Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 2010, 352 pp.
325 color illus., $57.95 (paperback)
Reviewed by Steven Fine
Chronicles of the Land celebrates the recent expansion of the Israel Museum and the lavish new installation of archaeological treasures displayed there. Beautifully photographed and produced in full color with a text geared to the intelligent layperson, this is more than just a coffee-table book to be schlepped home by excited tourists. Chronicles of the Land documents a museological moment of great significance, the first thorough reinstallation of the Israel Museum since it was opened in 1965.
Many of the objects illustrated here are by now iconic, like the Chalcolithic copper hoard from the so-called Cave of Treasures, the stone gate from Hazor, the Pontius Pilate inscription from Caesarea and the late antique menorah from Hammath Tiberias. Happily, the editors included many less-known treasures. Of particular interest to me are the recently discovered and reconstructed Heliodorus inscription,* a text of great significance for interpreting the Hasmonean revolt (commemorated at Hanukkah) and an inscribed lead weight of the Bar-Kokhba revolt (132–135 C.E.). An extremely important dedicatory inscription from the Rehov synagogue is published here for the first time (shown above). Scholars from many fields will find much here that enhances their work.
Unusual for a museum catalog, this volume illustrates reconstructed late antique church and synagogue environments. Visitors—as well as scholars—can really get a sense here of how the curators of this generation imagine these ancient buildings.
This catalog is organized first as a diachronical history of “Israeli” archaeology, from “The Dawn of Civilization” to “Muslims and Crusaders.” The next major section highlights the museum’s collections of archaeology relating to “Neighboring Cultures.” These “Thematic Collections” highlight “Glass through the Ages,” “Coins in Context” and “Early Hebrew Writing.” The final section focuses on the “Shrine of the Book,” which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex.**
Oddly, Islamic art of all periods is included in “Neighboring Cultures,” apparently for historic reasons of museum organization that resulted in this collection being displayed in the archaeology wing, while Mayan archaeology, for example, is displayed in the Fine Arts section of the museum.
Chronicles of the Land marks an event to be celebrated by all readers of BAR, by scholars and by all who delight in marvelous museums.
* See Hershel Shanks, “Inscription Reveals Roots of Maccabean Revolt,” BAR, November/December 2008, and Dorothy D. Resig, “Volunteers Find Missing Pieces to Looted Inscription,” BAR, May/June 2010.
** Yosef Ofer, “The Shattered Crown: The Aleppo Codex, 60 Years After the Riots,” BAR, September/October 2008.
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