Biblical Archaeology Review 26:4, July/August 2000

First Person: The Poverty of Biblical Archaeology in America

Newly reopened gallery only highlights problem

By Hershel Shanks

The meager display of artifacts confined to three smallish rooms in the newly installed permanent exhibit of the Jewish Museum in New York only emphasizes how very little Biblical archaeology is on view in the United States.

One would suppose that New York would have the richest collection of Biblically related artifacts anywhere in the country. And perhaps this is it. If so, the richest exhibit exhibits considerable poverty.

Perhaps a closer look at the Jewish Museum’s exhibit will explain why.

The first room, labeled “Forging an Identity,” covers the story of ancient Israel from its beginnings in the second millennium B.C.E. down to the Babylonian destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C.E. The second room, “Judaism Begins,” takes us from the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple to the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. The third room is devoted to ancient synagogues from before the Roman destruction to the mid-seventh century C.E. With so little space, it’s difficult to cover two thousand years in much depth.

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