Many museums that focus on antiquities fall into the trap of appealing to a very limited public of die-hard history buffs. But not the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ). Children and adults of all ages, all religions, and all levels of interest in history and the Bible enjoy visiting this friendly, impressive institution.
BLMJ is indeed an unusual phenomenon. A world-class museum that could easily rest on its laurels while continuing to attract a steady flow of tourists and locals, it in fact does the exact opposite. Rather than simply relying on its exquisite permanent collection — in itself an excellent reason to visit the museum — BLMJ is constantly innovating and offering new experiences.
In addition to a steady stream of unique and fascinating exhibitions, BLMJs impressive range of programs, from community outreach projects to fun activities for the whole family, has turned the museum into a lively center of culture and education worth visiting over and over.
In mid-October, BLMJ inaugurated the spectacular Book of Books exhibition, which showcases some of the worlds rarest and most valuable biblical manuscripts and artifacts. Amazingly, this is the first exhibition ever held in Israel that focuses specifically on the Bible from a historical perspective.
This is a major, world-class exhibition that addresses a powerful topic and is visually phenomenal, enthuses Amanda Weiss, the museums director. It traces 2,000 years of the Bible from the earliest extant texts to relatively contemporary material from the 19th century.
The Book of Books exhibition focuses on the Jewish Bible as well as the Jewish roots of Christianity, emphasizing the common origins of these two important monotheistic religions. Highlights include original pages from the Gutenberg Bible, fragments from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible dating from the late 2nd century BCE), samples of early New Testament Scriptures, parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and rare texts from the Cairo Geniza — the collection of Jewish manuscript fragments found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Egypt.
There are also exquisitely illuminated biblical manuscripts, which can be admired as true works of art as well as for their historical and religious significance. The exhibition will also feature a working replica of the 15th century Gutenberg printing press on which Johannes Gutenberg printed his famous Bible, which was the first major book ever printed with movable type. Visitors will be able to print a souvenir page to take home from the exhibition.
Balance of Judaism and Christianity
The Book of Books exhibition was brought to Israel in cooperation with the Verbum Domini exhibit in Rome, and as part of the Passages travelling
exhibition. Passages is the brainchild of U.S. philanthropist and businessman Steve Green, who has amassed one of the worlds largest private collections of rare biblical texts. Consisting of over 40,000 items, the Green Collection will ultimately find a home in Washington, D.C., where Green is establishing a permanent non-sectarian Bible museum scheduled to open in 2017 near the Smithsonian. A portion of the collection is currently touring the United States.
Weiss points out that Book of Books makes a powerful impact on visitors due to its extraordinary dramatic presentation. Indeed, the entire show is designed professionally — including the walls and the floor — to intensify the overall viewing experience. After Jerusalem, the exhibition will be displayed in the Vatican.
While the Passages exhibition reflects Steve Greens evangelical Christian beliefs and is designed mainly to inspire Christian visitors, BLMJ director Weiss stresses that Book of Books is different. It presents a balance of Judaism and Christianity. The museum has contributed to the exhibit and it is geared to people of all religions and cultures who are interested in history and the Bible, she points out.
Many Jews dont realize that half of the Christian Bible is the Tanach, Weiss continues, referring to the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The exhibition sheds light on Judaism of the Second Temple Period, during the time when Jesus became a persona, and later, when the Gospels were written. It is extremely fitting that this exhibition and these texts are unveiled for the first time ever in Jerusalem, mere meters from where many of the events contained in the Bible took place. The exhibition provides a unique experience to be so close to some of the rarest and most historic texts which helped shape humanity.
Sounds of Many Waters
The second exciting exhibition that recently opened at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem is called Sounds of Many Waters, and its opening was timed to coincide with the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which this year takes place in Jerusalem. Much smaller in scope than the mega Book of Books, this exhibition is the product of the Hadera-Eiron-Southeast Region partnership of the Jewish Agencys Partnership2Gether platform.
Through the Partnership2Gether project, 45 regions in Israel have been partnered with 550 Jewish communities around the world, and each Israel-Diaspora partnership encourages personal bonding between the members of the partnered communities, thereby strengthening their sense of Jewish peoplehood. The Hadera-Eiron-Southeast Region partnership covers a rather small area of Israel roughly half-way between Tel Aviv and Haifa, and a huge swathe of the south-east United States encompassing Jewish Federations from cities such as Charlotte, Nashville, Jacksonville and Chattanooga.
The current exhibit at BLMJ features works by 36 artists from both partnership communities and was curated jointly by Naomi Rezinovsky Sella from the Hadera-Eiron region and Leslie J. Klein from Florida. The theme of the exhibit is water in Judaism – hence the name Sound of Many Waters, which is a biblical reference – and each artist has brought his or her unique perspective to this fascinating subject.
The works that were chosen represent a range of different media – from photography and collage to oil and acrylic, and even steel and stone. However, there were strict criteria for participating in the exhibition; each work must be 40x40 cm. and weigh no more than three kilos. While some artists chose to portray water in a Jewish or Israeli context, others preferred to dwell on the lack of water, such as in the desert.
This exhibition is an opportunity for artists to gather and to reflect on the power of the sources. The idea is to galvanize the communal divide around the Bible, focusing on what makes it relevant today, notes BLMJ director Amanda Weiss. By adding a contemporary twist to the Bible, this exhibition provides an opportunity to further broaden the museums appeal to a wider public.
For more information about the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, go to www.blmj.org.