Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890.  The oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., played a large financial role in its creation.  Two years later, the university began a Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  Today, this department ranks among the top Ancient Near Eastern programs in the United States, primarily focusing on the ancient civilizations of Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia.

In 1919, James Henry Breasted, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, founded the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  Receiving funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (the son of the oil magnate), the goal of the Oriental Institute was and still is to be a place where scholars may conduct further research on the Ancient Near East.

In 1931, the University of Chicago completed construction on a building specifically designed to house the Oriental Institute.  This building contains a museum and an archive/library.  The library does not circulate its materials, meaning that you cannot take any of its books home.  Unfortunately, I have not seen the Oriental Institute’s library, because it is only open to faculty, staff, students, and members.

Assyrian Reliefs taken from Sargon II’s Palace at Dur Sharrukin

The museum portion of the Oriental Institute houses artifacts from archaeological digs that the University of Chicago conducted from the 1920s through 1940s.  These include ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Israelite, Nubian, Persian, and Syro-Anatolian artifacts.  Tours of the museum are available, either by docents or by downloading a free app.  Visitors to the museum may also watch short films at the museum related to the Ancient Near East.  Additionally, prior to COVID-19, the Oriental Institute frequently hosted events and lectures.

I once visited the Oriental Institute with a librarian group.  During our time there, we went on a tour of the conservation lab, which is on the upper floor of the building.  It was amazing to see where staff maintain and preserve the museum’s priceless artifacts.

After the Oriental Institute underwent renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it renamed its ancient Assyrian wings after two modern Assyrian donors to the museum.  The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery is named after an Assyrian philanthropist originally from Iran, Dr. Norman Solhkhah.  This section of the museum contains reliefs from Dur Sharrukin, the palace of the Assyrian King Sargon II.  It also contains the Sennacherib Prism, where the Assyrian King Sennacherib describes his campaigns against Israel and Judah.  The Judean perspective of the campaign can be found in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19.

The Sennacherib Prism at the Oriental Institute

The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery is named after Dr. Sharukin Rami Yelda, an Assyrian orthopedic surgeon originally from Iran.  This section of the museum contains a 16-foot winged-bull, or lamassu, that the University of Chicago discovered in 1929.  Originally discovered in over a dozen pieces, the Oriental Institute pieced the lamassu back together after it arrived in Chicago from Dur Sharrukin in Khorsabad, Iraq.

This is an Assyrian lamassu, or winged-bull, from Dur Sharrukin in Iraq. ISIS damaged the archaeological site where it came from in 2015.
If you look carefully at the lamassu, you can find Cuneiform text.

Although the Oriental Institute’s website is not the easiest to search, it provides free access to a valuable number of the University of Chicago’s publications.  These include the Assyrian Dictionary, an Akkadian dictionary that took 91 years to make; the Demotic Dictionary, an ancient Egyptian language dictionary; books about important excavations, and more.  A guide to the publications available online can be found here: https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/catalog-publications

In case you are interested, the University of Chicago also has one of the best libraries I have ever seen.  Here is my post about it: https://arkeh.travel.blog/2020/01/11/university-of-chicago-regenstein-mansueto-libraries/

Sources and Further Reading
About. Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/about (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Catalog of Publications.” Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/research/catalog-publications (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Norman Solhkhah.” Atour. April 20, 2020. https://www.atour.com/people/20100420b.html (accessed November 28, 2020).

“The Dr. Norman Solhkhah Family Assyrian Empire Gallery.”  Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/assyrian-empire-gallery (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Dr. Sharukin Yelda.” U. S. News and World Report Heallth News. https://health.usnews.com/doctors/sharukin-yelda-44317 (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Emeritus Physician’s Estate Giving Honors Family Legacy.” Swedish Hospital Foundation. March 1, 2015. https://swedishhospitalfoundation.org/emeritus-physicians-estate-giving-honors-family-legacy/ (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Iranian Immigrants Give Back to Chicago Hospital.” The Iranian. April 9, 2007. https://iranian.com/PhotoDay/2007/April/yelda.html?site=archive&__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=c346fa52521a7721623c90f94c3db4c7e08b64f4-1606615762-0-AZMzQVKvmPoTqkyKISbIPcBriGg6xehbCB6kO5Xs4oEsUSMyyR3pEKmloZSQCdsQzgZmHyalbYjTTB7v9gjLNbyJSux1rYoIukmfVyEZQO-CYVAaH5LJsBEQWx2REFovxRnRFlWIbYEEnOkb0KAy2pQ8Qh4yRXX_bAJ2DZOPmIXTOA3gZC2CsgQ4F1_Ed2VXic9gdnQNvn_a28PYNZWlpfTq2k5wVg97PgtQmF7g0XbAOmKAu9oe8CNXjX6p_oc_87o2F_YldzO7Afr5011vAinDjsmyfmvlv_OeZiONydVOgJzrHelyq6-z5cU2Sbczwf3RiEVLc6MG4oJHopgoZRV-T9mCyvwefGbDF0E353Y6 (accessed November 28, 2020).

“Oriental Institute Museum.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-oriental-institute (accessed November 28, 2020).

Rome, Kristin. “Iconic Ancient Sites Ravaged in ISIS’s Last Stand in Iraq.” National Geographic. November 10, 2016. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/11/iraq-mosul-isis-nimrud-khorsabad-archaeology/ (accessed November 28, 2020).

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian Yellow Pages 2020. Chicago: 2020.

“The Yelda Khorsabad Court Gallery.” Oriental Institute. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits/khorsabad-court-gallery (accessed November 28, 2020).

The Israel Museum

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.

This is the model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

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.

These are the Ketef Hinnom inscriptions, which are the oldest Biblical texts ever discovered.

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.

In the archaeology wing, you can see a nail in the heel of a Jewish man who was crucified by the Romans. Physical evidence of Roman crucifixions are rare finds.

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).

The Many Homes of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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).

The publication information of this 1950 book describes what Mar Samuel’s position was when he owned the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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/.

The Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum

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.

This is one of the caves in Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Sources and Further Reading

Cohen, Jennie. “6 Things You May Not Know about the Dead Sea Scrolls.” History Channel. August 29, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/6-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-dead-sea-scrolls (accessed September 12, 2020).

“The Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. https://www.imj.org.il/en/wings/shrine-book/dead-sea-scrolls (accessed September 13, 2020).

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls. http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/ (accessed September 12, 2020).

Drori, Amir. “The Completion of the Publication of the Scrolls.” Israel Antiquities Authority. http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_eng.aspx?sec_id=17&sub_subj_id=523#MMMas (accessed September 12, 2020).

Greshko, Michael. “’Dead Sea Scrolls’ at the Museum of the Bible Are All Forgeries.” National Geographic. March 13, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/museum-of-the-bible-dead-sea-scrolls-forgeries/?awc=19533_1599970265_31cdcb6f3c9340baa408aa6a149d245d (accessed September 12, 2020).

“Isaiah Scroll on a Timeline.” The Israel Museum. http://www.arikboas-animation.com/imj/?param=1 (accessed on September 13, 2020).

“Jordan Archaeological Museum.” Universes in Universe. https://universes.art/en/art-destinations/jordan/amman/museums/jordan-archaeological-museum (accessed September r12, 2020).

The Jordan Museum. https://www.jordanmuseum.jo/en (accessed September 19, 2020).

Lipowsky, Josh. “From Qumran to Teaneck.” Jewish Standard. August 5, 2010. https://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/from-qumran-to-teaneck-4/ (accessed September 13, 2020).

McGregor-Wood. “Who Owns the Dead Sea Scrolls? ABC News. January 14, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Travel/israel-jordan-fighting-dead-sea-scrolls/story?id=9558941  (accessed September 13, 2020).

“Museums in Jerusalem: The Rockefeller Archaeological Museum.” Jewish Virtual Library. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ (accessed September 13, 2020).

“Qumran Park.” Israel Nature and Parks Authority. https://www.parks.org.il/en/reserve-park/qumran-park/ (accessed September 13, 2020). Wilson, Edmund. “The Scrolls from the Dead Sea.” The New Yorker. May 7, 1955. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1955/05/14/the-scrolls-from-the-dead-sea?irclickid=XG03YvSl7xyOWjLwUx0Mo3bxUkiXXcVBuSaUxo0&irgwc=1&source=affiliate_impactpmx_12f6tote_desktop_adgoal%20GmbH&utm_source=impact-affiliate&utm_medium=123201&utm_campaign=impact&utm_content=Online%20Tracking%20Link&utm_brand=tny (accessed September 12, 2020).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as “The Met,” in New York City is arguably the best art museum in the United States.  Founded in 1870, the Museum continues to expand as it collects more and more artwork.  This past April, 2020, The Met turned 150 years old.

Published in 1967, the children’s novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the prestigious American children’s literature award, the Newbery Medal, in 1968.  E. L. Konigsburg’s beloved book is about two siblings who decide to run away and live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  During my visit to The Met, it did not take me long to want to live there too.

Ancient Babylonian lion panels at The Met

Reminiscent of The British Museum in London, The Met’s collection ranges from ancient archaeology to modern art.  Unfortunately, because the Museum is so large, I was only able to see a small portion of it.  I was especially sad that I was unable to see The Met Cloisters, which is a separate building that opened in 1938 and displays Medieval European architecture and replicated Medieval gardens.  In 2016, the Met opened a third building called The Met Breuer, which solely displays modern and contemporary art.

One of the highlights that I saw during my visit to The Met were its Period Rooms in the American Wing.  These recreated rooms provide you a peak into what certain rooms, such as a bedroom or dining room, would have looked like during different periods of American history.  Items in these rooms include furniture and lamps from varying periods.  Another section of The Met, similarly, recreates historic European rooms.

The Met contains a Musical Instruments section, which includes some Stradivari violins.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to go through these, but The Met has a Greek and Roman Art section, an Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas section, an Egyptian Art section, an Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia section, an Asian Art section, a Photographs section, and many other sections.  However, I did get to briefly go through the European Paintings, 1250-1800 section and The American Wing.  As I went through them, I surprised myself by recognizing many of the paintings, which are obviously famous if I immediately recognized them.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, an 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze

I spent most of my time in the Ancient Near Eastern Art section.  As its name implies, it has archaeological objects from the Ancient Near East (the Middle East today).  The Met purchased some of these objects, received some as gifts, and acquired other by participating in archaeological digs.  Some of the objects that were acquired from England were dug by Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist from the 20th century, and husband of the famous mystery writer, Agatha Christie.

The Met’s Ancient Near East section contains reliefs and lamassu (winged-bulls/lions) from Ancient Assyrian palaces, which are located in modern-day Iraq.

Because The Met is so large, visitors have the option of taking guided or audio tours.  I am not 100% sure, but I think the guided tours are part of admission, but the audio tours are an additional fee.  The audio tour is available in up to ten languages.  The Met also offers tours, for a fee, to a select number of visitors prior to opening to the public each day.

I want to mention that The Met has a research library, which primarily serves staff members and students.

The Met is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, as of right now, it plans to reopen in August, 2020.  Until then, The Met’s website provides detailed information about the items that it houses.  It also provides a virtual tour through Google Arts & Culture.

An Ancient Assyrian relief of a king and eunuch at The Met

Sources and Further Reading

“American Wing Period Rooms.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/the-american-wing/period-rooms (accessed June 20, 2020).

Gannon, Devin. “The Metropolitan Museum of Art Plans to Reopen in August.” 6SQFT. May 21, 2020. https://www.6sqft.com/the-metropolitan-museum-of-art-plans-to-reopen-in-august/ (accessed June 20, 2020).

“History of the Museum.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/history (accessed June 20, 2020).

Konigsburg, E. L. From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1967.

“Maps.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://maps.metmuseum.org/ (accessed June 20, 2020).

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/streetview/metropolitan-museum-of-art/KAFHmsOTE-4Xyw?hl=en&sv_lng=-73.9624786&sv_lat=40.7803959&sv_h=100.63371660655334&sv_p=0&sv_pid=KeFx8oXHzeuY8L5rfepHaA&sv_z=0.9990314232325763 (accessed June 20, 2020).

“Thomas J. Watson Library.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/libraries-and-research-centers/thomas-j-watson-library (accessed June 20, 2020).

Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Founded in 1902, the Egyptian Museum, or Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, is Egypt’s largest museum that houses ancient Egyptian antiquities.  It also currently houses Egypt’s most famous archaeological objects.  Located in Tahrir Square, a central square in downtown Cairo, it experienced some looting and damage during Egypt’s 2011 revolution. 

I had the opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum at the end of 2010, right before the political turmoil began.  The Museum was built when Britain had a presence in Egypt, so something about it somehow reminded me of the British Museum.  However, it was no British Museum.  It seemed as if half of its objects on display did not have signage, or clear signage.  Additionally, some objects seemed to be stuffed into corners, because of the lack of space.  Many of the objects were out in the open, unprotected, so that you could easily touch them. 

Because of the lack of space and protection, Egypt is currently working on distributing its archaeological objects among two additional museums.  The first is the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, which partially opened in 2017, and has ties with UNESCO.  The second is the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is supposed to open in 2020, however, with the COVID-19 situation, perhaps this may change.  Construction on this latter museum began in 2002, and is located near the Giza Pyramids, which is probably Egypt’s top tourist attraction.  Currently, the treasures of King Tut’s (Tutankhamun’s) tomb are located in the Egyptian Museum, but will be moved into the Grand Egyptian Museum once it is completed.  King Tut’s tomb is famous, because it was the first royal tomb archaeologists found untouched by looters.

In order to enter the Egyptian Museum, you need to go through security.  However, in order to enter the room that stores the valuable treasures of King Tut’s tomb, you need to pass through additional security.  Unfortunately, I went to the Egyptian Museum near closing time, so I had to rush through the room containing his treasures.  Although King Tut’s treasures are currently in the Egyptian Museum, his actual body is in the Valley of the Kings, where he was originally buried and discovered.  When British archaeologist, Howard Carter, discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922, his team had trouble removing Tut’s body from his sarcophagus, so his head is no longer connected to his body.  However, you would not know this by visiting the Valley of the Kings, because King Tut’s body is displayed under a blanket, with only his head and feet visible.

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, where pharaohs from the New Kingdom were buried, including King Tutankhamun. I could not take photos at the tombs, so had to take one from the parking lot.

In addition to King’s Tut’s treasures, the Egyptian Museum houses many other famous objects and mummies, including many animal mummies.  The human mummies include the bodies of pharaohs, such as Ramesses II.  He was around 90 years old at the time of his death, and his mummy has red hair (which may be because of the embalming?).  Some scholars believe that Ramesses II was the ruling pharaoh during the time of Moses.  If he was, then Ramesses II’s mummy is the only Biblical character that you can actually still see.

Two other noteworthy artifacts at the Egyptian Museum are the Narmer Palette and the Merneptah Stele.  The Narmer Palette depicts the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt during the Early Dynastic Period under King Narmer.  The Merneptah Stele (a stele is a vertical stone monument) describes Pharaoh Merneptah’s battle victories.  Its fame comes from the fact that one of the defeated enemies mentioned on it is “Israel.”  Thus, this stone is the oldest reference to Israel ever found.  When I visited the Egyptian Museum, the Merneptah Stele was located in a back corner without a sign, and unprotected.  On this tall stone monument, the word “Israel” was easy to identify in the carved hieroglyphic text, even if you could not read hieroglyphs.  This is because the word was worn down by so many people touching it, giving it a different color than the rest of the stone.  Unfortunately, I could not resist the temptation, and touched it too.

Professor Anson Rainey believed that Pharaoh Merneptah’s inscriptions at the Karnak Temple complex in Luxor, Egypt, depict the Israelites that are mentioned on the Merneptah Stele.

Photography is not allowed in the Egyptian Museum.  I did not try it, but I was told that you can bribe the guards if you really wanted a photo.  That rule apparently applied to other places in Egypt as well.  As a final note, I do not recommend females walking through the Egyptian Museum by themselves.  Whenever I did, the security guards would start coming towards me to start an unwanted conversation with me, so I then found a male friend from my group, and stayed with him.

Sources and Further Reading

Mark, Joshua J. “Tutankhamun.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. April 1, 2014. https://www.ancient.eu/Tutankhamun/ (accessed April 4, 2020).

Mullen, Dene. “Will This Be the End of the Legendary Egyptian Museum.” Daily Beast. July 13, 2019. https://www.thedailybeast.com/kushner-stockpile-claim-totally-at-odds-with-trumps-record?ref=scroll (accessed April 4, 2020).

“Project History.” National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. https://nmec.gov.eg/en/story/1096/Project-History (accessed April 4, 2020).

Rainey, Anson F. “Rainey’s Challenge.” Biblical Archaeology Society Online Library. https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/17/6/1 (accessed April 4, 2020).

The British Museum

The British Museum in London is undoubtedly ranked as one the best museums in the world, containing approximately 8 million artifacts.  It was founded in 1753 as the first free, national museum.  Its enormous collection contains items from every continent in the world except for Antarctica.  This is largely in part to the fact that the “sun never set on the British Empire” during the 19th century, meaning that Britain controlled so much of the world then, that the sun was always shining on one part of its Empire.  Because of this, the British were easily able to acquire artifacts from most of the world. Additionally, the Brits were pioneers in archaeology, so a large portion of the British Museum’s collection comes from them.

I had the privilege of spending a few hours at the British Museum in 2009.  Unfortunately, I probably saw less than ¼ of the collection because it is so large.  Entrance into the Museum is free, as are the different tours that they offer, including a tour of the Museum’s highlights.  Additionally, there are audio tour headsets available in 10 different languages that people can pay to use.  Perhaps this is no longer the case, but when I was at the Museum 11 years ago, they offered free tours of specific sections of the Museum.  I did tours of the Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Assyrian collections.

Perhaps the most famous object at the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone.  French soldiers in Egypt found this stele fragment and took it in 1799, but soon surrendered it to the British after experiencing a defeat under Napoleon.  The stone is important because it helped scholars discover how to decipher the long-forgotten Egyptian hieroglyphs, ultimately allowing us to learn more about Ancient Egypt.  Since the Rosetta Stone was created during the Ptolemaic period, when Greece oversaw Egypt, three scripts were written on it (all saying the same thing): Ancient Greek, Demotic (a form of Egyptian script), and hieroglyphic.  Scholars already knew how to read Ancient Greek, so that helped them with deciphering the other two scripts.  Over the years, Egypt has requested the return of the Rosetta Stone to its native land.

This is the Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, my Kodak film camera did not work well inside the British Museum.

Since many famous objects at the British Museum came there through war or theft, many countries frequently ask for the return of their artifacts.  For example, many of the statues at the Parthenon in Athens are replicas of the originals at the British Museum, so Greece would like them returned.  Similarly, the British army essentially stole the Benin Bronzes from Benin City, Nigeria in 1897, so Nigeria would like them back.  Although I do not believe that countries should be robbed of their artifacts, I do see two positive results of what the British did.  First, the British Museum allows you to view the history of many different cultures all in one place, which is an experience that is not easy to replicate elsewhere.  Second, the British may have helped preserve artifacts that would have otherwise been destroyed later.  For example, in 2015, the group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) destroyed many ancient artifacts in Iraq.  This included using a sledgehammer to destroy a lamassu (Assyrian winged bull).  Fortunately, the British Museum has several lamassu that used to be located in the same area as the destroyed one.  A very disturbing video of the 2015 destruction of Iraqi artifacts can be found Here.

These lamassu (Assyrian winged bulls) were taken from Nimrud, near modern-day Mosul, Iraq (ancient Nineveh), and brought to the British Museum. They were believed to protect entrances. Here is a painting of the archaeologists trying to transport it.

In addition to world-class exhibits, the British Museum also has study rooms (where you can request to study a specific object from the collection), an archive, and a library complementing the collection.  Britain’s national library used to be a part of the Museum, but it became so large that it had to move into its own space.  While the British Library was still a part of the British Museum, famous people used to study there, including Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the exiled Karl Marx.

The British Museum has a nice gift shop full of items reflecting the Museum’s collections.  Although it is more fun to browse in person, it is also viewable online.  Unfortunately, my time in the gift shop was cut short due to a situation that I hope is not common at the Museum.  As I was looking at some tiny knick knacks of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, an Eastern European man twice my age came up to me.  He said, “I can buy those for you.”  I think I looked at him confused and said that I did not want them.  He then said, “Yeah. What would you do with those?  They’re garbage.  Throw them down the toilet.  I can get you something else.”  By then, I was too creeped out, so I nervously smiled and escaped from the gift shop.  Perhaps my American flag bag made me a target, but I am not sure.

Thankfully, if you are never able to make a physical trip to the British Museum, you can still view an enormous portion of the collection online.  Amazingly, some objects can even be viewed at 360 degrees, and then downloaded to be printed on a 3D printer: https://sketchfab.com/britishmuseum.  You can also learn more about the Museum’s objects from a series called A History of the World in 100 Objects, which was done by former Museum director, Neil MacGregor.  In 2010, he recorded 100 lectures on 100 different objects from the Museum that best represent the history of the world.  This project is available as a podcast and also on the BBC’s website.

This panel is one of the many Lachish Reliefs, which depict the Assyrian siege of the Judean city of Lachish by King Sennacherib. This scene shows the Judean prisoners prostrating themselves to the Assyrian King.
These are Assyrian siege weapons found at Lachish, Israel, which corroborates with the Assyrian Lachish Reliefs as well as the Biblical account about the siege found in 2 Chronicles 32:9. This photo is from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Sources and Further Reading

“The British Museum.” Sketchfab. https://sketchfab.com/britishmuseum (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Collecting Histories.” The British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/collecting-histories (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Collection Online.” The British Museum. https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Rosetta Stone.” The British Museum. https://blog.britishmuseum.org/everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-the-rosetta-stone/  (accessed February 27, 2020).

“A History of the World in 100 Objects.” BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nrtd2 (accessed February 27, 2020).

“Video: ISIS Destroys Centuries Old Iraqi Artifacts.” Al Arabiya. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/02/26/With-sledgehammer-ISIS-smashes-Iraqi-history.html# (accessed February 27, 2020).

Samaritan Museum

Many people know about Samaritans from the New Testament parable of the “Good Samaritan,” which Jesus told in Luke 10:25-37.  According to that parable, Samaritans and Jews in the 1st Century A.D. hated each other.  In case you’re wondering if Samaritans still exist, I can assure you that they do, because I had the privilege of meeting one in 2010 at the Samaritan Museum on Mount Gerizim, which is just north of Jerusalem.  He happened to be the brother of the Samaritan high priest, and is usually the person who speaks to visitors at the Museum.

There are currently only about 800 Samaritans left in the world, with half of them living on Mount Gerizim, and the other half living in Holon, near Tel Aviv.  Over the centuries, a large portion of their population became Christian, and later, Muslim.  In fact, it is believed that the people living right below Mount Gerizim in the town of Nablus (Shechem), who now identify as both Palestinian Arab and Muslim, were once Samaritans.  Today, the Samaritans living in Holon are required to join the Israeli Army, however, since Mount Gerizim’s Samaritans are duo-Israeli/Palestinian citizens, they are not required to join.  Mount Gerizim is located in the West Bank, which is a contested area of Israel, because it used to belong to Jordan until Israel took it during the Six Day War in 1967.  West Bank means that the area is on the “west bank” of the Jordan River. 

While at the Samaritan Museum, the brother of the Samaritan high priest provided a lot of information about the Samaritans and what makes them unique.  First of all, the Samaritans originated as a people starting in about the 8th century B.C., when the Assyrian Empire was at its height.  Several Assyrian kings, especially Sargon II, would swap the captured inhabitants of one area with the captured inhabitants of another area, in order to make it more difficult for their newly-conquered subjects to rebel against them.  For example, when the Assyrian Empire conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was also known as Samaria (the name of its capital), they deported a large number of its inhabitants to the northern regions of their Empire, never to be seen again.  This is where the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” originates.  The Assyrians, then, took other conquered peoples and brought them into Northern Israel/Samaria.  The Israelites living there eventually mixed with these other peoples, and this fusion became the Samaritan people.

While on Mount Gerizim, I learned that Samaritans believe that they are descended from the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Levi.  The first two listed are among the ten tribes deported by the Assyrians.  Jews believe that they are descended from the tribes of Judah (where the word “Jew” comes from), Benjamin, and Levi.  These tribes lived in the Southern Kingdom of Israel, so were never deported by the Assyrians.  Most of the tribes of Ancient Israel had their own allotment of land, however, the tribe of Levi became the priests, so they were scattered throughout all of Israel and never allotted their own land.  That means that both the Jewish and Samaritan claim of having Levite lineage is possible.  Researchers have actually administered DNA testing on Jews claiming priestly lineage (people with the last name of Cohen qualify, since that is the Hebrew word for “priest”), and concluded that a Jew claiming priestly descent from Europe and another from Northern Africa actually have a unique chromosome (Y-Chromosomal Aaron) not found in any other population group in the world.  When the test extended to Samaritans claiming priestly descent, the chromosome was not exactly the same, but extremely close.

There are not many artifacts at the Samaritan Museum, but the most noteworthy is the Samaritan Torah scroll, known as the Samaritan Pentateuch, and written in a language related to ancient Hebrew. It has three handles, representing the three tribes that the Samaritans claim to descend from.

What makes the Samaritan religion different from Judaism is that, wherever a Jewish Bible reads “Jerusalem,” a Samaritan Bible says “Mount Gerizim.”  Mount Gerizim is referenced in the Jewish Bible, but does not have the importance that the Samaritans give to it.  At the end of Deuteronomy, it says that after the people of Israel left Egypt, they eventually went with Moses to the top of Mount Ebal, where they read the curses that God would place upon them if they disobeyed him.  Then, they went to nearby Mount Gerizim, and read the blessings that God would place on them if they obeyed.  Perhaps this, and the fact that Mount Gerizim was located in Samaria while Jerusalem was not, attributed to why it is now revered by the Samaritans.  The New Testament potentially references the importance of Mount Gerizim to the Samaritans as well.  In John 4, a Samaritan woman told Jesus that her ancestors had been worshipping on “this mountain” (the mountain was not specified, but was probably Mt. Gerizim).  Not far from the Museum is the remains of a Samaritan Temple, but a Jewish king destroyed it in the 1st Century B.C.  A Byzantine church was later built over it, so most of the visible remains come from that latter period.

There are a few other interesting comparisons between the Samaritans and the Jews.  For example, on Mount Gerizim, I saw an outdoor, circular area, where the Samaritans still sacrifice a lamb on Passover each year.  Visitors are actually welcome to watch.  Jews no longer literally sacrifice a lamb on Passover, but they do put a lamb bone on their Passover table to remember the ancient practice.  Similarly, like the Jews, the Samaritans follow Deuteronomy 6:9’s injunction of placing God’s commandments on their doorposts.  However, whereas Jews follow it by placing a tiny scroll (mezuzah) containing Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 inside a little box adhered to their doorposts, Samaritans carve out a Bible verse of their choosing above their doorways.

A Jewish mezuzah on the doorpost of a home.
A Samaritan mezuzah above a doorway on Mount Gerizim.
[I failed to take a photo of a Samaritan mezuzah, so this photo is not attributed to me. It is from Wiki Commons, meaning that it is in public domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mezuzah_IMG_2125.JPG]

Thankfully, Samaritans and Jews do not hate each other as they once did. They are now accepted as Israeli citizens, even if they live in the West Bank. Additionally, another interesting development in the Samaritan community has to do with marriage. Samaritans are only permitted to marry within their community, however, since their numbers are dwindling, there is now a new rule. If a Jewish woman is willing to convert to the Samaritan version of Judaism, then a Samaritan man can marry her. It does not apply to Jewish men though.

Sources and Further Reading

Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Nablus.” Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Nablus (accessed December 2, 2019).

Feldman, Rachel. “Diving Deep into Mezuzah Customs and Lore.” Judaica WebStore. September 22, 2019. https://blog.judaicawebstore.com/judaicapedia-what-is-a-mezuzah/ (accessed December 2, 2019).

Ireton, Sean. “The Samaritans: Strategies for Survival of an Ethno-Religious Minority in the Twenty First Century.” Anthrobase. 2003. http://www.anthrobase.com/Txt/I/Ireton_S_01.htm (accessed December 3, 2019).

“Mount Gerizim.” Bible Walks. February 23, 2018. https://biblewalks.com/sites/MountGerizim.html (accessed December 2, 2019).

“Samaritan Museum.” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/samaritanmuseumhargrizim/ (accessed December 4, 2019).

Shen, Peidong, Tal Lavi, Toomas Kivisild, Vivian Chou, Deniz Sengun, Dov Gefel, Issac Shpirer, et al. “Reconstruction of Patrilineages and Matrilineages of Samaritans and Other Israeli Populations from Y-Chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Sequence Variation.” Human Mutation 24, no. 3 (September 2004): 248–60. https://doi.org/10.1002/humu.20077.

Jamestown

Because it was recently Thanksgiving, I want to write about Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the United States.  Although not directly part of the Thanksgiving story, the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 paved the way for the English settlers, known as the Pilgrims, to established Plymouth Colony in 1620.  (Thanksgiving originated from the latter group’s story.)

English males arrived in what is now known as Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, because the English were competing with the Spanish, who had already settled in different parts of the “New World.”  They named their settlement “Jamestown” in honor of their King, James I.  This was the same James after whom the famous King James Bible translation of 1611 was named.  The settlement was on a peninsula near the Atlantic coast.

Jamestown’s history includes a rocky relationship with the Native American tribe, the Powhatans, who were already living there.  The most famous Powhatan is probably Pocahontas, because of the writings of one of Jamestown’s future governors, Captain John Smith.  According to him, Pocahontas did not allow her father, the Powhatan chief, to kill him after he was captured.  John Smith was a prolific writer, but he was also an exaggerator, so nobody knows how much of his writings are fact or fiction.  Pocahontas eventually married another Jamestown settler, John Rolfe, but she became ill and died around the age of 21, while visiting England with him.

The English were ill-equipped, so many died of starvation and disease at Jamestown.  Additionally, cultural clashes with the Powhatans led to fighting between the two groups.  However, once life became more stable for them, English women started joining the men.  In 1619, the English brought African captives to Jamestown.  They became the first recorded Africans to live in North America.

If you visit Jamestown, you have the option of seeing two sites.  The first is Historic Jamestowne, which is owned by the National Park Service and contains the original site of the English settlement.  Today, it is primarily an archaeological site, because not much of the site is still visible above the ground.  However, there is a museum there that houses objects that archaeologists have found at the site.

The second site is about a five-minute drive away from Historic Jamestowne, and is called Jamestown Settlement.  Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum.  That means that the site replicates what Jamestown would have looked like in the 1600s, and has historic reenactors walking around the site, providing tours and answering questions.  The reenactors are dressed as both English settlers and Native Americans.  The Native American reenactor that I met was actually of Native American decent.  The site also includes replicas of the three ships that brought the first English settlers to Jamestown.  Visitors can go inside of them.

Jamestown Settlement is pricier than Historic Jamestowne, but does include duo-ticket deal options for the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which is owned by the same organization as Jamestown Settlement.  This museum is thirty minutes away from Jamestown and is in Yorktown, where the Revolutionary War (the U.S.’s war for independence) ended.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to visit that museum.  However, I believe that they do Revolutionary War reenactments there.

Jamestown’s importance in history is evident by the fact that it paved the way for the eventual English domination of most of North America.  The English legacy still lives on, not only by how it influenced the governments of both Canada and the United States, but also in the fact that English is the primary language spoken in North America today.  However, Spanish settlers clearly won dominance in Mexico, Central, and South America, as Spanish is the primary language spoken in those areas today (Brazil, which speaks Portuguese, is a notable exception.).

P. S. Although this is completely unrelated, I wanted to mention an update. In a previous post, I wrote about how I discovered a letter from 1933 in a book that I was cataloging. Well, I was able to track down the grandson of the letter’s recipient, and return it to him! https://arkeh.travel.blog/2019/11/17/library-detective-work/

Sources and Further Reading

“Jamestown Settlement.” Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. https://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement/ (accessed November 29, 2019).

“A Short History of Jamestown.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/a-short-history-of-jamestown.htm (accessed November 29, 2019).