New exhibit marks 70th anniversary of founding of University’s Museum for Jewish Antiquities

Museum for Jewish Antiquities staff at building entrance, April 1941. From right: Zeev Ben Zvi, Stella Ben Dor, Eliezer Lipa Sukenik, Ruth Amiran, Nahman AvigadArtifacts never before shown in public can be seen in the recently-opened ‘Early Days’ exhibit at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Museum for Jewish Antiquities founded by Prof. Eleazar Lippa Sukenik in 1941.

The creation of a Museum for Jewish Antiquities at the Hebrew University reflected the aspirations of the 1930s' Jewish community in the pre-state Yishuv to establish cultural institutions and reinforce the link between the nation and its past. Many of the collection’s early items are associated with Jewish archaeology and the different cultures that existed in Eretz Israel and its surroundings.

The museum’s collection grew out of a core of artifacts collected by Prof. Sukenik (who later discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls) and his team, some of which are still used today as source material for archeological research and teaching. Over the years, the collection grew with the addition of thousands of artifacts uncovered during Institute excavations and received through donations.

On the eve of the War of Independence in 1948, preparations were made for the museum’s opening. However, due to the war, the plans were cancelled. The collection’s artifacts were moved to the city, returning only after 1967 when the University regained access to its historic Mount Scopus campus.

For the first time, this exhibition shares many of the collection’s treasures with the public, with a focus on the various topics covered by the historic Museum for Jewish Antiquities: ancient synagogues, inscriptions, coins, and cultic objects from sites in Eretz Israel such as Samaria-Sebaste, as well as fascinating finds from abroad.

Of particular note is the collection of ceiling tiles adorned with a wealth of painted motifs from the third-century CE synagogue at Dura Europos in Syria, which is well known for its wall paintings of biblical scenes. The magnificent synagogue building was uncovered almost in its entirety in 1932 by a Yale University expedition; the tiles on display were donated to the Hebrew University museum during a visiting to the site by Sukenik.

Overall, the exhibition traces the collection’s development, the Hebrew University’s first excavations, and the emergence of new fields of research in archaeology during its early years. The collection continues to be used as a teaching and research resource and for traveling exhibits in Israel and abroad.

The exhibition, open Sun-Thurs from 9:00-16:00, is located on the upper entrance floor of the Institute of Archaeology (accessed via the Nancy Reagan Plaza on the Mount Scopus campus). In the garden abutting the building and below the sign with the building’s name (Carasso) is a foundation stone of the original building — intended for the museum — which, symbolically, came from the Third Wall excavations in Jerusalem.

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To read Ha’aretz article on the exhibition, click here