The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem is celebrating its 19th anniversary. While that
is a substantial number in museum years, it is a drop in the proverbial ocean in
the context of the collection that it houses. Spanning the history of
civilization from 5000 BCE to 600 CE, the museum contains thousands of artifacts
from this region that chronicle the dawn of history to the early Christian
Founded by Elie and Batya Borowski, the museum was built to enshrine
Elie’s massive collection of antiquities and share it with the public.
Impressively catalogued and impeccably displayed, the artifacts range from
ancient implements, household vessels, seals and ritual objects to jewelry,
mosaics and stone statuettes and sculptures. A walk through the museum is a walk
through time itself.
“We are different from other museums in the world in
that we present a chronological journey through history,” says museum director
“It starts with the beginning of civilization and unfolds
before you as you walk through the galleries.”
En route, you see how
neighboring civilizations existed within the same time frame, she explains.
Those civilizations include ancient Egypt, Sumer, Assyria and Babylon – the
lands of the Bible.
Although the aim of the museum is to showcase the
history of the lands of the Bible, the name of the institution has proven to be
somewhat confusing, says Weiss. Some people think that it’s a museum about
religion, while others envision it as some sort of theme park like Disneyland.
But one step inside the beautifully appointed museum dispels all
In addition to the permanent collection of regional
artifacts, the Bible Lands Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the Classical
era of Greece. The installation, entitled “Glories of Ancient Greece,” spans a
period of 2,000 years, manifested in the form of jewelry and intricately painted
vases and urns.
Ancient Rome is represented as well in the museum’s Roman
Fresco Room, which features a rare collection of 1st-century wall paintings from
Rome and Pompeii.
While religion is not at the core of the m u s e u m ’s
concept, the BLMJ is featuring a special exhibition entitled “Three Faces of
Monotheism.” Here, symbols of Judaism, Christianity and Islam from the 3rd to
the 13th century CE tell the story of how each religion developed in this
region. They also reveal the disparities, as well as the many surprising
similarities, among the three major faiths.
To that end, the museum not
only displays its ancient artifacts but makes them relevant to the modern world.
After all, says Weiss, “Civilization has not changed that much.”
a wide variety of innovative cultural and educational programs, the museum
extends itself to all ages and faiths in an ongoing effort to inspire new
generations to understand and appreciate our history and our heritage.
that vein, the BLMJ has taken an unprecedented departure from its 19- year
dedication to the ancient world by hosting an exhibition of a contemporary
Catholic artist. Taking a leap of faith, so to speak, the BLMJ launched an
exhibition entitled “Inspired: Manel Alvarez on the Bible.” The exhibition,
which runs until October 31, is comprised of 17 (out of 30) sculptures that
depict the renowned Spanish artist’s interpretation of some of the stories and
heroes of the Old Testament.
“It is the largest contemporary sculpture
exhibition ever brought to Israel,” says Weiss. One piece alone, the Carrera
marble Tower of Babel
, had to be cut in three and be shipped in two containers,
she says. The white conical structure, which graces the exterior entrance of the
museum, stands 10 and a half meters high and weighs 42 tons.
in the Alvarez collection at the museum include The Tree of Life
; The Tree of
; Joseph and His Brothers
; and The Golden Calf
. Each sculpture
is accompanied by a quote from the Bible associated with the subject. While some
of the sculptures are displayed in the museum itself, others are installed in
Using a variety of materials such as marble, wood, iron and
bronze, the Barcelona-born artist rendered his vision of the iconic biblical
legends and leaders. The sculpture of Moses is depicted not as the bearded
leader towering atop Mount Sinai but rather as a baby in a basket in a long,
narrow wooden boat. Joseph and His Brothers
is a colorful rendering of the group
of siblings standing together, with Joseph as the prominent figure wearing a
“Blue was the most difficult color to get in those days,”
says Alavarez .
“Only the wealthy used it.”
In all the sculptures
of figures, the heads are represented as points. That is, there are full bodies
with a chiseled point for a head. The point of that, explains the 66-year-old
artist, is that “The mind is our strongest power.
When we have to find a
solution for how or when to do something, we can get to that idea with a point;
a point can penetrate and go forward. It’s like pulling a plough to clear a
In fact, the path that led Alvarez to Israel was not exactly a
His original plan was to take his exhibition on a tour of
the United States and end it in Jerusalem as the crowning glory. However, the
financial crisis put a crimp in that plan, and the museums in the US decided to
wait it out, he says. Then Doron Polak, the curator of the exhibition, contacted
Weiss at the Bible Lands. Reluctant though she was at first to even consider a
contemporary exhibition, Weiss flew to Barcelona to see the collection – and
here it is.
“I am very happy to be here,” says Alvarez.
like being home. This is the perfect place to show my pieces.”