by Doug Ward
DECEMBER, 2006-Sherry and I hope to visit
In the summer of 2006, the new Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage near Cleveland hosted the Cradle of Christianity exhibit, a collection of ancient artifacts from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. After reading an enthusiastic review of the exhibit , we set aside a day in August to check it out.
The objects in this collection were chosen to illustrate the
Jewish roots of Christianity and to emphasize the common ground shared by
Christianity and Judaism as they developed in the
"The entry to the exhibit features twin chancel screens with almost identical designs. They are the same size and the same material (marble), and they feature the same wreaths and vines as decoration. They could have been carved in the same shop. If you don't look hard you would miss this detail: one wreath frames a cross, the other borders a menorah.
This religious double vision is repeated throughout the exhibit. Christian and Jewish versions of oil lamps, bread stamps and mosaics are virtually identical. Of course, some of the images are part of both traditions-as in the case of a mosaic from a synagogue showing David after his conquest of Goliath."
Among the objects on display were some famous finds from the
time of Jesus that have received extensive media coverage over the years. One
was the Pilate
inscription, which provides extra confirmation of the existence of Pontius
Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. Translated
into English, the Latin inscription reads, "Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of
Judea, has dedicated to the people of
The Cradle of Christianity exhibit also included several
ossuaries, the stone boxes in which first-century Jews placed the bones of
their deceased loved ones. Ossuaries have been in the news since 2002, when the
furor over the "James ossuary" began. (The James ossuary is inscribed
with the name "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," leading to
speculation that it might have held the bones of early Christian leader James
the Just, brother of Jesus of Nazareth.) The James ossuary is currently a key
piece of evidence in an antiquities forgery trial in
One of those was the Caiaphas ossuary
, which is inscribed with the name "Joseph, son of Caiaphas." When
it was found in a burial cave near
Another ossuary in the collection is one that could be called the "crucifixion nail ossuary." This ossuary, which was found in 1968, contained the bones of a man in his twenties. We know that this man was crucified because a nail about seven inches long held his heel bones together . The nail, with a replica of the bones in which it was found (The actual bones were reburied back in 1968.), was part of the exhibit. According to the ossuary's inscription, the man's name was "Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol."
After viewing the Cradle of Christianity exhibit, we checked
After its stay in
From Abraham to Jesus
As the title suggests, From Abraham to Jesus gives a survey of biblical history. Near Eastern artifacts from each period of that history-e.g., pottery, bullae, coins-are interspersed with
· replicas of other artifacts that complement the biblical record-e.g., Assyrian palace reliefs, the Mesha stela, and the stela found at Tel Dan that mentions the "House of David";
· timelines giving an idea of what happened when;
· sculptures depicting biblical people and events-e.g., a representation of two men carrying a huge cluster of grapes on a pole to illustrate Num. 13:23;
· hangings of the biblical illustrations of Gustave Doré.
At the entrance of the exhibit, each visitor receives a special headset with a keypad. The various stops in the exhibit are numbered, and one can punch in the number of a display on the keypad to hear a discussion of that display. The discussions, presented in the form of conversations between a Christian archaeologist and his college-age granddaughter, are very well done. We found them to be both informative and entertaining. These audio presentations also feature beautiful and appropriate background music, including the Israeli national anthem and a number of songs sung by Messianic worship leader Paul Wilbur.
This feature of the exhibit provides an effective solution to a problem families usually face when they visit museums: While adults want to spend a little time looking at each item, children become bored and would rather go at a faster pace. In this case, our nine-year-old daughter found the audio explanations interesting enough that she wanted to hear each one, and we stayed together through the entire visit.
There are two ossuaries among the artifacts in the exhibit,
one of them especially interesting. According to its inscription, this ossuary
probably held the bones of a man named Simon and his son Alexander. It was
found in a burial cave with ten other ossuaries in 1941. Significantly, the
names on the ossuaries point to a Jewish family from the Diaspora, most likely
the North African province of Cyrenaica . Taken together, the evidence
suggests that the "Simon" mentioned on the ossuary could well have
been Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Jesus to
Adjacent to the exhibit is a shopping area at which one can
purchase souvenirs from
We were grateful for the opportunity to visit From Abraham
to Jesus. It was well worth the 120-mile trip to
J. Bull, "
2. Jason Byassee, "Double Take: Christian Artifacts in a Jewish
Museum," Christian Century,
3. Zvi Greenhut, "
4. Tom Powers, “A Second Look at the Alexander Son of Simon Ossuary: Did It Hold Father and Son?”, posted at the Biblical Archaeology Society Website on September 26, 2006.
5. Vasilios Tzaferis, "Crucifixion-the Archaeological Evidence," Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan./Feb. 1985.
1Although the New Testament does not say that
this high priest's name was Joseph, the historian Flavius Josephus mentions
this fact (
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