Biblical Archaeology in the British Museum

Jun 22, 2017 | Bible Archeology | 0 comments

The British Museum has recently opened a permanent exhibition of Biblical archaeology where items from the Lebanon and Palestine are displayed. The new display forms an extension to the gallery where Hittite and Mesopotamian finds are on show.

Some of the items are new to the museum and most come from three sites in Jordan: Tel es-Sa’idiyeh andTiwal esh-Sharqi in the Jordan Valley and ‘Ain Ghazal near Amman. British Museum staff are actively excavating at all three sites.

Tel es-Sa’idiyeh is an Early Bronze Age farming settlement destroyed by fire. Archaeological evidence indicates that this happened in the summer time. The display shows the pottery, food in the storage jars and even the state of the washing-up being done for the eleven people who lived there at the time of the fire. Evidence indicates that the inhabitants were semi-nomadic.

Rome 57 contains eight glass cases and several free-standing exhibits, arranged in chronological order down to the Babylonian conquest. Among the objects are some of the Lachish letters, some of the Tel el-Amarna tablets and the Shebna inscription.

The Shebna inscription was taken from a tomb in the Kedron Valley in Jerusalem. Shebna was the scribe who negotiated with the Assyrians who were besieging Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:18). He prepared an elaborate tomb for himself, which prompted the prophet Isaiah to write,

“To Shebna, who is over the house, and say, ‘What have you here and whom have you here, as he who hews himself a sepulchre on high, who carves a tomb for himself in a rock’?” Isaiah 22:15-18

The inscription, in archaic Hebrew, cut into a sunken panel above the door into his tomb, identifies Shebna as the Royal Steward (“who is over the house”) and says, “There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his slave-wife with him. Cursed will be the man who will open this [tomb].”

Room 58 contains the finds from Tel se-Sa’idiyeh and a reconstruction of tomb P19 from Jericho, discovered by Kathleen Kenyon. The many objects which filled the tomb are well displayed, including even a plastic spide crawling across one of the skeletons. (The plastic is not original, but the spider is!) Kenyon concluded that the objects in the tomb were so well preserved because the cave had filled with poisonous gases such as methane and carbon dioxide and killed living objects in the tomb, including white ants and bacteria.

Room 59 has two cases with objects related to the Levant: one shows Neolithic pottery while the oter shows the one-third life-size human figures discovered at ‘Ain Ghazal. They are the “straw men” previously reported in Diggings. They are made of straw covered with lime and clay plaster. Some of them have six fingers.

It must be remembered that the British Museum only holds items that have been gifted to it or from digs they have funded themselves. As such it can only portray a small part of the available evidence in the field of Biblical archaeology. However one might have hoped for a greater level of interpretation, cross-indexing and explanatory diagrams to better inform the less academic visitor of the importance of what is on view.

Available from the museum bookshop is a guide book called The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence (ISBN 0-7141-1698-X British Museum Press, first published 1988, reprinted with corrections 1996 and 1998) by T. C. Mitchell, former Keeper of the Western Asiatic Antiquities. This book covers 60 artifacts, of which 51 are in the British Museum and five in the British Library at King’s Cross, London. It contains photographs of each object, Biblical references, descriptions and translations where appropriate. At £10, it is an excellent guide for a visitor interested in the Biblical exhibits and a useful reference work for those who can’t visit in person

Paul Richardson

Article used with permission of Diggins Online. You can find more useful material at Apologtetics Courses, Free Courses and Brethren Assembly. Secular materials can be found at Coins Encyclopedia and Guide For Income

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