Jerusalem of old

Visitors to the Israel Museum can now take in a view that draws on nearly 2,000 years of history in one glance.

injer shrine 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy of Israel Museum)
injer shrine 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy of Israel Museum)
A unique blend of contemporary and ancient, miniature and magnificent sets the scene at the Israel Museum's newest exhibit featuring the Second Temple Era model of Jerusalem it acquired from the Holyland Hotel. From the site of the Old City replica, now nestled atop Jerusalem's Hill of Tranquility, pristine views of the Knesset, the National Library and Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus form a vivid background to the birds-eye perspective of the ancient Jerusalem depicted in the model. Yet according to museum officials, it is what is underneath the model's new site that truly brings the Second Temple model to life. Accompanying the inauguration of the model last week, the Israel Museum opened the multi-building Dorot Foundation Dead Sea Scrolls Information and Study Center, an underground complex and auditorium linking the new acquisition with the museum's Shrine of the Book housing the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dr. Adolfo Roitman, head of the Shrine of the Book, said the museum designed the study center to connect the Shrine of the Book and the Jerusalem model both physically and conceptually - subterranean study space linking the two exhibits and the ancient communities they represent. "We want to synchronize these two stories - the story of Jerusalem and the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls," Roitman told a group of reporters touring the exhibit. "In a way, we are closing the circle opened in the 1950s [with the discovery of the Scrolls]." The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are some of the earliest existing evidence of biblical texts, were discovered by chance by Beduin in 1947 at the ancient site of Qumran. The Israel Museum acquired the Scrolls and opened the Shrine of the Book in 1965 to house eight of the most complete Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the Aleppo Codex, a historically significant Hebrew manuscript from the 10th century CE. Designed by architects Frederick Kiesler and Armand Bartos, the cave-like artistic structure exhibits both the Scrolls themselves and artifacts from the daily life of the Essenes, the assumed authors of the ancient documents. Researchers believe that the Essenes, a community of about 40 inhabitants of Qumran, fled Jerusalem after a dispute over theological and ritual matters with the Jerusalem priesthood. Several of the Scrolls reveal information about the daily life of the now-extinct tribe. According to Roitman, the Israel Museum's former presentation failed to put the Scrolls into the context of the Qumran community. He said the new information center amplifies the contextual history of the artifacts. "Now, the objects have been reborn at the Shrine of the Book," Roitman added, as he pointed out the underground site of the unfinished classrooms. He further noted the public study facility within the center provides museum visitors with access to historic information and current research about the Scrolls and the Qumran community. A digital library, scheduled to open within weeks, will contain images of the Isaiah Scroll and the Temple Scroll. Classrooms will serve as venues for seminars about related topics the museum is planning, Roitman said. The center also includes an 80-seat auditorium that will serve as a venue for theatrical and sacred music performances. Visitors to the theater can also view a fictional film directed by Ron Asulin about the Qumran and Jerusalem communities of the Second Temple era. It is the first film to depict the lives of the Qumran sect. Beyond the auditorium, a long underground stone corridor, complete with artwork recreating the perspective from the mountains of Jerusalem approaching the Dead Sea, symbolizes the literal distance between ancient Jerusalem and Qumran, Roitman said. According to Roitman, The cumulative effect of these new additions to accompany the Shrine of the Book - the auditorium, classrooms and libraries at the Dorot Center - brings the contextual and cultural history of the artifacts to the fore. "The idea is to understand that, behind the objects, we have human beings," he said. "We are putting them into the context of people." But the Dorot Center isn't only about the Scrolls. Just as the underground information compound adds the human story to the old Dead Sea Scroll exhibit, the Old City model "amplifies what the Scrolls are about," according to James Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher director of the Israel Museum. The incredibly detailed model, complete with real gold tiling and true Jerusalem Stone, was built under the direction of Hans Kroch, former Holyland Hotel owner and developer, in memory of his son, Jacob, who died in the Israeli War of Independence. The model depicts ancient Jerusalem at its largest, in 66 CE just before the Great Revolt against the Romans destroyed the city. At the time, Jerusalem spanned about 445 acres - more than twice the size of the Old City today. It was first displayed publicly at the Holyland Hotel in 1966 and quickly became a popular tourist destination, attracting some 3,000 sightseers annually in an era when Jews were barred entrance to the Old City. Snyder said plans for the Dorot information center were already under way when Holyland Hotel owner Hillel Cherny offered the museum the model, which would have been destroyed during construction of the Holyland Park complex. And according to Snyder, the museum quickly altered its plans for the study center to incorporate the unexpected donation into the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. "Our goal was to bring it [the model] here and then really bring it to a new level," he said. "It's an evocative, three-dimensional and physical interpretation." Beginning in September 2005, the replica was transported in thousands of pieces by more than 100 builders, architects and engineers, several of whom were still laying bricks at the site on the day of the official opening last week. However, according to David Mevorah, the museum's curator of the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, the true test for the project planners, under the direction of Avner Drori, was to create a unique and powerful space for the model. As he led a group around a promenade walkway that encompasses the half-acre replica, Mevorah demonstrated how the area was designed in order to recreate the sensation of viewing the Old City from various modern Jerusalem milestones. Information checkpoints, which include historic facts about the city that accompany a guided audio tour of the model, imitate a view from the Mount of Olives, Armon Hanatziv Promenade and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. A podium representing the view from the David Citadel Hotel has yet to be completed. "It adds so much to [the Israel Museum] and to the model to have it working inside the museum," he said. And according to Snyder, the effect of the entire site - from the simultaneous views of ancient and modern Jerusalem atop the Hill of Tranquility, to the corridors underneath the model's new home linking the replica to the Shrine of the Book - draws the subtle connection between artifact and culture that the museum hoped to evoke. "The model isn't so much about archeology, but about the culture and time in history that is contextual to the Dead Sea Scrolls," he said. "It gives a kind of power to the landscape. It's a place where you can really get the point of the connection between historic Jerusalem and the Jerusalem of today."