Paul Calvert spoke with Amanda Weiss, the Director of Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, a museum that believes that the future of mankind has its roots in the past and only through understanding our history can we build a better future.
Have you ever wanted to walk through the history of the Bible and see it tangibly come to life? At the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem you can do just that. Paul Calvert found out all about its amazing Founder and the museum's time frame and artefacts, from its Director, Amanda Weiss.
Paul: What is the Bible Lands Museum?
Amanda: The Bible Lands Museum is the only museum in the world that looks at the history of the Bible; the lands, cultures and the people of the Bible from ancient times. As our history book, the Bible is our source; it's our course for understanding life. It's our moral and ethical guideline, but the Bible really is our history.
Paul: When was the museum founded and why?
Amanda: It began in the 1980's as an idea and it opened on May 11th 1992. It was a very special day for all of us at the Bible Lands Museum.
It was founded by two amazing people. There was an antiquities collector of many years named Dr Elie Borowski, who was born in 1913 in Poland. You have to imagine this very religious Jewish man from a very comfortable home in Warsaw. He was one of the youngest of nine children, who always loved to study and learn. His father said to him, "Elie, you must always continue to study, whatever you do, wherever you go, you must learn".
So he left Poland after he had studied in the greatest Yeshiva's and he received his rabbinical ordination in Florence; he loved Italy. He spoke Italian as a youngster until his later years, when he passed away at almost 90 a few years ago.
Elie gathered such knowledge about the Bible; first and foremost about religion, about history and ancient history and languages - he could speak about seven or eight contemporary languages and decipher many ancient languages. He was a great scholar.
When Hitler came to power he interrupted the flow of so many people's lives and created such devastation, certainly in the Jewish community. Elie was marched into a war camp in Switzerland and the short version of the story, (the long version is on our website), but there he served as a translator, so he knew what was going on back in Warsaw. He knew the fate of his family back in the ghetto and that they were not going to survive.
By the end of the war a great deal of ancient art and antiquities had flooded into the market, because so many private collections had been raided and the Nazi's had stolen so much art and looted so much. People came to him with little antiquities and said, "You read ancient inscriptions, what does this say?" He would decipher and he would tell them what culture it was most likely from and what the inscription said. Then slowly but surely he began to realise that there was so much material and one particular piece came into his hand and we have it here in the gallery; it's in the Entrance Gallery to the museum. It's an ancient cylinder seal and on it is carved the name Shalom. He was convinced that that was the name of an early Israelite king from the Bible. A cylinder seal, or a stamp seal of a king is their name, it's their signature. It's as important as your passport and your national ID number and your most important credit card that you could have today, or your bank account number. It was everything you had in order to trade in commerce in the ancient world, or communicate.
Now we are called the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem and it's a tough name to understand, but I am going to try and explain it to you. If you have material evidence of the Bible: the people that lived, the names of the kings that can be dated to the times and the geography of the day, the Bible can be proven. Holocausts like what he lived through and survived will never happen again, because if we understand that the Bible is our guide book to the spiritual, moral and ethical lives that we are supposed to be leading, then we cannot repeat this kind of history.
Elie Borowski is the man that collected the remarkable collection of antiquities that's on display in the museum. He is also the person who is behind how it should be shown. The museum is chronological, which is very different from an ancient history museum. You go to the British Museum, or the Metropolitan in New York, or other great ancient history museums, they have similar collections of ancient, near eastern art, but they don't show them with a reference to the Bible in any way and they don't show them chronologically.
At the British museum, the Egyptian collection is one of my favourite collections to go through. I can spend days there, but here you come up against Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt in the same time period. As a matter of fact you will be standing in a time period of the prophet Abraham, our father Abraham and you have Mesopotamia on one side and you have Egypt right alongside. You can look at the belief systems, as Monotheism was just beginning to take its very first steps. In the journey of Abraham you have a sense of where Abraham came from.
We have a tablet that shows the calendar of the time period of Abraham, in the neighbourhood of Larsa that mentions a date, which corresponds directly to a date in the Hebrew calendar of today. Why? Because the lunar calendar that Abraham grew up with is the Hebrew calendar that we use in Judaism around the world today. We celebrate our holidays when the sun goes down and our holidays end when there are three stars in the sky. It didn't come out of thin air, it actually came from ancient Mesopotamia tradition and the culture of the day that Abraham came from. That's how we practice Judaism to this day. We cannot disconnect ourselves from ancient history.