Friday, February 26, 2010

Scale Model of Jerusalem and The Shrine of the Book

Today, we explored two sites at the Israel Museum. The museum itself is (sadly) closed for renovations. However, there were two other things to explore on their property.

One is a scale model of the City of Jerusalem that sits on about 1 acre of land. It was pouring down rain, so I must admit that I gave it a pretty cursory look. Here are some pics that I snapped under cover of Anne's umbrella:
The view on the left shows the Temple as it would have been. The view on the right is a view from another angle. I wish I could tell you more, but all of the signs for the site were in Hebrew.

Next, I toured the Shrine of the Book. The Shrine of the Book is another museum on the complex, which opened in the mid 1960s, to house the Dead Sea Scrolls and to illuminate the lives of the Essene Community at Qumran.

In 1947, a Bedoin boy found a number of clay jars in a cave. The jars contained scrolls that turned out to be ancient scrolls of books of the bible (and other sacred writings). To make an incredibly long story short, the caves in that area were filled with many scrolls and other artifacts of the lives of the people (known as the Essenes) who lived at Qumran. If you want to read more, you can check out this article here.

The exterior of the museum is shaped like the lid of one of the clay jars. Behind it is a black granite wall. The Community at Qumran was concerned with purity of religious practice and some of their writings talk about the Children of the Light and the Children of the Darkness. That conflict is symbolized in this architecture.

I wasn't allowed to take photos on the inside of the museum, so all I can do is describe what I saw.

Some of the display at the Shrine of the Book was about the lives of the people who lived at Qumran. There were oil lamps, bowls, preserved charred dates, along with artifacts from the scriptorium where the scrolls were studied and copied. Many of us were amused by a small trowel used as for burying excrement. Those of us who have spent time camping recognized it right away!

As I moved from this area into the next, I walked past two enclosed displays. Each one contained one of the actual pottery jars in which scrolls had been found. They stopped me in my tracks. On the one hand, they were simply ancient pottery jars. They looked no more impressive than any other jar. And yet, they had been the vessels for something amazing. They protected their hidden treasure for nearly 2000 years! I wished I could have touched one of them. I stood staring for quite a few minutes before moving on.

We then moved into the second part of The Shrine, where either facsimiles of the ancient texts, or some of the ancient texts themselves, resided. I don't read biblical Hebrew, but I was still awestruck. There, in front of me, were ancient copies of some of the words I love.

I was particularly moved to find a copy of one of the oldest extant hymns in Hebrew Scripture. We recite it as a canticle in Morning Prayer in the Episcopal Church. Tonight, I leave you with Canticle 8: The Song of Moses. This morning, I saw this text in its original form.

I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; *

the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *

the Lord has become my Savior.

This is my God and I will praise him, *

the God of my people and I will exalt him.

The Lord is a mighty warrior; *

Yahweh is his Name.

The chariots of Pharaoh and his army has he hurled into the sea; *

the finest of those who bear armor have been

drowned in the Red Sea.

The fathomless deep has overwhelmed them; *

they sank into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in might; *

your right hand, O Lord, has overthrown the enemy.

Who can be compared with you, O Lord, among the gods? *

who is like you, glorious in holiness,

awesome in renown, and worker of wonders?

You stretched forth your right hand; *

the earth swallowed them up.

With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *

with your might you brought them in safety to

your holy dwelling.

You will bring them in and plant them *

on the mount of your possession,

The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *

the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.

The Lord shall reign *

for ever and for ever.