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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Past Exhibitions
 - The City of David
 - The Story of Masada
 - House of the Bronzes
 - The Hasmonean Winter Palaces in the Jericho Valley
 - From Scythopolis to Beisan
 - From Abraham to Jesus
 - The Masada Museum in Memory of Yigael Yadin
 - The Birth of Christianity
 - The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible


The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story
Curatorial Team: Gila Hurvitz, Dr. Matthias Henze, Daphna Tsoran, Anat Mendel

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas - December 2008

The exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science featured archaeological artifacts, texts, and audio explanations of the Jewish story behind the beginnings of Christianity-from the Hasmonean period through the reign of King Herod and the Great Revolt against Rome, and until the destruction of Judaea and Jerusalem-shedding light on the political and cultural events that shaped this significant period in history. The exhibition explored this relationship in five sections arranged in chronological order.

The first section featured over 70 objects, including coins, oil lamps, juglets, and amphorae, all showing the Greek influence on Jewish life after Alexander the Great conquered the East in 332 BCE. The exhibition then shifted to the Roman period, when King Herod ruled Judaea. Glass objects, lamps, and fine tableware known as terra sigillata, as well as a large stone bathtub, are but a few examples of the material finds from this era.

Another attraction of the exhibition was a 3D model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period, before the Romans destroyed the city in 70 CE. The reconstruction of the city was based on descriptions by Flavius Josephus, the New Testament, Jewish sources, and archaeological excavations conducted in various parts of the city.

Oil lamp with eleven nozzles and a floral decoration. Pottery. 1st century BCE-4th century CE
(photo by Gabi Laron)

At this point, the story moved from a historical perspective to a description and display of Jewish burial practices in and around Jerusalem. Sixteen ossuaries, some with decorative carvings and others with inscriptions, reveal information about the language, material culture, and familial relations of some of the city's deceased.

Ossuary decorated with Ionic columns and inscribed with names in Greek inside tabulae ansatae. Limestone.
1st century BCE-1st century CE
(photo by Gabi Laron)

Sandal. Leather.
1st century CE
(photo by Gabi Laron)

Coin with the legend "Judaea Capta." Silver. 80/81 CE
(photo by Gabi Laron)

The fourth section chronicled the Judaean Desert in the region of the Dead Sea, the Jewish war against Rome, and the Roman army. Highlights from the story of the Roman occupation of Masada exhibited numerous artifacts illustrating daily Jewish life at the site.

The exhibition concluded with an examination of the period of transition from the first century BCE to the first century CE. The study of the early writings of Christianity - the gospels and other books of the New Testament - holds great importance for Jews and Christians alike, preserving many details about Jesus' views as well as the attitudes of the Jews and various sects living in his lifetime.

The menorah, the earliest symbol of Judaism, appears on several Jewish objects. The Christian objects on display included several papyrus scroll fragments of the New Testament alongside a variety of oil lamps and other artifacts. Among the exciting finds featured in the exhibition was a papyrus scroll fragment from the book of Isaiah discovered in one of the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea.

Plaque with menorah and birds. Limestone with a trace of pigment. Ca. 5th century CE
(photo by Gabi Laron)

1QIsaa, the only biblical book known to have survived in its entirety, was found in Cave 1 at Qumran. This book held a special place for the early Christians, who used the writings of this prophet to understand and portray Jesus. Additional papyri on display included fragments from the New Testament (borrowed from the British Library in London) and a manuscript of the gospel of Luke (from the Bibliothèque nationale de France).