09 November 2006

From Abraham to Jesus

Recently, we went to Grand Rapids for the "Abraham to Jesus" exhibit at DeVos Place. This is the largest collection of biblical artifacts ever to go on tour around the world. And it is the most comprehensive--spanning the time of Abraham (approximately 2200 B.C./B.C.E.) to the fall of Masada after the Jewish Revolt of 66 A.D./C.E. and the razing of the temple in Jerusalem. It was absolutely fascinating, thus this subsequent post. I would encourage everyone to go even though you'll have to travel Columbus, Ohio for the next couple of weeks (Nov. 13-26)--the next closest location during its North American tour). Click below to hear more about the exhibit.

The exhibit was laid-out chronologically by eras of biblical history. This helped keep the history of the Bible organized as you looked at all of the different pieces. Following Israel's history as a people and the powers they interacted with, some portions included a lot of Babylonian items, others Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman artifacts. The earliest pieces were some copper javelin heads and a curved sword.

Some noteworthy pieces were the highlights of the exhibit:

An Assyrian wall relief created during the time of King Sennacherib depicting his conquest of Lachish (c.f.
2 Kings 18:13-19:36) in 701 B.C./B.C.E.. What's cool about this is that it has the only proven depiction (there may now be an Egyptian depiction if the Jews are the Hyksos) of the ancient Jews leaving the city in flight of Assyrian soldiers. Below is the portion that shows Sennacherib on his throne.

The Tel Dan Steele (a black basalt monument found in a hill or "tel" near the town of Dan in northern Israel) which was erected by an Aramaean King sometime in the 8th or 9th centuries to proclaim his victory over the ancient Hebrews. This was found in 1993-94, so it is a very recent discovery. The amazing thing about this is that it contains the first archaeolgical evidence that verifies the Bible's information about Israel having a king named David (1010-970 B.C./B.C.E.). The steele includes the phrase "house of David."

One of the really cool pieces on display was a burial (or "ossuary"...bone box) box shown above. It is not the one that was in the news not too long ago labelled as belonging to "James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus." This one very probably belonged to the family of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus on the way to His crucifixion (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). The inscription reads "Alexander, Son of Simon, the Cyrene." Mark's account lists the names of Simon's sons--Alexander and Rufus. Cyrenica was a city in the eastern part of modern day Libya.

Masada was a palace-fortress that King Herod had built on a 1300 ft. bluff near the Dead Sea. After he stopped using it, it became a Roman garrison until Jewish zealots seized it as a last-ditch refuge following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D./C.E. 70. Approximately 1,000 Jewish patriots lived there for a year until the Romans constructed a giant earth ramp and assualted the city. History records them as finding all of the inhabitants dead in a mass suicide that was intended to deny the Tenth Legion and Rome its victory. Clay pots used to store their food during the seige had been pieced together and were on display. Amazing how moving a simple piece of pottery can be.

The Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in a cave between 1947-1956. They have been dated to between 21 B.C./B.C.E. and 61 A.D./C.E.. As a result, they are the oldest surviving biblical documents that we have. The exhibit featured fragments from the scroll of Isaiah. It's a far different thing to contemplate an ancient piece of the scriptures than it is to see the same text neatly printed by our high-tech printing presses in our modern Bibles.

While these were the noteworthy pieces that it was easy to get excited about, what surprised me was how struck I was by the assortment of household items from each era. Seeing simple items like make-up containers, dishes, bowls, cups, and combs evolve over more than two thousand years was stunning. By Jesus' day, if you had money, you could buy very fine ceramics--delicately crafted and intricately decorated. Glass that was semi-translucent was begining to come on the scene. Fascinating stuff. The walk-away value was that these aren't just fanciful stories. These are tales rooted in times and places and people. The longer we look, the deeper we dig, the more that what we learn confirms what we already knew through the scriptures.

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