1934, so then Baby Face Nelson became Public Enemy No. 1. On the run from the police for a month, the FBI eventually caught up with him on November 27, 1934, in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb approximately 45 minutes northwest of Chicago. Two FBI agents died as a result of a skirmish with him, that came to be known as the Battle of Barrington.
The Battle of Barrington left Baby Face Nelson severely wounded, so he asked his friends and wife (who was hiding in a ditch during the battle) to take him to a friend’s house at 1627 Walnut Ave. in Wilmette, a wealthy northern suburb of Chicago. He died soon after their arrival there, at the age of 25. His friends then left his body in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Cemetery in Niles Center (the former name of the Chicago suburb of Skokie). Afterwards, the FBI received an anonymous call informing them of the location of Baby Face Nelson’s body. While figuring out what to do with his body, the FBI brought it to nearby Haben Funeral Home. During this time, the FBI also searched for Baby Face Nelson’s wife, Helen, whom they soon found and imprisoned for a year.
Although Al Capone is undoubtedly Chicago’s most notorious gangster, the Dillinger Gang arguably comes in second place. Both groups have inspired popular culture through countless films and books ever since. If you want to learn more about these criminals, as well as others, and see some of their FBI files, check out the FBI’s history page on its website: https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/lester-gillis-baby-face-nelson.
On November 11, 1918 at 11 AM French time, World War I officially ended (at least on paper). After that, the Allied nations commemorated November 11th as Armistice Day each year. However, after WWII, Great Britain and its Commonwealth changed the name of the holiday to Remembrance Day, in order to honor those who fought in every British war, not just WWI. Similarly, after WWII, the United States changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
On March 5, 1917, a little over a year before WWI ended, the British government created the National War Museum (soon afterwards renamed the Imperial War Museum) to preserve materials related to the War. After moving to several different homes, by 1936, it found its permanent location in a former hospital in London, that was originally built in 1814.
During WWII, the Imperial War Museum hid its most precious collections, in order to save them from potential bombs. This was a wise decision, because the Museum did lose a plane from its collection during a bombing raid. Once WWII ended, the Imperial War Museum began collecting items from that war as well, and then subsequent British wars, thereafter.
I had the opportunity to visit the Imperial War Museum of London back in 2010. Soon after my visit, the museum began a large renovation project, in anticipation of 2014, which was the centenary of the start of WWI. That means that much has probably changed since I was there. However, if the museum managed to get into my list of top 10 museums that I have ever visited, before the renovations even happened, then it must be even more amazing now.
In line with most of Britain’s government-owned museums, the Imperial War Museum has free admittance. Unsurprisingly, its primary focus is the two World Wars of the twentieth century. It has every imaginable type of object related to these wars. These includes the uniforms of each participating country, many of the weapons and airplanes used, British air raid lights, and much more. There is also a lot of important material housed in the museum that is not on display. For example, it has an extensive archive and library full of documents, books, photos, videos, oral histories, etc. related to Britain’s 20th and 21st century wars. Many of these items are digitized and searchable on the museum’s wonderful website.
New Zealander, Peter Jackson, is not only one of my heroes because he directed the Lord of the Rings films, but also because he helped restore a significant number of WWI film footage held at the Imperial War Museum. Using much of the museum’s film footage (which he colorized) and oral histories, Jackson created a documentary chronologically detailing the experiences of British soldiers during WWI. The 2018 documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, is entirely comprised of audio and video footage taken from the Imperial War Museum. Here is a BBC video of Jackson explaining how he and his team restored deteriorating WWI film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cSXfKSRKz4.
A few more things should be noted about the Imperial War Museum. When I went in 2010, the top floor was entirely dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust. Additionally, I remember finding it odd that off in one random corner of the museum was the motorcycle that T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) rode and crashed to his death in 1935. Apparently, it was on loan at the museum from a private owner, so since 2013, is no longer displayed there. However, ablog post from the Imperial War Museum seems to say that, although the motorcycle that was on display did belong to Lawrence, it was not the actual one he rode when he died. That confuses me because I remember the sign at the museum saying that it was the one he rode at this death. Regardless, it is no longer there.
In addition to the museum in London, the Imperial War Museum operates several other related museums throughout Britain. These are the Churchill War Rooms (which I have seen and will hopefully write about in the future), the HMS Belfast (a WWII warship), the Imperial War Museum Duxford (Europe’s largest air museum), and the Imperial War Museum North (a smaller war museum in northern England).
The largest cemetery in the city of Chicago is Rosehill Cemetery, located on the northern side of Chicago. Founded in 1859, it is also one of Chicago’s oldest cemeteries. In the mid-nineteenth century, Chicago tried to discourage having cemeteries located within the proximity of the city, so relocated many graves to neighboring areas, thus creating new cemeteries in the process. Rosehill was one of these new cemeteries right outside of Chicago’s boundaries, however, as Chicago expanded, it eventually fell into the jurisdiction of Chicago.
When you enter Rosehill Cemetery, you must pass through a beautiful entryway that looks like a castle. This entrance was built in 1864 by William W. Boyington. Visitors might notice its resemblance to the Old Chicago Water Tower, a famous Chicago landmark that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. That is no coincidence. Boyington was the architect for both structures.
I have referenced several famous Chicagoans who are buried at Rosehill Cemetery in previous posts, and have included photos of their tombstones there.
Ignaz Schwinn, the creator of a popular bicycle company in the United States, the Schwinn Bicycle Company, is buried at Rosehill Cemetery, as is George Buchanan Armstrong, the founder of the United States Railway Mail Service. Rosehill also has a United States Civil War memorial, since approximately 350 soldiers from the Civil War are buried there. Apparently, Rosehill Cemetery can also boast appearing in several movies.
I wanted to find the graves of John G. Shedd, the founder of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, and Richard Warren Sears, the cofounder of the U.S. department store, Sears, Roebuck and Co. However, they were both buried in Rosehill’s mausoleum building. This two-story mausoleum is the largest in Chicago. It did not seem like a wise choice for me to wander alone through an empty mausoleum in Chicago, so I skipped that search.
My favorite discovery at Rosehill Cemetery is perhaps a morbid, and certainly a sad, one. That is the tomb of Bobby Franks. Although he died back in 1924, which is almost 100 years ago, there were still flowers and a stuffed toy left at the entrance to his family’s private mausoleum.
Fourteen-year old Bobby Franks was murdered by 19-year-old Nathan Leopold, Jr. and 18-year-old Richard Loeb. Theories regarding the motivation for the murder vary, but most would say that Leopold and Loeb were attempting to commit the perfect crime. Loeb had already graduated from the University of Michigan, and Leopold from the University of Chicago, so these young men were clearly brilliant intellectually. However, their morality was stunted. To make matters worse, Franks was even a second cousin of Loeb’s. What clued the police in on the identity of the culprits was the fact that Leopold had accidentally dropped his glasses near the crime scene. His particular model of glasses had only been sold to a small number of people.
The crime became a national news story after the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, became the defendant. He saved the men from the death penalty by eloquently arguing that they were mentally unstable. The following year, Darrow participated in another famous case called the Scopes Trial, which made it legal for evolution to be taught in U.S. schools.
Sent to prison for life, Loeb died young at the age of 30, after being stabbed by a fellow inmate. Leopold lived until the age of 66. He eventually went on parole for good behavior, got married, and lived in Puerto Rico where he taught at a university there.
The Leopold and Loeb murder case captured the attention of American popular culture for decades to come. This is generally because a common theory sprang up that Leopold and Loeb murdered Franks to prove an intellectual point. According to this theory, they believed that morality is a human invention, making right and wrong relative. Therefore, in accordance to this belief, what is to stop someone from murder? The “master of suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock, used this murder as the basis for his 1948 film, Rope. Another great film called Compulsion, and starring Orson Welles as Darrow, provides a more faithful telling of the crime. The American Experience documentary episode, The Perfect Crime, also provides a good overview of the story. Finally, a Chicago tour guide, Adam Seltzer, has been posting virtual tours of Chicago on his Facebook page, Mysterious Chicago, during this COVID-19 year, so you can learn more about the crime from him as well.
If it is true that Leopold and Loeb believed that life had no ultimate purpose, and thus they could do anything that they wanted, then maybe that’s why Bobby Franks’ parents had the following inscription written on his tomb? “Life is because God is, infinite, indestructible and eternal.”
Sources and Further Reading
Compulsion. Directed by Richard Fleischer. Hollywood: Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, 1959.
Yad La-Shiryon is Israel’s main tank museum. Although the Musée des Blindés in France, with over 800 tanks, is the largest tank museum in the world, Yad La-Shiryon’s smaller collection of 160 tanks still ranks among the largest tank museums in the world. This is because no other tank museum has even half the number of tanks as France has.
Yad La-Shiryon means “hand” or “monument” of armor. It is also known as the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum, and is located in Latrun, which is a hill in the Ayalon valley between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. After the British Mandate of Palestine ended in 1948, this area fell under Jordanian rule. However, Israel took control of this strategic location during the Six Day War of 1967. Going back to ancient times, the Ayalon Valley is mentioned in the Bible in Joshua chapter 10 as the location of a battle between Moses’ successor, Joshua, and several local kings. According to this chapter, after Joshua prayed, God stopped the sun in the sky so that Joshua had enough time to win the battle.
During the British Mandate of Palestine, after WWI, the British built a police station on Latrun, because it provided a clear view of the road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In 1982, Israel decided to convert the former police station into a museum dedicated to its fallen armored forces. Today, you can watch a movie about the history of tank warfare in Israel inside of the museum. Apparently, there is also a small synagogue and library in the building, but I did not notice either of these when I was there.
The primary attraction at Yad La-Shiryon is its 160 military tanks. These include all of the different types that Israel has used throughout the years (such as the Merkava) as well as tanks from other parts of the world, such as Britain, Russia, and the United States. However, the tanks that I found the most interesting were the two Nazi Panzers. Israel owning Nazi tanks is interesting enough, but how they obtained them was what made them fascinating. Initially, the Russian Red Army captured them from Germany during WWII. Afterwards, Russia sold them to Syria. Israel then captured them from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. Clearly, the tanks passed through a lot of completely different hands.
All of the tanks at Yad La-Shiryon are parked just outside of the former British police station. Each tank has a sign next to it, written in both Hebrew and English, describing its history. The best part about the tank exhibit is that visitors are allowed to climb on top of the tanks. Yad La-Shiryon is definitely worth a visit for military history fans. In 2019, it was announced that another museum will be built on Latrun as well, so perhaps there will be even more history to see there soon. This museum will be dedicated to all of the Jewish soldiers who fought under the Allied forces during WWII, as well as those who worked in the underground against the Nazis.
About an hour north of Chicago and 10 minutes south of the state of Wisconsin lies a city called Zion. If you were to drive through it, nothing particularly interesting would stand out to you. In fact, the two times that I have been there, it appeared somewhat deserted. However, it had an interesting beginning.
Today, you can learn about Zion’s history at the Zion Historical Society, which is located in a 25-room mansion called Shiloh House. It was built in 1901, the year before Zion’s official incorporation. This home belonged to John Alexander Dowie, the founder of Zion. Dowie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847, but moved to Australia early in his life. Eventually, he became a preacher and started performing faith healings. This led him on a missionary tour of the United States. After working in San Francisco for a while, he eventually went to Chicago. His fame rose at the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where he set up a station right outside the Fair and allegedly healed people.
After the Fair, Dowie decided to stay in Chicago, so with his many followers, he founded a church. It eventually became known as the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, although it had nothing to do with Catholicism. The church encountered a lot of opposition in Chicago, both from religious and city officials, so Dowie decided to start a theocratic society in a farm area north of Chicago, which he named Zion City. People from all over the world, particularly Europe, came to join this new religious “utopia.” If I remember correctly, my elderly tour guide told me that his grandparents came over from Scotland to join Dowie’s church. Throughout my tour, the guide would occasionally share his childhood memories of growing up in Zion.
Dowie did not live in his city for long. Zion was incorporated in 1902, but Dowie died of a stroke in 1907. Afterwards, his friend, Wilbur Glenn Voliva, came over from Australia to replace him and continue implementing a theocratic society. The rules in Zion included bans on alcohol, pork, tobacco, circuses, movies, silk stockings, and globes. The latter ban was implemented by Voliva, who adamantly believed that the earth was flat. By the mid 20th century, Zion’s inhabitants had become disillusioned with their theocratic government. Eventually, the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church evolved into a more mainstream Protestant denomination. Today, it is Christ Community Church.
Other than Washington D.C., Zion is the only U.S. city that was completely planned out prior to being built. The church was built at the center of the city, and the streets branched off from there. Zion’s streets are all named after Biblical places or names.
During my tour of Shiloh House, I not only learned about the history of Zion and Dowie, but also got to admire a beautiful Victorian-style mansion. One object that especially stood out to me in the house was a Biblical high priest’s outfit displayed near the entrance. Apparently, Dowie frequently wore it. Another interesting part of the house is near the top, where there is a display of different types of lace that were made in Zion. When Dowie planned Zion, he made sure that there was employment for its citizens, so had businesses such as a lace factory built there.
Because Zion has such a strange and unique history, the Zion Historical Society is my favorite historical society that I have visited so far. It is definitely worth a visit.
Off the coast of San Francisco, a city in California, stands a rocky island aptly nicknamed “The Rock.” However, it is officially known as “Alcatraz,” based on the name “Isla de los Alcatraces” (Spanish for “Island of the Pelicans”), which is what a Spanish explorer called it in 1775. Today, Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist destination, primarily because it served as a federal prison for some of the United States’ most dangerous criminals from 1934 to 1963.
Today, the U.S. National Park Service owns Alcatraz Island, which still contains the aging prison buildings used by notorious criminals in the mid-20th century. Tourists must book a ticket through Alcatraz Cruises in order to ride a boat to get to the island. There are different touring options available, but the cheapest (which is still pricey) includes the basic Cellhouse Audio Tour. The audio tour is available in several languages, and allows you to learn about the history of the island at your own pace. If you have the time, and are willing to pay, it is worth the visit.
Alcatraz’s most famous inmate was the Chicago gangster, Al Capone. Capone lived on Alcatraz from 1934 to 1939. The goal of keeping dangerous criminals on the isolated island was (1) to isolate them from the rest of the world (Capone was still involved in criminal activity while in a mainland prison), and (2) to make it more difficult for criminals to escape. Several dozen inmates did attempt to escape Alcatraz, but none succeeded. However, a few disappeared, so there is room for doubt.
Prior to becoming a federal prison, Alcatraz Island served as a military prison. After it closed in 1963, due the growing expenses of general maintenance, it was left abandoned. From 1969 to 1971, a group of Native Americans occupied the island as a form or protest, because they desired the land which they claimed was theirs based on a former treaty. Instead, the U.S. government gave the land to the National Park Service.
Alcatraz has captured the imagination of many, thus leading to the creation of dozens of films and books about it. Some famous films include the 1962 film with Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz; the 1979 film with Clint Eastwood, Escape from Alcatraz; and the 1996 film with Sean Connery, The Rock. There is even a children’s book series called Tales from Alcatraz by Gennifer Choldenko, which describes a fictional account of a boy and his family who live on Alcatraz Island, because the boy’s father is a prison guard. Alcatraz’s prison guards actually lived on the island with their families.
Although Alcatraz’s name comes from the Spanish word for “pelican,” sea gulls are the birds that seem to be swarming all over the island. The deteriorating stone buildings and screeching sea gulls definitely make you feel as if you have walked into a creepy movie, albeit an interesting one.
Although the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was born in the state of Kentucky, Illinois is commonly called the “Land of Lincoln.” In fact, even the Illinois license plate has this phrase on it, as well as a depiction of Lincoln’s head. This is because Lincoln lived in Illinois longer than he did in any other state.
In 2005, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Illinois’ state capital of Springfield. Originally, it was the Illinois State Historical Library, which first began collecting materials regarding the history of Illinois in 1889. Since this library had a large Abraham Lincoln collection, people and the state eventually raised enough funds to transform it into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. However, despite its new name, it continues to collect non-Lincoln materials from Illinois history as well.
In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to donate his materials to the Federal Government specifically to create a presidential library. Soon after that, it became mandatory for U.S. Presidents to do so. Today, the U.S. National Archives runs the presidential libraries of Roosevelt, his predecessor Hoover, and every U.S. president after them. A handful of earlier U.S. Presidents have their own presidential libraries, but these are all independently run by different groups, not the federal government. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is run by the state of Illinois.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum provides visitors with an interactive experience that makes the visit enjoyable to people who do not typically like museums. For example, it includes a variety of lifelike dioramas from Lincoln’s life displayed throughout the Museum. There is also a neat hologram movie that visitors can watch about Lincoln. The Museum begins with Lincoln’s early years, continues through his careers as a clerk and lawyer, and eventually leads into his involvement with Illinois politics. The second half of the Museum describes Lincoln’s presidential years, involvement in the U.S. Civil War, and eventual assassination. Among the noteworthy items on display at the Museum are an original copy of the Gettysburg address, the quill pen Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and the bloody gloves Lincoln wore at the time of his assassination.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a separate building across the street from the Museum. As previously mentioned, it includes documents about Abraham Lincoln, but also has materials about the history of Illinois, including an oral history collection and useful resources for Illinois genealogists. Additionally, the climate-controlled library building functions as the archives for the Museum, meaning that it also houses museum objects.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum recently joined the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI). Since I used to work for another CARLI library member, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending two librarian events at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. While there, I had a tour of their conservation lab, where they work on repairing documents, books, maps, etc. The staff demonstrated how to wrap and carefully submerge stiff, rolled documents into water, in order to soften them up enough to eventually unroll them. The staff also showed us the Museum’s archives, where we saw a few interesting items. It fascinated me how they treated a jersey worn by a Chicago Blackhawks hockey player during a recent Stanley Cup win with the same amount of caution and precision as they did a handmade Civil War violin from 1863.
If you have enough time in Springfield, you should also visit a few other Abraham Lincoln spots in the area. The home that Lincoln lived in prior to his presidency is not far from the Museum. It is owned by the National Park Service, which provides free 20-25 minute tours of the home daily (except during COVID-19, so take a virtual tour). Also nearby is Lincoln’s large tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Finally, about thirty minutes away is New Salem. New Salem is a reconstruction of the small town that Lincoln lived in prior to living in Springfield. It is now a living history museum, so you can walk inside the reconstructed log buildings while learning more about life in the town from the staff, who are dressed in nineteenth-century garb. Interestingly, New Salem was reconstructed in the 1930s and early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a governmental program that provided unemployed young men with jobs during the Great Depression.
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.
During the mid-20th century, over 900 Jewish texts were discovered at Qumran, which is located in present-day Israel’s Judean Desert. These scrolls are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, because of Qumran’s close proximity to the Dead Sea. They date to the last few centuries B.C. and first few centuries A.D., and are primarily written in Hebrew, with several texts in Aramaic and Greek. The scrolls’ content includes Old Testament books, the books of the Apocrypha, and texts written by the Essenes, a Jewish sect of the time. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest Biblical texts ever discovered (not including the Ketef Hinnom scrolls) and include fragments from every Old Testament book except for the book of Esther. However, the book of Isaiah is the only complete Old Testament book found in the collection.
In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd accidentally found seven of the Dead Sea Scrolls in clay jars in a cave in Qumran. During this time, Israel was part of the British Mandate of Palestine. Since the Bedouins could not read Hebrew, they did not know what to make of the scrolls. Eventually, a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church who lived in the area learned about the scrolls. He thought that the script might be in Syriac, the script used for modern Aramaic. Since Syriac is the script used in the Syrian Orthodox Church’s liturgy, he brought the scrolls to his archbishop, Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, who oversaw the Monastery of Saint Mark in Jerusalem. (For more information about the Monastery of Saint Mark in Jerusalem, see my Previous Post.)
After Mar Samuel looked at the seven Dead Sea Scrolls, he immediately realized that they were written in Hebrew, not his cognate language of Aramaic. He ended up buying four of the scrolls, including the one containing the full book of Isaiah, and took a few fragments as well. Eleazar Sukenik, an archaeology professor at Hebrew University, purchased the other three scrolls. When Israel’s War for Independence began in 1948, Mar Samuel fled to New Jersey, where he eventually posted an ad in The Wall Street Journal offering to sell the scrolls. Sukenik’s son, the archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, learned about the ad, and ended up purchasing Mar Samuel’s scrolls in 1954. However, Mar Samuel kept his few fragments. To this day, the fragments remain at St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, New Jersey, under the ownership of the Syrian Orthodox Church (Home #1).
Yigael Yadin’s scrolls and Mar Samuel’s scrolls ended up going into the new Israel Museum, an archaeology museum built in West Jerusalem in 1965. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls are not in the main building, but in their own climate-controlled building called the Shrine of the Book (Home #2). The building is shaped like the clay jars that originally housed the scrolls. Today, visitors to the Israel Museum can still see the first seven scrolls, as well as most of the others ever found, on display there. Only a few scrolls are displayed at a time, though, in order to minimize the amount of light exposure that they receive. Some of the scrolls have been digitized and can be viewed online here: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/.
In 1938, when Israel was still under British rule, the British built the Palestine Archaeological Museum to house the discoveries of the archaeological digs that were being conducted at the time. The American philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. helped finance the museum, so today, it is known as the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. When Israel gained its independence in 1948, the city of Jerusalem was divided in half. Israel owned West Jerusalem and Jordan owned East Jerusalem. The Rockefeller Museum fell into the jurisdiction of the Jordanians. However, an international team of archaeologists managed the museum. As more Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956, they were added to the Rockefeller Museum.
During this time, a few of the Dead Sea Scrolls were moved to the Jordan Archaeological Museum, which was built in Amman, Jordan in 1951. This included the “Copper Scroll,” which is made of copper instead of parchment or papyrus and contains a mysterious treasure map. When I visited Amman in 2010, I saw the Copper Scroll at the Jordan Archaeological Museum. However, when Jordan built the Jordan Museum in 2014, the Copper Scroll was moved there instead (Home #3). I am thankful for this, because the Jordan Archaeological Museum’s displays looked outdated, lacked descriptions in some areas, and had questionable climate control.
After Israel took control of East Jerusalem in 1967, during the Six-Day War, it also took control of the Rockefeller Museum, which is now owned by the Israel Museum. Any Dead Sea Scrolls found there were transferred over to the Shrine of the Book. You can still visit the Rockefeller Museum today, free of charge, to see archaeology found during the British Mandate era. However, it does not house anything particularly famous. Additionally, the building’s age shows, and the displays are not as impressive as the displays at the Israel Museum.
In addition to the Shrine of the Book, the Jordan Museum, and the Syrian Orthodox Church in Teaneck, NJ, a small number of Dead Sea Scrolls are located in several academic institutions in the United States, as well as in a private European collection. When the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington D.C. in 2017, it allegedly had 16 Dead Sea Scroll fragments on display. However, since then, investigations have revealed that the Museum was deceived, and that the fragments are all forgeries.
Although Qumran no longer has any known Dead Sea Scrolls there, people can visit the archaeological site today. It is owned by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and has some interesting videos that you can watch at the visitor center, if you want to learn more about the scrolls and the group (possibly the Essenes) who may have written them. The site itself contains the archaeological remains of the mysterious group who wrote the scrolls.
The city of Jerusalem has a 16th century Ottoman wall surrounding its Old City. The area within these walls is allotted into four sections: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Although Armenians are Christian, they were the first country to nationally convert to Christianity, so they have kept a presence in Jerusalem for centuries. That is why they have their own quarter. Despite the name, none of the quarters are solely made up of one group of people. In fact, hidden away in a narrow street of the Armenian Quarter is St. Mark’s Monastery.
During the first few hundred years of Christianity, before the Catholic and Orthodox churches even split, churches from across the globe held ecumenical councils. During the fourth ecumenical council in A.D. 451, called the Council of Chalcedon, the churches excommunicated those adhering to monophysitism, which states that Jesus only had a divine, not human, nature. Those expelled included the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church. Today, these latter churches claim that their theology was misrepresented at the Council, and that they did still believe in Jesus’ humanity. Regardless, because of this early split, these Eastern Churches developed on their own.
Most people from the Syriac Orthodox Church (also known as the Jacobite Church, because of one of their bishops, Jacob Barradaeus) lived in what is present-day Turkey. They built a church in Jerusalem in the sixth century A.D., which became St. Mark’s Monastery. According to Syriac Orthodox tradition, it was built over the Upper Room where Jesus had his last supper. Today, anyone can visit the church and have a tour with the caretaker. Fortunately, when I visited the church, the caretaker allowed me to go downstairs to the site of the earliest church. The current church was built on top of it. Archaeologists did not discover this earlier church until 1940.
The Syriac Orthodox Church’s liturgy is in a modern dialect of Aramaic. That is because, prior to the Islamic invasion of the Middle East in the seventh century A.D., the Middle East’s lingua franca was Aramaic. After the Islamic invastion, those who did not convert to Christianity kept their Aramaic language and did not replace it with Arabic. The modern Aramaic script is called Syriac. If you attend a service at St. Mark’s Monastery, you can hear the Aramaic liturgy and see the Syriac prayer books used.
If the Syriac Orthodox Church is not confusing enough, I would like to add one more confusing element to it. Today, many adherents of the Syriac Orthodox Church consider themselves ethnically Aramean, because they speak the Aramaic language. Since they lived in the Middle East before the Islamic conquest, they are certainly not Arab, even if most of them can speak Arabic today. However, it is only in the 20th century that the Syriac Orthodox Church adopted the Aramean identity.
The identity of the Syriac Orthodox Church remains a controversial topic today. Whereas some, but not all, from the Syriac Orthodox Church consider themselves Aramean, others call themselves Assyrian. In fact, one of the founders of Assyrian Nationalism in the early twentieth century, Naum Faiq, was born into a Syriac Orthodox family. Assyrian nationalists claim that they are descended from the ancient Assyrians and want to build an Assyrian homeland.
Members of the Assyrian Church of the East also believe that the Syriac Orthodox Church is descended from the ancient Assyrians. Similar to the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East is an ancient Middle Eastern church that speaks Aramaic (although an Eastern dialect, unlike the Syriac Orthodox Church’s western dialect). It was excommunicated from the mainstream church at the third ecumenical council in A.D. 431 (the Council of Ephesus), because its members were associated with the heretic Nestorius. According to those from the Assyrian Church of the East, who also identify themselves as descendants of the ancient Assyrians, the reason why the Syriac Orthodox Church stopped calling itself Assyrian in the twentieth century was because it wanted to distance itself from the Assyrian Church of the East. This was not only for religious reasons, but primarily because they did not want to experience the same fate as the Assyrians, who were massacred in Simele, Iraq in 1933. At Simele, between 3,000 to 6,000 Assyrians were killed by the Iraqi government, both for political and religious reasons.
Although the Syriac Orthodox did avoid its own massacre, it did not escape massacre earlier in the 20th century. Approximately 200,000 members of both the Assyrian and Syriac Orthodox churches were massacred during WWI, along with the one million Armenians murdered during the Armenian Genocide. Many Syriac Orthodox people moved to Israel after that, and still live there today. Throughout the 20th century, many others moved to Sweden and the United States. If you are interested, a Syriac Orthodox Group in New Jersey has recently uploaded over 2,000 Syriac Orthodox and Assyrian books online here: https://archive.org/details/bethmardutho.
St. Mark’s Monastery has a connection with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. I plan to write about that soon. (September 20 Update: Here is the Post about the Dead Sea Scrolls.)