Today we decided to take in some of the Museums. Fortunately, there are several of them grouped in one area. Unfortunately, they weren’t near enough for us to walk there. When you look at a map of Jerusalem the old city is where everyone wants to go in order to see the most famous biblical sites. We chose our hotel for that very reason. We are only about an eight minute walk north of the Damascus Gate, the main entrance through the north wall of the old city. But the city has so spread out over the centuries so that many of the things you may want to see are a good cab ride away. So the girl at the hotel desk called us a cab which took us to a location that included the Holy Land Museum, the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book all there together. And all of these are directly across the street from Israel’s Knesset building (their version of our capitol building in Washington D. C.).
We decided to tackle the Israel Museum first. It is a beautifully laid out structure with the history of the Land of Canaan from Pre-history (10,000 years B. C. or so) to the modern state of Israel—all that in one museum! But the flow from one era into the next was done so well that it keeps you interested in what’s coming up next. We got so interested in everything that we began to lose sight of how much time we had to spend there. So we grabbed a quick lunch and headed toward the Shrine of the Book Museum that was just next door. This Museum was built in 1965 to tell the story of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls—thought by many to be the most important archeological find of the 20th Century. In a small commune just east of Jerusalem and on the shore of the Dead Sea a group of Essenes (a strict Jewish religious sect) lived out their lives in seclusion during the days of Jesus. They occupied their time together in prayer and devotion and in preserving and copying religious texts, the Bible being chief among them. It seems that in about A. D. 66 when the Jewish nation revolted against Roman rule and decided to take on the Roman army these Essenes were caught in the middle. When they saw the war coming into their territory they decided to hide their precious scrolls in the caves that surrounded their commune so they wouldn’t be destroyed. Unfortunately, they were caught in the crossfire and were scattered, killed or sold into slavery. And for over 1,900 years those scrolls sat there in pottery jars mostly protected from the elements until a Bedouin boy accidently discovered some of them. The story gets complicated from there but eventually all of the scrolls were acquired by those who could read them and discover what they contained. For Bible students this is important because they contained passages or parts of passages from all of the books of the Old Testament except Esther. But the biggest prize was they now had two complete copies of the book of Isaiah—one of the most important books on messianic prophecy ever written. Bible scholars everywhere were thrilled to now possess manuscripts of the Bible that were at least 1,000 years older than the ones they had possessed up to that time. When they compared the accuracy of the newer ones with these much older ones they found to their amazement that they were almost completely the same texts. So to memorialize this event they constructed this museum—the Shrine of the Book-- to tell this story and completely unrolled one of the books of Isaiah and mounted it on a circular board for everyone to see, or read, the ancient Hebrew text for themselves.
Also, while we were here we saw, just between the Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book, a model of the city of Jerusalem that was constructed for everyone to get an idea of what the city looked like just before it was destroyed in A. D. 70. Not a little table model, mind you, but a model that is constructed on a large lot. It’s one thing to see piece by piece the places associated with the ministry of Jesus and his apostles when all of these sites have been built over many times by more modern structures; it’s quite another to see the city as it probably looked when all of those things were actually going on. So, to see these two museums and the model of Jerusalem in the same day, it really helps you to orient yourself to the old Jerusalem we identify with the New Testament.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.