The Israel Museum, located near the Knesset Building in Jerusalem, houses some of humanity’s most amazing archaeological treasures, dating from the cave man up till the second Muslim conquest of the Holy Land following the Crusades. Indeed, one of the most amazing things about Israel is that the country played a central role in human history from its earliest beginnings. Inside the Israel Museum, one can catch a glimpse for how the people who inhabited Israel lived in the early Stone Age; they were scavengers and hunters who lived off the land, lacking advanced tools.
Yet in the Israel Museum, one can witness that as history progressed, the civilizations that inhabited the Holy Land became more and more sophisticated. People began to settle down in cities towards the end of the Stone Age. On display, one can witness the skeleton of a woman with a domesticated animal, which is the earliest archaeological record for the existence of humans having pets. The first sedentary people of the Holy Land, the Natufians, carved figurines out of animals and made jewelry, which is the earliest record of art in the Holy Land. By the time the ancient Israelites arrived in the Holy Land, the natives of Eretz Yisrael were making very elaborate artwork, built boats which they utilized for trade, and had a very sophisticated culture, as demonstrated by the archaeological relics that they left behind.
In 1200 BCE, the Canaanite city states collapsed and two new peoples arrived in the Holy Land: the Israelites and the Philistines. Both groups left behind amazing archaeological relics. On display in the Israel Museum, one can see a bronze statue of a bull, which is reminiscent of the Exodus story, where the Jewish people built a golden calf. One can also see female goddess figurines that the Philistines used to worship and colorful Philistine pottery. Also inside the Israel Museum, one can witness an Aramaic inscription on display that mentions the House of King David, as well as archaeological proof for the existence of King Uzziah of Judah.
The Israel Museum also has on display archaeological proofs for the destruction of the First Temple. One can view Babylonian arrow-heads shown beside human skeletons that were uncovered here in the Holy Land. Even more amazing, a cuneiform inscription in which King Sennecherib brags about his defeat of Judah is also presented. King Sennecherib declared, “And Hezekiah, King of Judah, who did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity. I besieged them and conquered them.”
The Israel Museum also houses archeological finds from latter periods. One can witness the head of Alexander the Great, the Hefzibah inscription which documents a correspondence between Antiochus III and Ptolemy son of Thraseas, Hasmonean-era coins, the Heliodorus inscription that documents a correspondence between Seleucus IV and his viceroy Heliodorus commanding him to loot the Temple treasury, the remains of a mikvah utilized by Herod the Great, a statue of Hadrian, coins issued during the Bark Kokhba revolt, remnants of the Roman victory arch, etc. The archaeological section of the Israel Museum concludes with the reconstruction of an ancient synagogue built between the 5-8th century CE, accompanied by a magnificent mosaic with the image of the Jewish Temple, alongside Christian and Muslim artwork uncovered in the Holy Land.
Indeed, as one travels throughout the Israel Museum, one cannot help but feel impressed about how well Israel has preserved the human heritage in the Holy Land, from the cave man till the present. Indeed, in addition to the prominent archaeological wing, the Israel Museum also houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex, which was rescued from Syria and is the oldest known complete copy of the Hebrew Bible. Since ancient antiquities and the world’s rich human heritage is of critical importance for humanity, it is pivotal that the Holy Land continued to be governed by people who are committed to preserving humanity’s past.
By Rachel Avraham