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“What was life like over 2,000 years ago? Discover the dynamic story of the First Century, from the daily lives of ordinary people to the greatest struggle for autonomy in the history of the Roman Empire in the museum’s largest temporary exhibit!”
So reads a tweet sent out by the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) on August 4, 2018, announcing the opening of Jerusalem and Rome: Cultures in Context in the First Century CE—a temporary exhibit highlighting archaeological objects on loan from and curated by the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that aspires to tell a complicated story of Jewish life in Palestine in the first century CE.
Exhibit - Viewer - Sense - Life - Roman
The basement-level exhibit gives the viewer a sense of daily life in first-century Roman Palestine by showcasing fine ware ceramics, lamps, makeup, ossuaries, and amphorae, as well as finds from Masada and the Roman legionary camp outside the stronghold. The arrangement of material moves from domestic life to burial practices and then takes up the Jewish War, from Josephus’ narrative account to the imagery of the Arch of Titus in Rome, ending with brief mentions of the rise of Christianity, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a small catalogue of first-century coins. Each section of the exhibit is accompanied by wall art that attempts to place the objects within a larger historical context and narrative.
The Hebrew University exhibit’s signage is well written. It conveys clearly how archaeological objects are used and interpreted, noting specific ways in which archaeology often provides alternative accounts of historical events to those found in our literary sources—including the Biblical texts and the works of Josephus—while making careful connections to daily life in ancient Palestine. And yet, although the exhibit boasts 195 objects, it still feels sparse, particularly after the viewer has passed through...
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