Thursday, May 3, 2012

Israel Day 10 - The Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book

Our final day in Israel wrapped up with a tour of the Israel Museum.  Since I had last been in Israel, the Holy Land Hotel had been sold and demolished to make way for luxury high-rises.  This project led to the indictment of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  However that is a blog for another day.

But the Holy Land Hotel was famous for its large scale model of ancient Jerusalem.  Thankfully someone or several someones had enough wisdom to move the model to the Israel Museum, where it now proudly stands.  The model was the vision of Mr. Hans Kroch, the original owner of the Holy Land Hotel, which he created in memory of family members he lost in the Holocaust.  To build it, he entrusted Biblical and archeological expert Professor Avi Yonah.  Professor Yonah was working without access to much of archaeological Jerusalem at that time, and many finds have been discovered ever since.

And yet, much of the model is still believed to be fairly accurate, with only small changes having been made since it was moved to the Israel Museum.

We then continued on with a tour of the Shrine of the Book, which houses several of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered in Qumran, a small community located outside of Jerusalem.  It was sort of a monastery for its day with the inhabitants leading a very strict Jewish life.  They believed that the Jerusalem was facing destruction and by only living a pure Jewish life would they survived to rebuild.

The community lasted approximately 200 years.  Scholars sometimes refer to its inhabitants as the Essenes, a group first described by Josephus.  Their collection includes at least fragments of every book of the Hebrew Bible except the book of Esther, though no one is entirely sure why.  One theory is that the book of Esther does not contain the name of, nor mention of God.

This group, which some scholars speculate was made up of mostly priests, have provided us, if accidentally the oldest proof text of the Hebrew Bible dating back nearly a millennium before the previous oldest proof text.

The museum now also holds the Aleppo Codex, a tenth century medieval manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.  Both the story behind the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex would make for excellent movies in and of themselves.  Thankfully both now rest in the hands of this amazing museum where they can be studied by scholars for generations to come.

Just one last aside, I always thought of the architecture of the Shrine of the Book to be that of a Hershey's Kiss.  Alas that illusion has been dispelled.  It was designed to look like the tops of the containers in which the scrolls were found.

Now it looks more like something you might find in a restroom.  But I'll let you be the judge.

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