I very much enjoyed my Graduate Theological Union classes during the Fall 2019 semester, particularly “Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible” by Dr. Aaron Brody, Robert and Kathryn Riddell Professor of Bible and Archaeology, and Director of the Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology. Part of the fun was getting to see and touch ancient artifacts in storage. We even got to discuss Tell en-Nasbeh artifacts with visiting scholar Dr. Aharon Tavger of Ariel University, Israel. Below is my final paper for the class, proposing the creation of a traveling exhibit for three Badè Museum artifacts.
Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible, Paper 3
5 December 2019
In this third paper for the Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible class, I will describe three objects from Pacific School of Religion’s Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology for a traveling museum exhibit. If it could get security clearance, this exhibit would serve as an excellent instructional aid for an audience at Elmwood jail in Mipitas, California, where sixteen incarcerated men are taking my class, Transforming Literature of the Bible, in which they study the Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament. I chose these particular objects for their relevance to that study area and high potential for interest to the students. Men in jail get very little unfiltered information. They have the televisions and what few books and magazines drift into their controlled environment. Direct access to ancient artifacts could enrich their lives and stimulate their understanding and interest in learning. Security requirements mean that this exhibit would need to take the form of an interactive presentation, not a self-guided tour. After briefly describing the objects, I would present some research I did to prepare their museum labels, connect each artifact with the history of the biblical city of Mizpah, as told in the Book of Jeremiah 40-41, and also link them with the more familiar story of Jesus and the Roman Empire.
In presenting this collection of objects to the inmate, I would briefly open with the stories of the Iron Age city of Mizpah, the Tell en-Nasbeh archaeological site northwest of Jerusalem, and of the Badè Museum collection. I would also tell the larger story of the Kingdom of Judah versus the Babylonian Empire, the destruction of the first Temple, and what happened after. I would then read aloud Jeremiah 40-41 in its entirety. With Jerusalem in ruins, Jeremiah 40 tells how the king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah as his governor in the new capital city of Mizpah in the Yehud province. Displaying and describing the Three Coins, I would draw parallels between Mizpah’s history and how much later, the Roman Empire ruled over their Province of Judea. This would include how violent resistance against empires lead to the destruction of the first Temple in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, and the second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans. The current Badè Museum display labels for the Three Coins do not say much about the coins but they were apparently found in tombs at Tell en-Nasbeh. On the left is a Bronze Prutah coin showing a wreath around a date from the time of Pontius Pilate. In the middle is a silver Tetradrachm (also called a Tyrian Shekel) featuring the profile of Melqart, or Tyrian Hercules. This may be the coin mentioned in four stories of the New Testament. One Badè Museum label says this coin was from a hoard at Qumrun (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) but another seems to indicate that it was found in a tomb at Tell en-Nasbeh. Maybe the coin was from Tell en-Nasbeh but similar to others found at Qumrun? The coin on the right is another Bronze Prutah showing an umbrella with the words “King Agrippa.” After the elemental makeup of the prutah was studied in 2010, this was found to be a coin of King Herod Agrippa I (37-44 CE), not his son, King Herod Agrippa II (49-95 CE). Four King Herods are mentioned in the New Testament and students are often confused between them. Money is always interesting. Ancient money from about the time of Jesus would engage the interest of inmates in artifacts and history.
After the Three Coins, I would then return to the story in Jeremiah 41:1-3 in which Ishmael son of Nethaniah and his men murder the governor Gedaliah during dinner. Turning to the Stone Foot Bath as the next object, I would talk about its use as part of complex hospitality practices in the Ancient Near East. A foot bath is an element of how the guest and host interact formally, not just providing guests with a needed cleanup but also helping to establish a covenantal relationship. As the Badè Museum display says, “Harsh desert life and dangerous travel conditions necessitated the implementation of rules for the protection of both the traveler and the host.” The label for Stone Foot Bath at the Badè Museum does not include a date and I did not find the artifact in the data records listed Open Context’s online Badè Museum archive. However, on the web I found a ceramic foot bath similar in design from Tel Lachish, Israel, dated in the 8th century, BCE. Perhaps the portable oval design with an integrated raised foot rest in the middle mean that they are of a similar age? (Or, maybe foot bath designs are so basic that they do not change much over time?) The cultural importance of foot washing as part of purification and hospitality is evidenced by many mentions throughout the Bible, including Genesis 18:4, Genesis 24:32, Exodus 30: 17-21, 1 Samuel 25:41, Song of Solomon 5:3, John 13:14-17, 1 Timothy 5:10, and Tobit 6:3. This Stone Foot Bath a part of a traveling exhibit may allow the inmates to connect viscerally with the scripture in John 13:14-17, in which Jesus shows humility by washing his disciples’ feet. Visualizing exactly how this object was used during foot washing may help them think more deeply about the scripture and its meaning. If the audience can touch the object, the connection will be even more powerful. To further engagement, I would ask the audience if they thought Ishmael broke the rules of hospitality by murdering his dinner host, and if the political situation between him and governor Gedaliah justified it.
Finally, I will use the Bone Box to represent how the ceremonies of life were disrupted by the dramatic events described in Jeremiah. The Bone Box is a good choice because it could be particularly meaningful for the Elmwood inmates both for religious and cultural reasons. The connection between the practice of using an ossuary for secondary burial and the Pharisees’ belief in physical, individual resurrection (referred to in Acts 23:6-8) could stimulate thinking about the relationship of ancient Pharisee and modern Christian beliefs. About two thirds of my students in jail are Latino, and many come from Mexico where the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an annual family celebration featuring cheerful images of skulls and skeletons. This limestone Bone Box with its elegant carvings of stylized geometric flowers and columns is a particularly approachable artifact. It could be interpreted as a way of connecting to friends and family who have died, rather than being morbid.
I would relate the story in Jeremiah to the artifact by getting the audience to think about what is takes to maintain complex burial rituals. For such rituals to be carried through, the community must have stable access to tombs and the safety, time, and materials to do the work. In Jeremiah 40:9-10, Gedaliah tries to reestablish the rhythms of normal life after the Babylonian empire has conquered the kingdom of Judah. Gedaliah says to the people, “Stay in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall go well with you… gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and live in the towns…” However, this attempt to reestablish a stable society and economy is halted by Gedaliah’s murder, and further slaughter of men of Judah and Babylonian soldiers by Ishmael and his followers. In Jeremiah 41:8, Ishmael and his men accept bribes not to kill some of the wealthy of Mizpah, “But there were ten men among them who said to Ishmael, ‘Do not kill us, for we have stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden in the fields.’ So he refrained, and did not kill them along with their companions.” This is a story of a violently disrupted community using its stored resources to survive in the moment, rather than supporting its long-term ritual and spiritual life. While the Bone Box itself is from an unfamiliar time and place, many in the jail audience have deep experience of violent disruption of community life by gangs and crime. I think they will find this artifact and its story engaging.
Direct access to ancient artifacts like the Three Coins, Stone Foot Bath, and Bone Box has potential to stimulate inmates’ understanding through an interactive presentation connecting each artifact with the history of the biblical city of Mizpah and also with the more familiar story of Jesus and the Roman Empire. Bringing to jail a traveling museum exhibit including objects from ancient Tell en-Nasbeh will serve the Badè Museum’s mission to foster a greater understanding and appreciation for the ancient biblical world and will enrich the experience of the men of Elmwood.
 “Ancient Jewish Coins: Coins from the Procurators (6-66 CE),” Jewish Virtual Library – A Project of AICE, Accessed 20 Nov 2019, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/coins-from-the-procurators.
 Steve Rudd, “Phoenician coins – Coins of the Bible: Shekel of Tyre,” The Interactive Bible, Accessed 20 Nov 2019, http://www.bible.ca/coins/Jesus-coins-of-the-bible-Phoenician-Tyre-Tyrian-Shekel-official-sancturary-Temple-tax-Peters-fish-money-changers-Judas-30-silver-pieces.htm.
 “Figuring Out the Realm for the ‘Coin of the Realm,’” NIST Time Capsule – National Institute of Standards and Technology, 13 Feb 2019, https://www.nist.gov/nist-time-capsule/any-object-any-need-call-nist/figuring-out-realm-coin-realm.
 “Hospitality in the Ancient Near East,” Badè Museum informational display, as of 18 Nov 2019.
 “Open Context,” Alexandria Archive Institute, accessed 20 Nov 2019, https://opencontext.org/subjects-search/?proj=14-bade-museum.
 Robert J. Morgan, “The Israel Museum,” Robert J. Morgan, 2017. https://www.robertjmorgan.com/events-and-travel/the-israel-museum/.
 “Welcome!” Badè Museum informational display, as of 18 Nov 2019.
If you want to receive Katysblog posts by email, please sign up using the Sign Me Up! button (upper right).
Images Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson.