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ECCE! IV Exhibit "Cradle of Christianity" PDF Email


Exhibit “Cradle of Christianity: Jewish and Christian Treasures
from the Holy Land.
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta, GA
June 16 - October 14 2007

SeniorNet students of Latin and all things Roman areaccustomed to exhibits that concentrate exclusively on Roman culture. The exhibit that included a stop at the Michael Carlos Museum in Atlanta presents a more multi-cultural view. This unusual collection, drawn from the collections of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, provides a cultural stroll through the geography of the ancient territory where the religions of Romans, the Jews, and the nascent Christians trod. A topographical map structure is included that depicts routes traveled through these lands. Organized by the Jewish Museum, the exhibit brings together the moment in time shared by the Roman Empire, Judaism, and Christianity. The ecumenical purpose of this fascinating exhibit aside, the artifacts displayed offer a new glimpse into a time and place affected by ancient Romans.

In the first century (BCE and CE), Romans ruled the Mediterranean area known as Palestine, where the kingdom of Judea had been awarded to Herod in 40 BCE (his rule continued until his death in 4 BCE). erod by the HerTiberius, the second Roman Emperor and ruler during much of the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth, was responsible for appointing Pontius Pilate (in office 26-36) to administer the Palestine province. An important object in the exhibit is a stone tablet with the name of Pontius Pilate engraved, the single remnant bearing witness to his worldly presence.

Click on image for larger view.

One of the great events in the first century was the destruction by the Romans of the Jewish temple (the Second Temple) in 70 CE. Although the Romans practiced religious syncretism (accepting that all beliefs and systems—religious, philosophical, and government—are compatible), the Jews, reacting to the beginning of taxation and Pilate’s attempts to include images of Tiberius in the Temple, had revolted, adherents of this First Jewish Revolt calling themselves Zealots. To bring to a close my over-simplification of events at this time and place, the Zealots purged the city of “Romanizers,” until the Romans recaptured Jerusalem in the summer of 70 CE and destroyed the Temple (I am indebted to a web file—Palestine History @file://G:history.htm. for background information). Jesus and his disciples were among the Jews of the region, and at the outset were among various sects. Of course, at that time it was possible, according to Carl R. Holladay, Professor of New Testament Studies at Emory University, “. . . for a person to be a Christian but also remain Jewish. . . . During that earlier period, many Christians were Jews” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution 16 June, 2007, E11). Holladay goes on to say that, “according to the historian Josephus, when the Romans came to Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, many of the followers of Jesus fled.” (E11). The Christians wished to show the Romans that they were not associated with the Temple and not responsible for the revolt that led to its destruction. Afterward, Christianity emerged as a separate movement.

Click on image for larger view.

The Greek words on the fragment serve as a “keep out” sign; that is, it is “chiseled with a warning to gentiles not to enter the sacred precincts of the temple—upon threat of death” (Emory Magazine Summer 2007: 4). A fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls is included in the exhibit. This fragment of yellow parchment, from the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is called the Temple Scroll, and “provides a detailed plan for an ideal Temple, based on the plans of the Tabernacle and temples of Solomon but also influenced by Hellenistic architecture. The scroll dates from the first century BC” (Cradle of Christianity: Treasures from the Holy Land. Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2006: 29). A rare artifact, the fragment evokes the past in a unique way.

The exhibit includes a reconstruction of part of a typical Byzantine Church that would be found in Palestine. It is not a reproduction of one church but is constructed from archeological fragments from various churches.

Ancient menorahs, panels from mosaic floors of churches and synagogues, Chancel screens with crosses and menorahs, and ossuaries are exhibited. One mosaic floor panel depicts animals and hunting scenes with a Greek inscription that reads “The deeds of Alexander.” Many examples of ampullae are included as well as a hexagonal censer with eagle heads and animal claws and a hanging oil lamp, among many other objects.

This exhibit interested me greatly, for I found that viewing this Roman territory through the nexus of old and new powers was absorbing. The Carlos Museum was one of only three stops in the U.S., so it was an excellent opportunity to see some of the most significant biblical artifacts ever found. Certainly my visit accomplished what I, as a former English professor, wished to accomplish with my students. It motivated me to study further, to search out other historical information about the Roman empire’s presence in Palestine during the years before Constantine’s conversion, clarifying a period when the system of multiple gods in Rome gave way to the monotheistic religions of the Jews and the Christians.

Joyce Pair (aka Athena2)

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